I’ve been writing this letter in my head to those I love around me. These people.. positive, compassionate, big hearted people, whom I just can’t seem to connect with some days. The answer to why I can’t may seem silly, but it truly is- just- anxiety.
Dear Compassionate Person,
I know that it was hard the other day, when I told you I was scared. Most certainly, that’s not something that comes out of my mouth on a regular basis. No, not me! I will typically run head first into any conflict, and volunteer to go first on scary rides, or be up for watching a horror movie. Scared is an unusual vocabulary word for me.
But I told you I was. And you began to tell me that it was no big deal, and that it would all work out. Isn’t that how we normally speak? It’s about positive thinking and thoughts. You can do what you put your mind too.
..Well maybe on a regular Tuesday it is. But this was a Blues day.
Blues days are where I wake up, and nothing feels right. I don’t feel like getting up, or working. I don’t feel like going to hang out with someone, or writing. I don’t feel like hugging, or watching movies, or reading, or sleeping. It feels like I have woken up with a perpetual pillow over my head, but yet I can’t sleep. Instead, I worry. And I turn. And I toss. And I try to find warm places to bury my head.
Blues days are days when I don’t even get a chance to turn things around. The ship has already set sail.
So when I said I was scared, I was digging deep. Here’s why positivity doesn’t always work in those situations.
Positivity is Negated by Anxiety
You already knew that something must be different, if I was being quiet, and stated that I was scared. But it seemed so odd for me, that you just responded in the way you normally would. And on a regular day, I would smile and thank you, or even offer the same advice to you myself.
But on those blues days, or when I am amidst an anxiety attack, the best thing to do is to listen. Not to ask questions, or to try to point out a silver lining. When I have stated that I am sad, the simple question “Why?” can be incredibly overwhelming. The truth is, that I don’t know why. Anxiety does not necessarily meet rhyme or reason. It doesn’t always come rationally. And so, while a question like “Why are you sad?” or “why do you think you woke up feeling that way?” can seem simple, and like the best question to ask, it can actually make things much much worse.
With anxiety, answers to questions do not lead to solutions
Despite the fact that I suffer from anxiety, and sometimes depression, I have often found this the hardest thing to realize. I have asked numerous questions to my friends, especially those suffering with depression. Questions like “Why?’ or a series of questions intended to get down to the “core” of the problem. Its in my nature, and I have a feeling that its in your nature as well, dear compassionate person. You want to fix this person, or help them. You want to be able to ask just the right question so that their eyes light up and they realize that they have been thinking about everything wrong, and that if they just see it from a different perspective, they will get better.
(Also, the answers to the questions you’re asking might not necessarily be accurate. They may be fueled by anxiety, or the desire to come up with some sort of answer to satisfy the person doing the asking. Again, it may seem to benefit you, but in the end, doesn’t truly benefit either person.)
‘Getting better’ is not the objective. Sometimes, the process is more important
I’ll admit, in all of my friendships and relationships, this seems to be the hardest thing for others to learn. Focusing on getting better when I am trapped in those moments of anxiety really doesn’t help me at all. Often, all I want is to do is be better. But if I knew how, I would probably be putting it into action, and not having anxiety. (My anxiety is not rational, so it doesn’t have an A-B=C type of equation.)
So, the most helpful thing I have found is to be listened too. If I am alone, I will often end up writing or recording my voice speaking, because it is myself listening to me. When I am not alone, and I am with you, the most important places for your compassion to go is in your ears and your arms.
Physical pressure comforts me. Its why I almost want to invest in a Thunder Shirt like they make for dogs. Its part of the reason I like heavy blankets and comforters, and have a hard time sleeping or relaxing without them.
The other thing that comforts me, is a non-judgmental presence. One that is not trying to question me or react to me.. Because trust me, I am already doing enough of that for the both of us.
No, what I really need for you to do, is either sit and listen, or leave me to myself if you really can’t handle the situation. I promise, I will be okay. It just may take me a while. I don’t do the best when people leave, because of my complex around abandonment, but if you approach me later, and let me know why you had to leave, and that you love me, I will understand. I will just need to come back to a rational plateau to do so. I want you to be safe too, or else we can’t create a safe space together. Just don’t leave and then not explain.
Allow me the ability to act a little bit “unlike” myself
If I am quieter than usual, it may just mean that I still need to recharge. Or that I haven’t shaken off the blues just yet. It may seem concerning, yes. But if you’ve asked me if I am okay, and I say yes, than there is a good likely hood that I am. I just might also be comfortable enough with you to where I don’t need to pretend I am more than okay, or awesome, or funny. Sometimes, if you continue to ask me if I am okay, I may begin to feel self conscious, or like I am not. I will begin to wonder why I can’t be better, or have more energy. And that might prolong my state of being.
Being Busy does not equal Being Okay
Sometimes, I have bursts of anxiety or anxiety attacks, and than all of a sudden I seem “okay”. By okay, I mean that I am being very active, and chatting/joking with lots of people, or being playful, and dressing up. I might be doing a million things that all seem like tons of fun. And if you ask me if they are fun, I might say yes.
But that doesn’t mean that I am suddenly okay. Being busy is a coping mechanism for delaying or keeping depression and residual anxiety at bay. Ever heard of “fake it till you make it”? That term can definitely apply here. Some of my most well put together outfits and appearances are the products of day long anxiety attacks, or insomnia the night before.
This is because while sometimes, being around people can cause anxiety, other times, it provides the perfect distraction. If you can get involved in the lives and events of the people around you, you can create a buffer zone from your true pain. You can avoid it, if not, forget about it for a while.
Despite all of these things, I love you and appreciate you.
Compassionate person, whomever you are, family, friend, or lover, I appreciate you, and am glad to have you in my life. Anxiety is not an easy thing to navigate. If this letter seems counter-intuitive and confusing, you’ll get a glimpse into why I suffer so much from the progressions of my mind sometimes.
But I still want you as my ally, and I still want you by my side.
Ask me questions about my anxiety when I am not anxious. That’s a huge part to figuring this out together! Don’t be afraid to trigger me, unless you’re being mean or judgmental, which I don’t think you’d be, compassionate one. But don’t pretend that I haven’t warned you either. Anxiety sometimes rolls in throughout the day, with dark ominous clouds, and you know its coming. Other times it just hits.
But the thing is, its always there, in me. I may be working at it, but I’m no magician. I haven’t figured out how to make the white bunny disappear from the top hat on my head just yet.
While these thoughts and ideas do pertain to me, I hope it will get you to start thinking about the way that you interact with others as well. So many people in just this last week have talked to me about their own shattering anxiety. It is one of our society’s most common “illnesses”, yet I liken it to a symptom of greater societal illness.
Let’s start listening to each other. Let’s stop assuming that people will never be or shouldn’t be vulnerable, that they might not always act the same way. Instead, lets begin to combat the immense pressures of handling each day with love and compassion. Are you ready to try?
With all of my love, Kara