How do you always get the best of me?
I'm out here living in a fantasy.
I can't enjoy a goddamn thing.
Why am I never were I'm supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me.
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain."
It's the opening verse of a Jason Isbell song. And it explains anxiety better than I ever could.
Outside looking in, everything is all good. But inside, it's a mess. Sound familiar?
I've lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I was a nervous kid. From kindergarten through high school, I don't remember a day without that queasy feeling in my gut that something was about to go horribly wrong.
I thought maybe it would get better as I got older. It hasn't. Prescription drugs, therapy and ongoing attempts at a "don't-give-a fuck" attitude help, but it's still there — watching and waiting for me to be happy about something or enjoy a minute of peace so it can swoop in and take over.
For me, there doesn't have to be anything stressful going on for the anxiety to kick in. Something as mundane as a midday drive to KwikTrip might be the only trigger needed to flip the switch. I assume it's part of my brain's wiring by now. It's who I am and probably always will be. I've learned to shove it down, do my best to put on a happy face, and move along. It works some days. On the days it doesn't, I'm not a whole lot of fun to be around.
I say all this not for sympathy, but to let those who deal with the same shit know they're not alone. Living with daily anxiety doesn't make you weak or a freak. It just means you've got a little extra work to do to make your way through everyday life.
Anxiety is part of the deal. And dealing with it in manageable portions can be a good thing. Fight or flight is in our DNA. And a little stress can be motivating. But when anxiety prevents us from enjoying the little things in life or negatively impacts our relationships, that's when it's time to do something about it.
The current state of things definitely doesn't help. There's a shit ton to worry about these days. We're surrounded by so much uncertainty, unrest and unbelievable bullshit. And when this present bullshit is over and done with, there'll be a fresh steaming pile of bullshit around the corner. It's best to keep your shovel handy at all times.
That's why learning to manage anxiety is such a big deal. Because no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you got in the bank, there will never not be something to get anxious about. I think accepting the fact that anxiety is here to stay is one of the best things we can do to manage it.
Meditation, exercise, walking the dog, music, writing in my blog — all things I do to help ease the burden a bit. Social media, watching the news, sitting around and overthinking — all things that pour gasoline on an always smoldering fire.
Maybe you're thinking "So what if you feel a little nervous all the time, deal with it." If only it was that easy and the consequences weren't so harsh. Constant tension can lead to a long list of bad stuff: A quick anger trigger, irritability, high blood pressure, chewed-up thumbnails, eating too many Big Macs, drinking too many big beers, alienated spouses, inability to focus on anything for more than 30 seconds — oh, and early death. I often wonder how many years of my life have been cut off by overthinking every situation I've ever been in. Yeah, no. I don't want to think about that right now. Let's move on.
Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom. If you struggle with anxiety, you probably always will to some extent. But you can make things a lot easier on yourself. The first step is admitting when it's just too much. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. Give yourself a break. Take time for you. Walk your dog. If you don't have a dog, get a dog. Listen to more music. Fill your prescriptions. Go for a run or lift something heavy. Watch a good movie. Hang out with somebody you love. Write down the stuff you're thankful for.
The list of anxiety-inducers might be long. But the the list of good things in life is longer.
Completely controlling anxiety might not be in the cards for all of us. Don't beat yourself up. It's ok to let some of it happen. But it doesn't have to get the best of you. You're more than the nervous, noisy monsters in your head. Get out there and let the good stuff be louder. (And don't forget to take your meds.)
Now, time to go practice what I just preached. The dog needs walking, the bullshit needs shoveling, and my noisy brain needs a break. I should probably call Walgreen's and get some more happy pills too. Running low.
Take care of yourself.