Being with someone who suffers from anxiety can be a handful. I can’t always explain what sets off a bout of anxiety or panic– it’s difficult to help others understand what’s going on in my mind when I don’t understand it myself. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s a positive feedback loop where anxiety causes anxiety, which causes more anxiety and so on to oblivion.
A therapist I saw in April compared my anxious brain to a hose. Like water from a hose, perceptions flow easily from a healthy brain…. but a kink in the hose can distort the flow of water and send it shooting in all directions. Enough kinks will stop the flow completely. My brain kinks when it experiences in influx of change or emotions– you know, the kind that comes from things like Boyfriend being gone all summer, graduating college in 253 days (!), balancing being active and informed with allowing myself to relax, hoping I’m doing enough to build a successful life, and worrying that my worrying is making me boring or annoying. Basically, I’ve got a lot of kinks.
When my brain kinks and I fall into anxious habits, I tend to say things like “why am I so messed up?” and “why do I keep letting this control me?” I worry that Boyfriend thinks I’m “broken” or “crazy” for struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, and trying to control my brain’s anxious responses just makes me more anxious and insecure. But when the hose kinks, I fix the kink and move on. The hose isn’t broken. It’s not worthless. It just has a kink that needs to be smoothed out.
The way my culture (the culture of a white, heteronormative, cisgender, middle class American) educated me about mental health largely falls into two categories: blame the afflicted or avoid the conversation. In many situations, the person experiencing anxiety, or depression, or addiction is blamed for their affliction– if only they were stronger, smarter, more normal, they wouldn’t have this problem. They are Other. They are not like us. In the same breath, someone who is part of “Us” like me may feel pressure to pretend the kinks aren’t there, and pretend everything is okay. We do not want to be the Other. We want to belong.
Neither of these responses has taught me a productive or healthy way to deal with the reality of my easily-kinked, anxious mind– I should not feel guilt for the pain I experience, nor should I feel the need to hide it in order to seek acceptance. An anxious mind is not a broken one, it is simply one that requires some extra care and time to smooth out the kinks and keep perceptions flowing and healthy. The only thing I have gained from feeling guilty for or denying the reality of my anxiety is more anxiety, which has sometimes stood in the way of a healthy, productive, and fulfilling life. Anxiety can be paralyzing, especially when you feel anxious for experiencing it in the first place.
Fearing being pushed away or labelled as “crazy” for my kinks has often prevented me from speaking about how I experience my anxiety, and has stopped me from seeking the resources and support I need to smooth out my kinks. Fear has made me feel isolated, and in doing so I have sometimes isolated myself. Change, uncertainty, and the process of growing up has made my hose kink up easier, faster, and longer. It’s pushed my flow of perception to either flow in extremes or not flow at all, and it’s made me fear that I am all that my anxious mind tells me I am– unlovable, crazy, and too much to handle.
I am none of those things. I am loved, I am healthy, and I am worthy of the attention my mind needs to stay flowing smoothly and free of the kinks that hold it back. I am worthy of the patience and respect Boyfriend treats me with, no matter how many tears or panic attacks he has been there through. I am a woman who struggles with anxiety, but I am not “crazy” or “weak” or “Other.” I am a human being, and I am deserving of care. I don’t throw out the hose when it kinks, and I will not throw away myself either.