My name is Meena McBride and I live with anxiety.
No, this is not another blog to sensationalize an issue, nor is it a cry for help. This is simply a first person account of what it’s like to live with severe anxiety every day, to the point where it has become, for me anyway, debilitating.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that my anxiety started when I was a child. I am not a psychologist, so I will not psychoanalyze myself, but I do know that having traumatic experiences in one’s childhood can cause a myriad of issues, immediately and later in life. I will not share the details of my childhood, not now anyway, but I will describe it in one word: chaotic.
My family is full of anxious people, especially the females. I am not blaming any of them, but as a child, I emulated their behavior until it became my identity.
I basically fear … everything. Here is a typical day for me: I wake up and I am immediately afraid that I will be late for work, regardless of how early I wake up. I go about my morning routine with a knot in my stomach, thinking about how late I will be for work and how bad of an employee that makes me. I drive to work with that same knot, which doesn’t untie itself until I get to my destination. A different knot forms in my stomach as soon as I am at work, remembering that I am a scientist, a female in a male dominated field. I begin to think of how badly I will do at my projects that day, how disappointed my boss will be with me (he never is), and how many deadlines I will miss (I never do), because, well, I am a terrible employee (see morning routine). That knot remains in my stomach my entire work day. Other knots join in; my worries about everything else in life, including war, hunger, and the rising price of milk. I worry about losing my job (again, bad employee), my eating habits (don’t all women fret about that?), my friends (bad employees are bad friends, naturally), my family (don’t even get me started on how bad of a daughter and sister I am), and everything else under the sun. On the drive home, I worry that I will eat too much for dinner, that I probably left the stove on and the house caught on fire (I double check it every morning), that I left the door unlocked and my not-so-valuable possessions will all be gone by the time I got home (I triple check it before leaving in the morning), and how it’s probably not a good idea to go to bed and fall into a deep sleep in case my phone rings, with someone on the other end telling me that my elderly parents have died.
Yes, this is honestly my life.
For a long time, I didn’t have a name for my condition. I just labeled myself a “worrier”; someone who was exceedingly aware of everything around her and wanted to have solutions set in place for problems before they happen; a planner of sorts, if you would. I thought it was a part of my personality, a quirk, something to joke about with friends and have a good laugh. It wasn’t until I read an article about anxiety and took a test at the end of it that I realized what a HUGE problem this has been all of my life. I always knew that not enjoying, well, anything, is no way to live, but I thought I was doomed, that I had to live with it, kind of like having to live with my dark hair and brown eyes. It’s just me, I thought to myself.
Not knowing that I had an actual condition, even with intensive therapy, I tried to contain the problem, contain my own fears. I planned my days meticulously, my planner never leaving my sight. I thought that if I could only control my life, that everything will be o.k. I even planned time to just “veg” so that I can have sometime where I don’t have to worry about anything, I limited my activities so that unforeseen circumstances had a lesser chance of happening (that’s the scientist in me). Nothing worked. Instead, I created a whole host of new fears, fears that I will not stick to my to-do list, that I will not enjoy anything including my downtime, that I am basically doomed to live this life forever. My fear of failure became my identity. If I didn’t fail at something, it was probably thanks to someone else. I never gave myself credit for anything, the voice of low self-esteem yelling in my head that there was no way I could succeed at anything, even in the face of occasional successes, which I could never explain to myself. I would start personal projects with the optimism of a toddler about to build a Lego castle, only to see that enthusiasm falter as I got overwhelmed yet again by my own fears. Life became unbearable.
Until I had a wakeup call.
Recently, I was given a task at work that I had never done before. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the entire time I was meeting with my boss about that task, I was in full panic mode. I felt jittery, my hands were sweaty and my heart was thumping in my chest so loudly I could hear it. I barely focused on what my boss was saying to me because the self-sabotaging voice inside of me was so very loud, reminding me that I will fail at that task, no doubt about it. My boss noticed and gently reassured me that I was up to the challenge. I thanked him and ran to the bathroom, and actually cried. I am not sure what the tears were for; fear, relief, gratitude that someone actually believed in me more than I believed in myself. I washed my face and went back to my office, and the task went very well.
It was the wakeup call that I needed. I knew at that point, with absolute certainty, that my condition was not a quirk, that my life was not normal. I started researching different mental health issues, until I came across the one article that answered all of my questions. Yes, I live with anxiety. My body-mate finally had a name.
I firmly believe that half the solution is in isolating the problem, but where do I go from here?
I could resort to pharmaceuticals, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I could end up seeing immediate results if I go that route. However, when digging a little deeper, it turns out that exercise (that dirty little word) does wonders for people living with anxiety. The solution to decades of anxiety lied in breaking a sweat. Who knew?
This story does not have a happy ending … yet. My condition, as is my life, is a work-in-progress.
The jury is still out for now, but my promise to you, my dear reader, on this somewhat calm day, is that I will get a hold of my anxiety, no matter how long it takes me.
Don’t believe me? I am happy to surrender my planner to you … Well, give me some time.