I am staring at a long list of things that need to be done, not the least of which is to put away the final Christmas decorations I still have kicking around my kitchen. It is mid-July. Behind me, there are five snowmen decorations, which I imagine are peering over my shoulder at this computer screen, mocking me.
But then again, my imagination sometimes runs away with me.
This list I have devised, about three-quarters of the way down, commands: "--Christmas decorations: put away in Rubbermaid tub," which I'll admit, is the first step I have taken in admitting my problem. So now my problem is part of a list of things to do. A very long list, that is serving the purpose of making me exceedingly anxious.
About a month ago, I went to see a psychiatrist. Earlier in the spring, I had visited my family doctor about another annoying little problem: my teeth seem to be very fragile and are breaking. I grind them at night, and even though I wear a night-guard, this doesn't seem to be protecting them from injury. I went to the doctor to ask him if there was a medical reason for this problem. He listened to me for a while, then proceeded to pass me several little surveys.
I obliged him, completing them while wondering where this was all going. He looked at me and then kindly asked me some more questions.
Turns out, I have a mild anxiety disorder.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety disorders seem to be a result of a combination of biological, psychological, and other individual factors. The site adds to this that " how we think and react to certain situations can affect anxiety."
Later, I went to see a psychiatrist, as a follow-up. This second doctor listened to me tell my story for a second time. I told her many things. She listened. I told her some more things. She listened some more. And after a while, she said that she felt I did not need to be on medication -- at present -- I just needed some counselling, which I have been getting.
I have dealt with anxiety issues for a good part of my adult life, although worry was my friend for much of my childhood.
This has led me to consider that much of our complicated lives are lived hidden from public view, shrouded in secrecy. We hide for various reasons: for protection, for privacy, for fear. We hide because sometimes that is what is expected of us. We hide for reasons we might not even know. But when we hide, we risk allowing others to make their own stories and narratives up about our behaviours, responses and attitudes. This is a big risk, because sometimes people will size us up correctly and get it right.
At other times they will not.
When we tell, we also take a risk. For the risk then is that people will take the story and 'run with it,' breathing into that story a life of its own. Sometimes what is re-told can be crafted into something that is entirely untrue and fabricated.
There are risks both ways. I have chosen to tell. And in telling a small part of my narrative, I am hoping to give myself permission to be human -- to allow the cracks to show, rather than pretend they are not there.
Yes, the cracks are most apparent in my teeth, but they are there in many other facets of my life. I have dealt with anxiety issues for a good part of my adult life, although worry was my friend for much of my childhood. The devastating injuries my aunt sustained as the result of a car accident left me always wondering when I would die... or inevitably be injured. Added to that, there were so many other people in my life with physical and mental limitations, that I became a hypo-chondriac.
I also became obsessive compulsive, going so far as washing my hands continuously and repeating phrases that I thought would protect me. I was unusually fearful of everything, waking up at night so as to check that my family were all there in the house with me. My imagination ran away with every shred of common sense I had within me.
But things hit full force during the years leading into university when I began experiencing symptoms of abdominal discomfort. After years and years of inquiry, I would eventually be diagnosed with IBD and colitis.
These years of trouble came directly on the heels of a traumatic move for our family when I was in Grade 12. My dad had been abruptly asked to leave his position as minister of a small country church, a place where I had spent my years from kindergarten leading up to the final year of high school; as I was aware of this decision, I was extremely resentful. I was also angry and defensive, and I took these feelings of quiet rage with me when we moved to PEI the year I turned 17. It took me years and years to finally open the window of my heart to embrace the beauty and wonder of PEI, my home for the past 22 years.
From those years of hurting quietly, I also took the pain I carried from my childhood and young adult life into my adult relationships, and yes, even into my marriage. Marriage has not been easy, to say the very least. We have struggled through and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that without an enduring commitment to stand true through both the good and the very worst of times, we would not be where we are today.
Twenty-some years later, here I am. Life has not been easy, true. It is not for anyone. And life continues to be not easy. For all of us.
But there is hope. There is always hope.
I am still staring at that list that fills a page. And although this list of things to do is stressful for me to think about, I realize that in making the list I am taking baby steps toward change.
Sometimes it's the little things...
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