I’ve known that anxiety was a foreign feeling to my wife for quite some time. I remember the incredulity I felt when she first told me. It was as if hearing that some people can hold their breath without dying or that there are people that never feel sad during the holidays. When the pandemic changed her experience with anxiety, my response was a confusing mixture of sadness that she was going through it, concern about how she would learn to cope with it, and the slightest bit of relief that perhaps now she would be more understanding of what I live with. I’m not proud of that last bit but who doesn’t want to be understood better?
This week a coworker shared with me that she also was having anxiety for the first time in her life. Severe enough that she couldn’t finish the drive into work one day. I flashed back to the days of driving to client meetings and parking, only to be unable to get out of the car and having to turn around and drive right back home. That was only four years ago. Or, even more recently, parking outside of a restaurant and being unable to go in. That was this past week.
While I’ve learned that treating myself with tremendous grace is far more helpful than attacking myself, I still take pride in achieving some level of functionality, like going in to work every day this past week. Feeling pride over achievements without feeling guilt at the lack of them takes a certain amount of mental manipulation. I mean, if I can forge my way forward and power through some of the time then doesn’t the inability to do that indicate a certain lack in personality, will power, ability? This is what my brain does. I’ve learned to “yes, dear” it in moments like that and go on with being compassionate toward myself without the self-flagellation when the level of difficulty exceeds my ability to cope.
When talking to my therapist about feeling like an exposed live wire, she helped normalize that for me by reminding me that I’m not alone in this response right now (see Gwen and my coworker for exhibits A and B. See this report from the CDC for stats from early in the Pandemic. See this article for a great guide on dealing with post-pandemic anxiety). And she also acknowledged that I’m in a more sensitive place as well:
“Some people are super ticklish, a slight touch can make them feel tickled. You’re just super ticklish right now.”
I’ve grinned about that analogy repeatedly. I’m super ticklish right now. Don’t worry, those tears and trembling hands are really me laughing on the inside. 😉 Humor, as always, helps.