Explaining How Anxiety Rules my Life
When I leave the house, I have to always pull on the door knob to make sure the door is closed and locked. Likewise, when I come home, I make sure the door is securely closed and locked before walking away. If I am heading out and leaving my children home alone, I will check twice. It isn’t that I fear for the safety of my two large teenage boys who are fully capable of taking care of themselves; I just want to assure myself they’re locked safely inside. After returning my sugar gliders to their cage, I must always tug at their doors to assure myself that they’re properly latched. I am admittedly obsessed with whether doors have been properly secured. This isn’t an occasional occurrence. It happens EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. If I am not the last one at the door, I will ask apprehensively if they’re SURE the door is closed and locked. If not secure in their response, I will run back and check again for my own peace of mind. My ex used to tease me about having OCD. For years, I tried unsuccessfully to help him understand that my actions were not driven by OCD. They were one of many ways that my anxiety disorder presented itself.
Growing up, my mother did not believe children were entitled to locks on their bedroom doors. If we were getting changed, doors could be temporarily shut; However, doors must be reopened immediately afterwards because children were not entitled to privacy. Our bedrooms did not have sturdy wooden doors. We had flimsy accordion-style doors that could be easily slid open and closed or broken through without much effort. It was this lack of security and safety that led to a childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse. My bedroom was never a safe haven from beatings or sexual assaults. Anyone could come in through doors that could not lock and come in, they did.
I check doorknobs and locks because locks mean safety in my mind. I need to know my children are safe, my pets are safe, that my life is safely locked away behind a secure door. I know it is not rational. I know that a locked door cannot protect anyone or anything from all the evils of the world, but I cannot control that apprehension from rising every time I question whether everything has been properly closed. For years, I had no control and no safety. Making sure doors have been properly latched and locked is one way I have of regaining control of my life and the safety of those I love.
My anxiety extends beyond locked doors. It rears its head in many ways. Mental illness runs in my family. I am deathly afraid that my children might be suffering in silence so I am forever checking in, wanting to make sure they’re okay and they know I’m here to listen if they need to talk. Relationships are difficult for me because I’ve been cheated on, abandoned and discarded so many times that I live in constant fear of loss and betrayal. It isn’t that I do not want to trust those I love. Whenever things don’t go completely according to plan, my mind searches for a reason and usually lands on the worst case scenario. I need reassurance that I’m loved and not forgotten because I’m terrified of being in that position again. I am forever anxious about money and bills because I’ve been homeless before. I am petrified of doctors because I’ve seen people I love eaten alive by illnesses, dying in hospice not even remembering my name. One of my greatest fears is that something will happen to my children; I am forever reminding them to be careful and safe. Fears with a hundred different faces run through my head on any given day.
It is a constant battle to keep my anxiety in check. When I can maintain even the slightest control, it gives me peace of mind, even if it means obsessively checking locks. I know there are so many things in life I cannot control. That fact keeps me up at night. I cannot tell you the last night I slept peacefully because I’m not sure I ever have. The worst, though, is when one of my fears becomes even partially realized. When I found a lump on the side of my breast a few years ago, I had a complete breakdown because I could not go through cancer eating me alive like it had my father; It turned out to be benign but my anxiety convinced me I was dying each and every moment of every day until those results came back. Each and every time my ex would cheat, my anxiety would charge in, full force, reaffirming my fears of rejection and abandonment. When fears are fully realized, anxiety attacks ensue.
It is impossible to fully explain anxiety attacks to someone who has never had one. My chest tightens like a heavy weight has been placed on it and I cannot breathe. My body shakes. My heart pounds fiercely and wildly, as if it might burst from my chest. My mind races in panic mode. My stomach tightens into knots and I have to throw up. I cannot find the words to express myself, nor can I control my mouth to speak them. I want to scream, cry, tear the world apart and shrink into a ball and disappear all at once. My head is everywhere and nowhere. I have no control. I am completely and utterly terrified, like a deer caught in the headlights, and I cannot move, cannot get it to stop, cannot stop crying. At most, I might mutter no more, no mas, pleading with myself to make it stop, to give me back control. At best, I hyperventilate and pass out.
I’ve tried and failed many times over the years to help others understand my anxiety; Again and again, I’ve heard critical remarks from others about how my anxiety is completely irrational. As if delivering some hysterical punch line, I always want to laugh and exclaim “Exactly!” Anxiety is never rational. It NEVER makes sense. Anxiety leaks from past traumas and bleeds into every aspect of life. It digs at us like an itch we can’t scratch, gnaws at us so fiercely that it cannot be ignored. When anxiety puts a thought into our head, it becomes an obsession. When fears become realized, there’s no way to stave off breakdowns or anxiety attacks. I control my anxiety to the best of my ability, repeatedly doing things like checking doors to give myself some peace of mind because, while I know I cannot control everything in life, I need to feel I have even the slightest control over my anxiety disorder and my life.
Republished on EmpowHER on 8/23/16.
Republished on The Mighty on 8/26/16.