Have you ever noticed that you seem to get anxious around the anniversaries of certain traumatic events or “bad things”? How do our minds just “know” it’s that time of year again?
There are certain times of year where I experience bouts of anxiety that I find are harder to control and just exhaust me. There were a couple traumatic events that happened in the fall of 2013, my grandfather’s unexpected death in January 2014 (1 week after I started my new job) and of course, every summer, I remember the anniversary of my bipolar diagnosis.
Lately I have been feeling anxious again, and I know I have a great “toolbox” of strategies to calm myself down, but I am just in such a way where those weren’t working. I have had to make sure I only go to “safe” places and am in situations I can handle. So when my boss asked me to come to a mediation with him on Tuesday, I thought, “Sure, why not – I have been to mediations before and I’ve been to this venue. I can handle this.” Well, I was wrong. By the afternoon I started to feel scared and anxious, I was sick to my stomach, nervous, had a tight chest, and trouble breathing. All I could think was “I have no way of getting out of this situation….I can’t take an Ativan because I have to drive myself home later and it might affect my driving…I need to get out of here!!!”
Luckily, I had my computer with me and tried to distract myself that way. I texted my husband and my friend, but I just couldn’t calm down. Time was dragging…but once I found out we were going back to the office I calmed down a little bit and I managed to get through the last hour of work and got myself home (nausea and all).
I was a little bit puzzled by what triggered my anxiety. I was talking to my mom about how I was feeling and I mentioned that I ran into a lawyer who was someone I used to be friends with many years ago. I haven’t been friends with this person in 12 years. I realized that I started feeling sick after I had this interaction. This former friend was really cold during our interaction. I said, “Hi, how are you?” and her response was, “What are YOU doing HERE?” in a really rude tone – as in, why would a law clerk be in that place? Not a nice feeling. I guess seeing her reminded my subconscious of some unpleasant things.
This person was and is a very superficial, shallow person. She probably isn’t someone I could have told about my diagnosis because she wouldn’t care as she is self-absorbed. When I was friends with her, I thought I was “cool” because I had this impression that she was this “popular”, pretty girl who guys liked. As we went through high school, I loved going to parties with her and being introduced to potential boyfriends. I loved learning how to be a flirt, and that’s what I became. I wanted to be fun, easy going, “hot”, “sexy”…you get it. I got there, but at what price? The price of not being myself.
The first year of university was my final year of being friends with this person. We actually had a falling out at my birthday party that year. This was a couple of months after I had experienced my first panic attack and I had been on Zoloft for a couple of months. I was getting used to learning how to control my anxiety. It probably didn’t help that I was in a relationship with someone who was an alcoholic and I was in denial about it. I wasn’t myself when I was friends with this person and I wasn’t true to myself or kind to myself when I was in that relationship either. Clearly running into this ex-friend triggered some unwanted feelings and reminders of things past, but I had to remind myself, “Look how far you’ve come”. I may not have become a lawyer, but I am still valued in my law firm.
You may be wondering about the title of this blog post. I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and came across an article, “How To Stop Viewing Your Anxiety As An Enemy“, which was so fitting given the way I have been feeling.
“We don’t have a choice about the feelings that arise in us. But we do have a choice in how we respond to them, or what stories we tell about them…”
The article talks about different ways to think about and react to anxiety, and one suggestion is to view your anxiety as a messenger:
…anxiety “is a messenger trying to deliver you a message about what’s important to you.” It’s trying to communicate your needs so you can meet them…your anxiety might be telling you to focus more on self-care; that you’re scared and need some support; or you like the feeling of fitting in.
“Once we get the message, we are in a better position to take action on behalf of what’s important to us.”
I always believed that my anxiety was “trying to tell me something” and that I should listen to my “gut”. If the thought of a certain situation or event didn’t feel right and I started feeling anxious about it, then it meant I knew I couldn’t handle it. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe it’s feeding into my anxiety and coddling myself, but maybe it’s not. It could just be what works for me. So what if I miss a party or gathering here or there? Is my life going to change because of it? Nope. And luckily, I don’t have FOMO (fear of missing out).