Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Anxiety Feels Like To One Person, At Least

I've been okay today and went to town and had lunch with Hank and went to the library and to Publix and performed as a semi-normal human being but now the sun is going down and with it comes the crazy. I can almost feel it creeping up my feet, my legs, to settle into my belly where it lays like stone that presses against everything.
It's so hard to explain what anxiety feels like. It feels like panic, the sort of panic you'd have in a doctor's office when he's called and said you need to come in to talk about test results. It's like panic you'd experience when you get a call from the police. It's like panic you'd get before you address a crowd of thousands.
And you can't find any good reason to be feeling it.
But your mind? Oh, it can trick you. It can talk you into believing that horror and terror are all around, even as the chickens go to roost as they always do, as your kitchen is full of good things to cook and eat, even as your husband is coming home, even as all of the children are fine, and the grandchildren too.
Panic. Terror.
Anxiety is such a mild word. It's as misleading as depression.

They're doing a lot of studies and finding that people who suffer from anxiety and depression have elevated rates of inflammation and there is lots of online advice about how to decrease inflammation, to try and get to the problem that way.
I think this is backwards. I think the anxiety and the depression cause the inflammation.
I can feel it in my body.
It's the fight-or-flight syndrome, the nervous system firing off constantly, and the body, which has nowhere to go, has no idea what to do with the constant rush of hormones, of adrenalin. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming that the sufferer feels as if they are having a heart attack, a stroke. That they are, quite literally dying. Happens all the time. Ask any ER nurse or doctor. Sometimes, it just simmers, simmers, simmers, and in my case, makes me feel like my skin's on fire and yet, at the very same time, completely enervated, drained of all vitality. I want to cry, I want to slip into an unconscious state where I can feel nothing, nothing at all.
My mind doesn't work right. It's like I have just a small percentage of it to use in a functional manner. The rest is busy, buzzing like TV screens did in the old days when the signal wouldn't come in. The simplest tasks take on immense weight and seem to require planning. "Do I take the clean clothes into the bedroom before I take the hamper back or afterwards?" "Should I put the compost pot in the dishwasher or wash it out by hand?" "Should I make guacamole or just cut up avocados and tomatoes to serve with our supper?" I consider questions like this as if they were of national importance.
I remember once, before I'd ever had anxiety (but had had depression) a friend who, on looking back, was experiencing it in spades. He cried and cried because his glasses were scratched. What would he do? How could he fix that? Another time, he was completely obsessed thinking that the IRS was going to come after him, put him jail. I had no idea what to do about these problems. As much as I tried to explain logically that we could get his glasses fixed, that the IRS was not going to come and put him in jail, his agitation and panic only increased. I walked and walked and walked with him, miles of road, as he was too crazed (I'm sorry, that's the only word) to sit down, to rest.
His situation was horrible. He tried to commit suicide. He was put into the hospital so many times. He received group therapy, one-on-one therapy, medications out the yang.
He finally ended up getting ECT. I think it helped him a little bit. He's still alive. He is a shadow of his former self. It is the saddest thing in the world.

Well. Soon it will be time to go to bed again and I can almost always sleep. If I lost that ability, I couldn't abide it. And this is not so bad. I've experienced so much worse. Writing about it helps and makes me feel more normal. If I can talk about it, if I can describe it, then it loosens its hold on me. It seems a little less big. A little less frightening.

Here's a picture that Jessie sent me today. August wants to stand now, just like Owen did when he was a baby. I can't get over how much he's changed since last Wednesday. I mean- this is ridiculous! I wrote Jessie today and said, "You've been gone for a year."
It seems like it.

I look at that picture and I am soothed. I think about Owen yesterday and the conversation we had wherein I finally came to understand just how old he thinks I am. He was convinced that when I was a child, we didn't really need roads because we had no cars. That my toys were probably limited to baby dolls and marbles. That our food was completely different from what he eats. I told him that basically, things weren't that different except that we had no computers or smart phones but that we did have phones and TV and electricity and yes, cars and even airplanes. "Jets?" he asked. "Yes, jets," I told him. That we had potato chips and coca-colas (this stunned him!) and stoves and ovens and refrigerators. Thinking about this amuses me and soothes me. The chickens soothe me. The making of a meal soothes me. The accomplishing of small tasks reassures me. The idea of bed and a book soothes me, comforts me.

And I go on.
As do so many of us. Maybe you too or someone you love.
I think I will just cut up the tomatoes and avocados. I think. I'm not sure.
And so forth.

Much love...The Extremely Old and Often Unsettled But Not Entirely Insane Ms. Moon


  1. Thank you for writing about it. I explain mine, which is a recent development of unknown cause, like this: "it's like my body senses an intruder rushing in my home, guns blazing" when I am sitting there, on the couch, surrounded by family. It's so physical in nature-chest pain, palpitations, and fear fear fear. I imagine all those circuits in my brain, haywire. I fear the medication that stops it:Ativan, just take as you need it which is a low dose, most days. The worst? What is the cause of all this? Why now? I see the look on my husband's face, taken aback, like, "how is this causing anxiety?" and I wonder the same thing. And I actually cut tomatoes and avocados with my dinner, but I threw in some green chile :)

  2. While I don't have the free-floating anxiety (mine had a cause I could define - intrusive and compulsive dark thoughts), my daughter does. And while mine was very limited in duration, hers has been a frequent companion. I think your explanation is superb. The brain is marvellous and ominous. I hope science can figure out so much more about it in my lifetime because it's just as mysterious to me as outer space.

  3. P. S. May your heart lighten very soon, Mary.

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  5. You explain it so well but I think for both of us there are no words. Mine sneaks up on me every morning when I have to get out of bed and face my day. This overwhelming all-consuming feeling of dread and fear and sadness and hopelessness. I curl myself into a ball in my bed and wait for it to pass. It usually doesn't. More than one doctor has told me that I need to stop working and go on disability but right now I forge on.

  6. Yeah. It's an ugly black dog, anxiety. I know mine is coming when I start breaking out into hives for no reason (I am currently breaking out in hives for no apparent reason). But we are all here bearing witness with you. I know it will go away, and when it passes it seems so thin, so weird a thing. But while it's here (and when it's gone) we're all of us here sitting with you, and we are an army.


  7. I suffer from anxiety as well. Mine is more constant, less overwhelming. I feel it is like a well-worn coat by now. When it hits hard, I take to bed like I need safety. It feels pretty shitty. I know that the recent violence in the world has really impacted me negatively. It's combined with a feeling of helplessness. We sort of have to hang on together and let it pass. Children and animals help me a lot. I have a cat but not nearly the kind of access to children as you do. You are providing a public service in your blog by posting pictures of your grand kids. Tell Lily and Jesse I thank them for sharing their children with us too! You seem to be calm when you garden in addition to cooking, which is great. Art does that for me, when I do it. I love when Angella holds out her hand to you. I imagine we are all doing that for each other here. I send you soothing comfort.

  8. August is amazing. And I hope the terrible anxiety (wish I didn't know how painful and overwhelming it can be) will let go as abruptly as it grabbed you.

  9. I suffered depression many years ago s d have occasional bouts of anxiety. It is great that you have described how anxiety feels. As a social worker I see that anxiety and depression seems to be increasingly common and in very young people. I wish you peace from it all, anxiety and panic are awfully debilitating.

  10. If it helps to write and talk about it, then write and talk all you want! I'm glad you described it. I've often been mystified by generalized anxiety, but I've recently felt it myself a few times -- weird fearful feelings with no discernible cause -- so I can maybe appreciate a tiny fraction of what you're talking about. I think maybe it comes with age. (Hate to say it!)

  11. I am hear listening. And reading this helps me. thank you

  12. Ashley- Yes. Exactly. That is how it is. It is all so mysterious to me. And I hate it for me and I hate it for all of us.

    Jenny_o- Yes. Marvelous and ominous. As imaginary as can be, as real as life.

    Catrina- The compulsive thoughts. The loop that will not quit. I know.

    Birdie- I call that my morning existential angst. Yes. I have that too.

    Ramona- I get hives too. Ugh. This is NOT an army I would voluntarily join nor would anyone but here we are, and solidarity helps.

    Joanne- We all do what we can to comfort ourselves when it happens, don't we? I am so glad I can share my grand babies. I, too, love the image of Angela's hand reaching out.

    A- It seems to be a cycle that has to run its course. Ugh. Ugh. For all of us.

    Leisha- I wonder if our culture with all of its choices and distractions has something to do with it. And the constant barrage of news. None of which we can do anything about. We cannot take it in. We are not evolved enough, physically, to deal with all of this.

    Steve Reed- Absolutely age has had something to do with it in my case.

    Jill- Thank you!

  13. finally stumbling back in to find you stumbling. this too shall pass. hopefully sooner rather than later.

  14. Oh sweet Mary, so sorry for the anxiety. You explain it very well, and it is so frustrating to experience when others don't understand. I'm learning how frustrating it is to watch my younger sister go through many of the same problems and knowing that I can't help her, and telling her I have the same symptoms does little to ease her stress but it's all I've got to offer.

    I think ours are a brutal mixture of menopause hormone imbalances and brain chemistry issues, too much cortisol, not enough serotonin, but I'm done messing around with prescriptions drugs that worsen the symptoms, cause new ones or do nothing. Doctors just don't know enough yet, do they?

    Your strategy of looking at those happy baby pictures and snuggling Maurice is as good a prescription as any a doctor has given. May this shit pass soon for us all.....


  15. You describe the panic so perfectly. I know I have some triggers and sometimes it comes out of nowhere. Gail

  16. I hope you are well today, Mary. If you are still feeling the darkness, please keep writing. Take pictures of all the beauty and post them with the dark hard thoughts. Thinking of you.

  17. I am so sorry you are going through this and I hope it lifts soon. You have a confluence of memories to deal with too now which might have tipped the emotional scales...Kathleen and so on. Keeping you in my thoughts.

  18. What the hell age is that baby already, how is he so upright? Isn't he like, 8 weeks old or something?Agh!

    I took myself off my Cipramil a couple months ago. I'm taking magnesium (actually, I'm not, I'm forgetting to take it) Vitamin D and a B complex instead, and while I'm not perfect, I'm tolerable. I guess. I've just weathered two months of pms without having a breakdown (or resorting t o the pills), so that's a big change. I feel like I need the break.

    But.. maybe you need a little booster to get you through this episode?

  19. I've been gone for a few days, Mary, so I didn't see this post until just now. You know I deal with this too, and I just want to say that you explain it so well and so true. I don't want you to have to go through it, and I'm sorry to hear that this was such a heavy episode. Be well.


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