Anxiety:  A Plague, Years Of Wonder

The cloud of anxiety makes other voices Slytherin; This is not English, I would think, 7, 8,9 years old, my blonde boy cap, freckles, fat cheeks, I can’t understand you. I watched faces. Eyes. Hands. The sharp outlines of buildings and overpasses and freeway signs and fences and cars and sidewalks that slanted into gutters. These more than the people themselves fill my memories- the details of people, the background against which they spoke and lived, the contrast between what they were saying and what their eyes and hands were doing. Alone inside. Watching.

I read words people write when their children/mother/husband/loved are hurt or worse happens, when life is catastrophic. I didn’t even notice how he watched me, she writes of her baby son. I didn’t appreciate his nose. A man who survived a brain tumor: I wasn’t alive before, I didn’t appreciate my family the same way I do now. And I know that anxiety has given me a brain tumor, an illness, a plague, years of wonder: I have always felt and wondered at the smallest details of the world and people I love,  felt the depth of their importance to me, felt the random and merciless nature of life and death. I have always felt like a visitor to Earth, clutching those I love, like being swept down a time traveling vortex with my husband and mother and sister and babies and loved ones all turning with me.  I feel wonderment and love so often and so intensely during the day- every day- that I, completely honestly, find it very hard to believe that I could or would write about it as if it’s something out of the norm, but I know it must be, because I read so many stories.

I know the thoughts of death and suffering that flash through my mind every day, during the most mundane actions like helping Lola cross the street, attached to tentacles of fear, terror, faith- I know those are not ‘normal’.  As a child I vacillated between joy and terror in a daily roller coaster ride that I still find it hard to believe I survived as intact as I did. As an adult, after years of therapy, medication, exercise, dietary changes and alternative medicines, those roller coasters are still a constant, but subdued: they roll smoothly and lap at my feet, offering. Like a drill that has relentlessly and painfully cored to the center of the earth, anxiety has offered me access to a steadfast moral compass that has yet to fail me.

I often feel completely upside down from the people around me, as the struggles or confusion they voice seem so simple and easy to me, but so much that comes obviously and easily to them is such a fucked up nest of thorns for me. The larger questions in life have all been answered for me: I know what is important to me, what I will fight for no matter how miserably hard it is or how I feel, I know what I will work for and I know what my priorities every day are. Anxiety has finessed my moral code into a finely tuned spirit that spins silkily in my gut and heart. It is the details of adult life that often still leave me feeling childish, ill prepared, confused. I work hard to be a ‘grown up’ but often the ideals of a grown up world feel hollow and pointless to me. I struggle to know if my perspective is healthy, valid, where it can be modified, compromised or simply wrong.

So many of my choices are made based on the realization that we all die- anxiety is the mother of this realization: she births at first, a dread of death, and then over time, if cultivated carefully and devotedly, an appreciation of death, and then, an almost painfully exquisite appreciation of life.  I have motivated myself my entire adult life like this; moved from a youth of laziness, illness, spiritual, mental and physical fatigue and chronic malaise to an adulthood of rising to the occasion, meeting needs of those around me, holding my child that one more time at night, letting my children sleep with me, nursing for so long, staying the course when marriage is rough, gentling my voice when I want to scream, apologizing, letting go a career and money to be with my children when they are small, devoting myself heart, lungs, brain and body to my family, because one day, we will all be dead.

The work on this has been to sculpt that idea, that true thing, into a livable tenet.  I can’t- and don’t want to!- sit at home clutching everyone I love like giant teddy bears because one day they will die. ( SUPER CREEPY, sorry about that ) A healthy life has to have room to breathe, spaces in between emotions, people, time given for restoration, healing, regrowth. I had to teach myself to stop viewing these pauses as waste, and see it as a part of life that I cannot deny or reinvent for my own perspective to match. But damn I tried for a lot of years.

Anxiety almost took over my life more than once, panic attacks and body pain threatened to turn me into an invalid at one point, but I kept fighting to rope it, to restrain and train and gentle it, to understand it.  Years of therapy, exercise, books, journals, groups, medication, nutrition, workwork…The gifts have been extraordinary.

I treasure every moment with my family, I have embraced their bodies and hearts into myself completely and fully, and feel a part of them. Separate but together.  I am not afraid of expressing what is real for me, not afraid of being mocked or belittled, because anything real trumps everything else.  What it means for me to treasure even in the midst of fear, anger, disgust, irritation- it means a steady consciousness behind these emotions that is aware, always, that the feelings come and go, but my love and need for my loved ones is always, and no matter how irritated, how angry, how overwhelmed I feel, I also have a shadow emotion of gratitude for having these people to be angry, irritated, disgusted and hurt by.

Gee, aren’t they lucky to have such an easy going, perky little thing like me?

Well. We all have to work with what we got.

What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet. – Woody Allen 

Photo on 2-2-13 at 11.18 PM

Maggie May Ethridge is a writer and poet living in San Diego, CA. Her first published book on marriage and bipolar disorder, Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From A Marriage released this month with Shebooks and can be bought for $2.99 at Amazon and Barnes and Noble She is completing her novel, Agitate My Heart and has been published in magazines such as DiagramThe Nervous BreakdownOpiumThe Huffington Post and Equals Record. She blogs at Flux Capacitor.