13 05/23/2012 parenting

Anxiety animal

Anxiety is a strange animal. It’s sometimes benign, soundly sleeping in its cave, harmless except for the occasional twitch of reminder. Other times, it is super loud, growling beneath the surface of my stomach, shivering my hands, stealing my oxygen, bugging my eyes a bit as I bite the inside of my mouth, waiting for it to eventually pass, for its return to dormancy.  

You are anxious? You seem so confident.  I hear this a lot, people are quite amazed that someone so outgoing (read: obnoxious) as me can suffer from such an affliction. I get asked to emcee weddings, to make random speeches or toasts, to facilitate or organize groups, everything that a confident person can do with ease. But beneath this veil of perceived confidence, I am a shivering mess. I feel inadequate, feckless and completely terrified of being judged or laughed at.  And thereby completely ruining what typically would be a fun or entertaining experience.  

While most of these described experiences are personal in nature, it obviously comes into play at work. Here I fight it better because the consequences are more severe. I hate presenting, but struggle through it because being in public relations means you have to speak in public. Imagine that. Funny thing is, I am fine chiming in a discussion about a variety of topics, but give me an appointed time to speak or present and I freak out.

The anticipation is almost debilitating and even once forced me to stop in the middle and make a break to the bathroom to catch my breath and try not to pass out. Luckily my ability to shroud my anxiety in this instance with a claim of stomach upset prevented any repercussions. But it just enhanced the feeling the next time I had to speak as anxiety is also a cannibal with tasty limbs that keep growing back.

Crowded subways can trigger it, praying for the next stop to arrive and then fighting so hard not to jump out the door at the last minute before heading back into the tunnel. Riding elevators can trigger it, thinking what if it stopped between floors and I had to use the bathroom?  Bizarre, I know, but this is what I think about and can’t find the off switch. 

I used to not be able to drive on highways as the swell of anxiety was too strong, but I did overcome this one because Steph was sick of driving all the time. I also took it as a personal challenge to conquer this particular anxiety problem. It still comes back in brief snippets, but a couple of deep breaths and lane changes and I’m fine. 

I know I am not alone. My mother suffers from it and bears the increased burden as she thinks it her fault that I have my own anxiety issues. I tried various medications but some had adverse side effects that I was not willing to put up with long term (hello wet noodle!). Others were just spot solutions that worked, but felt like I was relying on them too much.  

Hudson shows occasional signs of heightened anxiety so I am constantly watching to see if it is escalating.

Hud May.jpgTasman does not seem to have any problems so far.   

Tas May.jpgWhat other ways are there to first recognize there may be a problem with childhood anxiety and second to try and curb or help it?

  • Steph

    Jason, thanks for sharing the challenges of anxiety you face…so eloquently.
    I’ve known you for a few years now and quite honestly, you have really overcome so many of those challenges that you were once overwhelmed by. You seem to be much better equipped now to deal with the anxiety, shake it off and move on. Sometimes eventhough you may be feeling anxious inside, you have such an amazing way about you that you can ease everyone else’s nervousness with your warmth, words and humour.
    I love all of the open comments in this thread. They are so insightful.
    Nice sense of community on Urban moms!

  • kim

    Sara my meltdown was part of lingering post partum depression issues as well. UGH!

  • Jason

    Thanks Sar, thanks everyone, this was helpful both from an advice and comfort in numbers point of view.
    Now – back to more hair removal writing!

  • Sara

    Oh Jason – I’m so with you on many of these things. Especially the ‘but you’re so outgoing’ part. I never really put the term ‘anxiety’ to it until I had my postpartum breakdown. Now, so much of my childhood is cleared up for me – so many struggles I have seem to make more sense. My first major anxiety breakdown was in a grocery store – I sat on the floor and turtled – my boyfriend at the time had to carry me out of the store. At the time I thought I was losing my mind. Now it all makes sense.
    Like you, I’m watching for it in Will. I’m going to keep this one on hand because Kim and Jen and the others are giving great advice.
    You are SUCH an amazing writer Jason – honest to god.

  • Kim

    I was highly anxious as a child and funny I had been plagued with “but you are so outgoing?” for so long that I thought I was crazy. How can people see me one way and I see myself another? I hid my anxiety knowing I was a “freak”. Knowing my fears were irrational. I feared judgement and being laughed at, or looking stupid. but i feared fear more. My motivation to conquer anything was facing the greater fear ie. if I didn’t get my license b/c I was too anxious to get it I would be seen as a bigger “loser” for not getting it. The first time I had to order in McDonald’s with my friends I was dying inside. I didn’t know “how to do it”. Everyone else seemed to know and with ease. I had to go to university even though I didn’t think I could do it b/c if i didn’t people would know my secret. I was a failure. It confused me so my greatest friend was avoidance. Like using the phone. Hate it. Was really tough getting through it (never over it) at work. I usually have to have everything I’m going to say all lined up before hand before I can even make a call.
    I noticed my daughter was showing similar signs as I had growing up. Fear with new people and not “knowing” how to do things. Her emotions were really getting the best of her by grade 4. She was so stressed and anxious by school work and getting things done perfectly she would have big freak outs. She had no idea why she was so angry all the time. The littlest things could “set her off”. We noticed that if she wasn’t well rested and “prepped” before a new experience it ended in disaster. She would refuse to do things that were outside her comfort zone if things didn’t go exactly the way she had envisioned. She would loop with the same language. “I don’t know what to do”. even if you gave her instructions I think her brain was overloaded and she just couldn’t function. We eventually took her to the youth mental health clinic. Well on her way to anxiety disorder we tried various activities, youth groups and one on one therapy to help her. We had the school youth counsellor involved as well as teachers. Empathy was her greatest friend. She wasn’t “acting up” for attention. in fact attention was the last thing she wanted. Recognizing the signs of her frustration and allowing her room to learn to calm down on her own was a huge skill.
    NOW? She is involved in theatre and sings and acts in front of people (OMG). She asked the basketball coach, all on her own, if she could be a student coach for the younger kids. Sometimes I can not recognize she’s the same kid she’s come so far. She amazes me and pleasantly surprises me all the time. My biggest advice do NOT let them hid or avoid. They must go to school, face that test, the big soccer game or buy the milk in the store. Enabling them only makes it worse.
    Me? I had a meltdown in my mid 30s before I acknowledged anxiety as a real problem and an actual disorder before getting any help. It’s awful living your life in fear and holding a secret. You shouldn’t have to. If it affects your life and you can’t do certain things than it’s a problem and needs attention. It is sooooooo common but there is still such a stigma around mental disorders and illnesses.

  • Tracey

    Dude, it’s probably the biggest reason why I don’t have a driver’s license. I’ve been thinking a whole lot about my own anxieties lately too… this was good of you to share. 🙂

  • Erin Little

    I’ve recently been freed from a lot of my anxiety by finally deciding that I don’t care what people think of me. It’s none of my business what other people think of me. I am who I am. My main anxiety was never feeling good enough and having people judge me. Well, that changed thanks to a number of factors. Brene Brown’s TED talks and her books, “I Thought it Was Just Me” & “The Gifts of Imperfection”. Meditation. Quitting drinking. I’m hoping to help my children develop resilience. You know what else I’ve learned, we are generally harder on ourselves than anyone else is.

  • Shelley

    My son suffers from anxiety disorder. One of the best things you can do is seek professional help, your children will learn from you. If you can start them off on the right foot, teaching them how to cope with anxiety and stress (which we all have, it is a matter of learning how to react, cope and manage successfully that is key), it will help set them up for a life time of success. Anxiety and stress exist for everyone, but learning how to handle it is a skill that is learned. Having a professional outsider help is extremely helpful, since it is often hard to see exactly what is happening when you are in the moment.

  • Idas

    Holy, I can relate on so many levels.
    1) Got my 365 hours after turning 16. I’ve been a passenger and driver who has been in more than an handful of negligent drivers ramming me. The busy 401 forces me to take brutal long side street runs or public transit. A calm 401 and I am still a bit white knuckled. Driving someone to the airport is brutal punishment, I can only do it with a good driver beside me keeping me from bailing.
    2)I could talk an elephant’s ear off but a pair of negative public speaking experiences and I’d need some seriously heavy meds to get up and deliver a real speech again.
    3)My number 1 child has the quietest form of anxiety often I can only tell by the damage to her finger nails. It breaks my heart. I have a hard time detecting it because my anxiety usually manifests in anger. Yes, I put it all out there on display like a nut job.
    4) My projection of anxiety sadly manifests for my kids as militant badass controlling. I am working on that big time before I really mess it up.
    Lastly, I have found a yoga practice (ashtanga) has been up and down, the down is really nasty but the up is really up. If nothing else, it makes me look deeply at my behaviours and how they affect others. I am also read about imago therapy, that has been very helpful too.
    Thanks for sharing this post, it helps a lot.

  • Jason

    Thanks for sharing Jen. This was insightful and obviously well thought out.
    I am a projector as well, imagining all sorts of conflict and potential horror in the minutiae of every day life. I am amazed I find time to laugh and smile.
    But I do. And I am trying to more and more especially with the boys.

  • Jen

    I can relate for sure. I seem to have this bizarre “talent” for seeing the potentially deadly future of a situation that is likely, in reality, benign. For example, I am the world’s worst backseat driver and am regularly fake breaking, gasping or grabbing things as my poor husband navigates the roads. This is because I can see a car in front and instead of just seeing the car I see the pending accident and terror and pain. Crazy.
    This happens to me in elevators and other enclosed places as well. I really do not know how shorter people handle a busy subway car. I often have to stand on my toes and take deep breaths just to get through the ride to downtown.
    As for my kids, I started to see it in my older child. In fact, we took him to an anxiety specialist because his panic attacks and anxiety were getting worse and we didn’t know what to do. Before the doctor met him she sat down with me and we discussed the facts. It was incredibly eye opening when she turned to me and said, “You need to stop projecting your anxiety on him with your expectations and questions and over involvement. He needs to have space to make choices and mistakes and have should be there as a constant supporter, not his conscience. He needs to be confident to make decisions on his own even if they are different than yours. It is not your job to make him hyper-involved and directing him. You need to be his soft place to land.”
    From that point on EVERYTHING changed. I still feel anxious often but I let my kids be the guides and I am there to support. I give them more freedom and am less involved in the specifics details of their lives and relationships. They come to me and I listen. I rarely tell them what I think they should do. I might ask probing questions but I bite my tongue and let them work it out.
    The doctor’s words have been the greatest gift. I have two incredibly independent and confident kids and I am a better mother and person for it!

  • Jason

    Nicole – slow and steady wins the race. I literally stayed in the right lane and waited for the inevitable wave of anxiety to hit. When it did, I took the next exit. My friends (and wife) called me right lane J for about two years. As I gained confidence with each effort, I eventually found a groove that more in more became the normal. Eventually it faded so far in the distance I stopped thinking about it. When it does occasionally return, I skooch over to that right lane again and try to wait it out.

  • nicole

    Re: highway anxiety. At the age of 41, after YEARS of enjoying driving, I have recently come down with panic attacks and subsequent anxiety at driving on the 401. How did you get over that one????

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