Road Well Traveled

I couldn’t sleep last night.

That’s becoming more and more common. And it’s not just because the dog is incessantly smacking his lips (why!?!) or that my husband breathes loud when he sleeps. Or even that I’ve watched too much TV or had too much screen time right before bed.

No, it’s that more and more, I find that my anxiety only manifests at night – conveniently when I’m trying to go to sleep. When I’m comfy in my jammies, tucked in under the covers, and can feel my husband slip into dreamland within 2.4 seconds of his head hitting the pillow, I find myself with a knot in my stomach, my face getting hot, my jaw clenching, barely able to swallow, and my mind absolutely racing. No sleep for me.

And so it was last night. I found myself finally getting up from the marital bed, laying on the couch, and playing some ridiculous dot game on my phone until my battery was almost dead and it was 90 minutes before I was scheduled to be up.

I don’t know what’s more annoying – the feeling of helplessness the anxiety invokes or the pain in my lower back brought on by a night on the couch that won’t go away.

I would be lying if I told you that I’m doing great; that I see a counselor, that I talk to friends, that I have developed coping strategies, or that I’m even taking medication. I’m not doing any of those things. Not because I don’t think they would work, but because I wouldn’t even know where to start and quite frankly I feel like I’m not nearly as bad off as someone else. I’m still in the stage where I feel like I can read a self-help book, try to get some exercise and do some deep breathing, and pin everything on Pinterest dealing with anxiety.

I’ve never been one to ask for help and I’ve always been a perfectionist and a workaholic. And quite honestly, that’s probably where all this anxiety started in the first place. In the midst of trying to be a good mother, an extraordinary wife, a valued and respected employee, a loving friend, and a decent human, I developed this sense that none of that can be accomplished unless I work my ass off and everything is perfect. At the ripe old age of 40, have I accomplished any of that? Well, let’s look at my anxiety list from last night:

  • My husband’s birthday is this coming weekend and not only have I not bought him a present, but I also scheduled my son’s wisdom teeth to be pulled out that same day and so that takes the option of celebrating over a dinner out on the town off the table. And I haven’t been the best wife as it is. I want to have an extraordinary relationship with my husband and I never feel like I’m giving him my 100%.
  • My son, who has been shipped off to our lake house for the last two summers to work, has decided this year he’s staying home to work. Fine with me, but we are now three weeks until the last day of school and he’s been “looking” for a job for six weeks. I’ve threatened to start taking money out of his account and not returning it until he’s making a wage. I know that’s harsh but I cannot have him sitting in his room sleeping the entire summer. He’s finishing out 10th grade now and I have two more years of him under my roof and if he doesn’t realize how privileged his life is and how he must step up and be decent and a contributing member of society, I have basically failed as a mother.
  • At work, I’m the first one in and the last one to stop working. I usually spend 10 hours in the office and still come home and do a couple more hours. I like my job. I love the people I work with and I like the work that we produce. It keeps my mind busy. I can’t say it’s something I’ve always wanted to do though. And it’s frustrating that I’m not making what I think I’m worth and that I don’t have control over my time. Even on days when I’m not in the office, I’m working. I am always available via cell or email.
  • I’m seriously in debt. Up to my eyeballs. Student loans, credit cards, tuition for my son’s school, taxes – you name it and I don’t have money for it. It’s frustrating to be in a situation where you want things to be better and you want to provide better and you can’t ever get ahead. And don’t talk to me about Dave Ramsey. I’m trying to get a handle on it.
  • And that debt steam rolls into another problem. I’m working a bazillion jobs. In addition to the 12 hours a day I work by “regular” job, I also work part-time at a meal assembly place. I only decided to do the extra hours to save some money for my savings (thank you, Dave Ramsey), but also because I would get a discount on my own meals. So now, I have even less down time because I also have these hours. Also, when I have some spare time, I work as an online transcriptionist. The money is ok, but it’s time consuming and tedious and I’m not loving it. Also, I have a side hustle in direct sales. And before I lose you entirely, I’m not one to pressure anyone and I don’t have home parties (and that’s probably why my business level has stayed the same for the past two years).
  • Oh, and let’s also talk about my feud with the homeowners association. We’ve lived here quietly for just over 4 years and we’ve attended all the meetings. I’ve always thought they were crazy but I kept it to myself because none of their decisions affected me or our property. But things got ugly a few weeks ago when the Board decided they weren’t going to allow a resident propose a change to the covenant. And now I have beef with a bunch of old biddies who hate chickens, but more importantly don’t want to follow a fair process that’s clearly laid out in the by-laws.
  • Let’s also talk about my mom. Whom I love and should not be causing anxiety, but her mental health worries me. She’s always been a professional complainer, but a few years ago she had a stroke and even though she’s physically a-ok, she stopped working because of speech aphasia. This change in her days has given way to an attitude that reminds me of the Winnie the Pooh story character Eeyore. I don’t get to spend the time with her that I wish I could.
  • And if that wasn’t enough, I’m fat. I know. It’s a dumb thing to be anxious about, but it’s true. I’m the heaviest I’ve been and I can’t seem to eat right or get my husband to eat right. Dessert after dinner, yes please. Couple glasses of wine every night, for sure. Half marathon training, not this year sister. Ugh. Nothing fits, nothing in my closet hides any of my flaws, and I am NOT buying another size up (not that I could afford to anyway).

So that was my list last night. And you better believe every little thing had equal top billing and was running at warp speed through my head. Sleep? Nada. But this morning I recognized that this could not continue.

So, what do I do? First, I’m mentally strong enough to know that not a single one of these things is insurmountable. Also, I’m healthy enough to admit that I have some problems and I need to take some time to work on solutions.

So what did I do today to find some solutions? I took the day off work. Yes, I answered some email and have had my work phone glued to my hip all day. But I have not made myself as readily available as I usually do. I actually took a few hours this morning and slept in and turned my phone and my computer off and I added an auto-reply to my email that I was out of the office. I took the dog for a walk without looking at my phone a single time. I shipped off some skirts at the post office that I sold on Poshmark over the weekend that will earn me about $24. I talked to my kid about some job opportunities that he suggested, pointing out to him that he had a good idea but guided him to the knowledge that it would cost him more in gas and time to get there than he would actually make. I took some time to write and upload this blog post, which is therapeutic just to get the words on paper. When my husband gets home, I’ll greet him with a kiss instead of the snarky, tired attitude I gave him this morning when he left for work. When I cook dinner tonight, I’m even going to include some broccoli (albeit cheesy broccoli, but a vegetable nonetheless!) to break up some of the crap I’ve been eating and I’m going to stick to water instead of wine.

None of this will cure my anxiety. In fact, I can still feel my stomach start to knot up and my arms go weak as I think about this list again and sleeping tonight. But tonight, instead of thinking about all the stuff I have to face, I’m going to think of all the things I did today to get in front of the problems. Tonight, I’m going to focus on solutions. Tonight, I’m going to start thinking about all the things I want so that I can start thinking about how to achieve it. Anxiety is about the fear of not knowing and tonight I’m going to focus on the things I know to be true and that are showing up in my life.

I wrote this post not to bring attention to my own anxiety, which of course it did, but to point out that it’s more common than people think, it happens to high-functioning people we would never expect to have anxiety, and that there’s a way to chip away at it so it doesn’t feel like it will consume your life. For those out there experiencing sleepless nights and paralyzing thoughts, I see you. I know you’re struggling in the shadows. I know you have portrayed yourself as strong and confident and having all your shit together, and I know there are still times when you cry in the shower so no one can hear you. I know your biggest fear is failing – at anything – and that fear both propels you forward and holds you back. I just needed to let you know that you are not alone. When you are struggling to find peace at night, know there is someone else out there with the same challenge.  And then start focusing on the solutions. Start focusing on the dreams. Start focusing on the good. Let the wave of anxiety hit you, and then stand up to catch your breath.

For those of you who struggle, find your strength. Whether you need a counselor, or a friend, a self-help book, or Pinterest, reach out and find what you need. I can assure you this road is well traveled and no one should be walking alone.

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