May 1 2017

To the Heroes Who Love Me When I Am Anxious

Most of the time, I’m fine.

Or, more accurately, I’m “fine.” Most days, I function just like everyone else appears to function: I grocery shop, I play outside with my children, I laugh easily. I seem relaxed and comfortable and carefree. There is a soundtrack always playing in the background of my mind that is filled with worries and what-ifs, but on these days the music is low. Controlled. Almost muted.

And then there are days like the one last week. My husband was out of town, I was alone with the kids for several days and nights, and a few new-ish friends popped over for a couple hours to have some wine and watch a show. After a little while, I went upstairs to put my daughter to bed; and by the time I rejoined my company, I was drowning under the first crushing wave of a phobia-related panic attack.

I tried to act “fine,” but something was clearly off. I was spiraling quickly. My cheeks were flushed and I was visibly trembling, so I said I was cold and sat by the space heater. Still, my friends could tell, and it was embarrassing at first — I’d been hoping to conceal the full level of my anxiety for much longer than this — and once it was out in the open, the best I could do was try to explain myself. Witnessing a panic attack was probably not a rockin’ good time for my guests, and my long-winded ramblings were hardly adding disco lights to the party.

But they listened, and one of my friends offered to stay the night.

“I’m fine,” I told her, over and over and over. “Seriously. I mean it. You can go. You have to work tomorrow, and you’ll run into so much traffic in the morning. It’s okay. I’m fine. I really, really think I’m going to be fine.”

She nodded. “That’s nice,” she said. “I’m staying.”

And she stayed.

My neuroses make me a hard person to love sometimes. It’s comparatively uncomplicated to be with someone when they are funny and confident and good-natured, but it takes something extra to stick around when those things disappear. If this is you — if you have seen my more appealing traits dissolve and yet stand resolutely in my life — I cannot thank you enough. There is no glamorous cape, no telltale emblem on your shirt, but I recognize you just the same.

If you have ever listened openly and without judgment, this is you.

If you have ever answered a text at 3 in the morning because I could not quiet my mind alone, this is you.

If you have ever heard me say something irrational and responded with kindness, if you have resisted the urge to insist my panic is “no big deal,” if you have tried for even a moment to understand and react with empathy, this is you.

If you have ever held my hand, literally or figuratively, to steady me while I shake so violently that my teeth chatter, this is you.

If you have ever reassured me 37 times in a row (because 36 was almost but not quite enough), this is you.

If you have ever been a calming presence when I can’t figure out how to breathe, this is you.

If you have ever made yourself vulnerable — shared your stories, your worries, your perceived failings, your quirks — to help me feel less alone, this is you.

If you have done any of this even once, you’ve made a difference. And if you are one of the steadfast few with the heart to stand by me again and again, to support and comfort and encourage me while I strive to improve, to loan me your composure and your courage when I have misplaced mine, then you have moved me. Likely to incredulous tears.

I am not a broken person to be “fixed.” I have never needed you for that. I am a person who is mostly strong, mostly fine, and very much whole. When the anxiety takes over, there are so many of us who forget our wholeness — and sometimes, when it becomes a struggle to remember, we need heroes like you.

About Melissa

I'm a high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when I was six months pregnant. Now that I'm in California, I spend my days babbling to a toddler, dancing with a four-year-old, and wandering aimlessly around the two locations I can find without using Google Maps. The plus side: since the move, my work has been published by Writer's Digest and The Writer, and is also featured on The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, BlogHer, and Mamalode, among others. I am a frustrating mix of contradictions: as a member of SAG-AFTRA, I relish the thrill of a film set, but the stage fright struggle is real. I'm an anxious ambivert who both yearns for alone time and profoundly misses the company of other adults. I prefer my words (and my people) genuine, with a side of humor.

2 comments on “To the Heroes Who Love Me When I Am Anxious

  1. Melissa,

    I just read your article in The Writer so I decided to check out your website. I also am a former teacher and I thank GOD that kids use backpacks now instead of those leather book bags they used to use back in the olden days, when I was student and when I was a teacher. The smell of leather in September always made me homesick for my classroom (Room 102) and my kids. Now, I communicate with around 15 or 20 of my former students on Facebook and I can’t believe that most of them are GRANDPARENTS!!!! But to me, when I “talk” to them, they are still 16. (smile) Looking forward to reading your posts. And I just subscribed to your blog.

    Enjoy your little ones, Melissa. They will be in college before you know it.

    Kathy

    • Kathy, thank you so much for stopping by (and for subscribing to new posts!). I always love connecting with teachers — past, present, and future. It’s a little bit mind-blowing to think that my former students may one day become grandparents; most of mine are currently in the married/having kids phase, and that’s been shocking enough. 😉 How wonderful that you still keep in touch with some of them!

      I appreciate your taking the time to comment, and thank you for alerting me to the fact that the June issue is out! Eek! I’m still waiting (anxiously) for my copy in the mail.

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