After spending the afternoon rearranging my nine loaves of bread in the freezer to make room for the new ones I planned on acquiring on tomorrow’s grocery outing, I felt an unfamiliar urge to be productive. Two hours after sitting down to study intensely for the remainder of Friday night (and about twenty minutes into actually studying, damn you reddit!), I wandered onto Facebook and saw a post from my dad. Left to his own devices for the entire weekend, his primitive hunter-gatherer instincts kicked into overdrive, which led him to the hunting grounds of the local bakery. His prey stood no chance – cheddar jalapeno bread, Thanksgiving stuffing bread, classic honey whole wheat loaf (for health’s sake, of course), double fist-sized pumpkin chocolate chip muffin, and cranberry white chocolate chip square (which, by the size, would more appropriately be described as a small storage box filled with sugar and flour). Alert the CDC about this breaking epidemiological discovery – bread addiction is apparently genetic. Thousands are at risk for carbohydrate overindulgence and sandwich toxicity!
As I smiled and laughed, my giggles caught in my throat. Ah, the homesickness has arrived, perfectly in concert with the end of daylight savings time and the onset of another long, dark winter far from family. Another unfortunate aspect of my inheritance less enjoyable than a bread fixation – anxiety, depression, self-loathing – has crept up on my these past few weeks. As the sun sets earlier and earlier, my state of mind sinks alongside it.
Owing to a diet with more leafy greens than the Jolly Green Giant’s underwear drawer and fruitier than a Broadway leading man (not that there’s anything wrong with that …), I have hardly been sick a day in the past several years. In the past month, I’ve been plagued by nausea, headaches, and various unspecific little miseries. Frustrated and befuddled, I eventually arrived at the conclusion that I had contracted lepto from the mice infesting my kitchen cupboards. Liver and kidney failure were sure to follow, but at least that would excuse me from taking the neuropathology exam. Sitting in class one day, I took stock of the state of my body: shoulders tensed, stomach in knots, and mind in turmoil over … over what, I asked myself?
Nothing. My head was spinning and my brain was wrung out because of absolutely nothing. I was anxious for no reason at all.
At that moment, it was clear that lepto was not to blame for my malaise, but it would have been preferable to this particular culprit. Anxiety, my old nemesis. After years of battling panic attacks, vague yet terribly uncomfortable uneasiness at almost every moment of the day, and various and prolonged gastrointestinal illnesses (all psychogenic, of course), I thought I had recovered and learned to cope. After spending high school on medication and in therapy, I finally found relief during college. Or so I thought. In hindsight, the anxiety never left; it disguised itself as a nasty little eating disorder that persisted at some level for, well, come to think of it, until a few months ago. Since I had evicted my anxiety from its new home, it decided to pop up in its old stomping grounds – dizziness, nausea, tenseness, racing thoughts, agitation.
So now it’s clear – if this pattern holds, I will never be free. Once I conquer one manifestation of my anxiety, it will occupy another niche, take another form, one that I don’t even recognize as my old foe. It will forever evade my efforts to banish it from my life.
However, there is always hope, because knowledge is power. I know my enemy better now, and I know where it hides in the corners of my mind. Knowing what’s behind my mysterious symptoms makes them a little more bearable, less worrying (although those damn mice probably gave me something or other). If I know who I’m fighting, I have faith I can win.
Days ago, I got up, completed my morning routine, ate breakfast, and even suited up to take the dog for a walk. When it came time to leave the house and go to class, all I had to do was put on real pants (as opposed to my designated dog walking pants. The biggest chore of my day is imprisoning my legs in any fabric other than flannel or fleece). And I didn’t. I just … couldn’t. My bag was packed, my keys were waiting by the door, I was ready to leave. But I couldn’t. For no reason whatsoever, I was paralyzed, had run smack into an invisible brick wall of I can’t (or maybe just I won’t). I didn’t necessarily want to stay home or do anything else; my willpower, my motivation, my everything had suddenly and inexplicably been sucked from my body as if into a black hole of apathy. I knew that I would regret skipping class, that I would be plagued with anxiety over what I missed and self-loathing that I was so lazy and weak-willed that I couldn’t even put on a damn pair of pants and walk out the door. But I still chose not to. And I hated myself for it, tore myself to shreds all day. Why hadn’t I just gone to school? It was a half mile walk that would have saved me a full day of self loathing, worry, and regret.
There was no reason. That’s the point, the point of anxiety. Its greatest weapon is nothing at all.
With only two hours of classes today, I was sorely tempted to repeat my mistake. Only now I know who I’m up against, what it’s fighting with, and how to beat it. How does one conquer nothing? With something, of course. Anything. Anything at all. When that familiar mental paralysis hit, I wanted to succumb to it, but I told myself: just move, do something, anything, no matter how small. So I put on a pair of jeans. It was the hardest thing I did today, but as soon as the denim took the place of flannel, I felt empowered, unencumbered, liberated (odd, seeing as the rare occasions when I put on real clothes instead of pajamas usually have the opposite effect). It was a small victory, but served as proof of concept: I can win. If I keep moving, keep doing, and learn from my past stumbles, I can heal.
There may not be hope for a full recovery, but the prognosis seems less dim after pouring our my heart and mind to my family and to you readers. Oh, and after buying two new loaves of half priced bread this morning. What can I say? Like father, like daughter.