What My Anxiety Looks Like
"It's a beautiful day out today," I said. "We should go for a walk."
"No, thanks," she said without looking at me.
"C'mon. The fresh air will do you some good."
"It kind of looks like rain. Maybe we should just stay home."
"You'll feel better if you go get some exercise."
She didn't look convinced. "I'm really tired today. I should probably rest. Plus I have so much to do. Also, my ankle feels a little sore."
"Stop making excuses," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
I could see her wheels spinning.
"You can listen to a podcast," I offered. "Something interesting that you can learn from. Or something funny? The one with Dax always makes you laugh."
"I don't know," she hesitated.
"What's the big deal? Let's just go," I said, rolling my eyes.
"What if something bad happens?" she looked worried.
"Well, I'm just saying. I mean...what if?"
"Nothing bad is going to happen," I said, annoyed.
"You don't know that."
"The odds of something bad happening are pretty slim." I was starting to get irritated now.
"You never know," she said, looking at me.
"It's just a walk. What could happen?" I immediately regretted the question.
"So many things."
I was over it. "You always do this!" I said, losing my shit. "What the fuck is wrong with you? It's ridiculous! Can't we just go for a walk without all this drama? You're always freaking out over nothing! Why can't you just be normal?"
"I don't know!" Her hands were shaking now. She was starting to stutter. "Wh-what if something happens to me? What if I faint or fall down and-and hit my head? Or I get hit by a car? What if I don't feel well and I can't get back home and it's too far away and I can't see and my heart stops and I fall down and nobody helps me and I won't be at school to pick up my son and somebody will have to tell him I died and then he'll be all alone and...and..." Fuck. She's crying now.
I take a deep breath. I try not to scream. I try with all my might not to walk away. I try to find patience. I remind myself who I'm dealing with. This is what my anxiety looks like. Like a toddler. A screaming toddler. With a sharpie. Running around the room in circles. With sirens blaring. And everything is on fire. She is out of control. She is scared. Spinning in a thought loop, convinced she is in danger. The panic is setting in. She is trying to protect herself. She is trying to avoid any more pain. She is melting down.
"Shhhh. It's okay. Everything is going to be okay. I promise. I'm sorry I yelled. I didn't mean it. Take a deep breath. You're safe. I've got you." I tried to calm her down.
She took a few deep breaths and wiped her eyes. Then she said, "okay. We can go. But if I don't feel well or if I get scared, we have to come back home."
"Deal," I said. I was used to this.
"You promise?" she asked.
"Promise," I said.
We set off for our walk on our usual route. I like to keep things familiar for her. No surprises. No confusion. No decisions to be made. She feels better that way. I could hear her mumbling to herself. "I am strong. I am brave. I am good," she said over and over again like a mantra. She walked with her head down, shoulders slumped forward.
We walked in silence for a while. It really was a beautiful day. It's been cooler in the morning lately. Winter in Hawaii is the best. We might even get lucky and see some whales. As we approached the pathway that runs along the ocean, she slowed down her pace and hesitated for a bit.
"I hope I don't see anyone I know. I really don't feel like talking today. Maybe I'll just keep my hat pulled down. But I don't want anyone to think I'm ignoring them. If I don't smile as I pass by, people will think I'm rude. Do you think they will think I'm being rude?" she asked.
"I think you're reading way too far into it," I said.
We continued on the path. I was noticing the sparkles on the water and watching the boats sail by. The sun felt nice on my skin.
"Maybe we should turn back. I mean, we've already walked a little while. Maybe this is good enough."
"Let's go a little further," I said.
I watched some kids playing in the sand and a couple doing yoga on the grass. There were a handful of runners and a few jogging strollers. We passed tourists and locals and I couldn't help but smile and say "aloha" as I walked by. This is my favorite way to start the day.
A mongoose scurried out of the bushes and she jumped back and screamed. She was holding her hand to her chest. "Jesus," she said, trying to catch her breath. "That scared the shit out of me." She looked a little pale. I rubbed her back and told her there was nothing to be afraid of. There is no tiger chasing her.
As we reached our halfway point, the farthest point from home, I saw the look of dread come over her face. "I feel a little lightheaded," she said. "I hope I don't pass out."
"You're okay," I said and reminded her that she is healthy and strong.
"I should have brought some water," she said. "I hope I don't dehydrate out here."
"You had plenty of water before we came and there are faucets along the path if you're thirsty."
As we headed back the way we came, I noticed her pace picking up a bit. She was breathing deeply and muttering her mantra again. "I am strong. I am brave. I am good." She repeated this several times and then fell silent, as though concentrating.
The closer we got to our starting point, the more at ease she seemed to be. I noticed her walking with her head up and her back a little straighter now. She waved to someone she knew in a passing golf cart and I may have even seen her smile. As we rounded the corner to our block, she looked at me and said, "we did it," with a look of relief on her face. Until the next disaster, I thought to myself.
This is what my anxiety looks like. Like a toddler. A toddler who is terrified of all the things. Of anger and monsters, loud voices and boogeymen. She's scared of rejection and heartache. She worries about being left all alone. She needs constant reassurance. She needs trust. She takes all of my energy. She is exhausting. And after all this time I am still learning how to take care of her. Turning on her only makes things worse. I remind myself to slow down and find my calm. I remind her to breathe. I tell her everything is going to be okay. And just when I'm at my breaking point, I pause and ask myself what love would do.