Neon Sign



Have you ever had a day when a neon sign would come in handy? Let me tell you about a couple of mine. 

Hands clutching the steering wheel, I tapped the accelerator a little harder then I knew I was supposed to. This just became a race, and it was one I had to win.

If the school bus carrying the morning kindergartners beat me home, little girl would not know what to do. We hadn't yet gone over options she had if for some reason Mom wasn't home when she got there. Best case scenario she would make her way over to a familiar neighbor's house. But most likely case scenario she would be a puddle of tears first.

Whether I'd gotten dismissal times mixed up in my head or made one more stop than I should have during my morning errands, I was running a tad bit later than a momma with a kindergartner due home any minute should be.

Two minutes from home I punched the gas til I was going 15 over the speed limit.

Praying I'd be able to evade any cops on the way home, I had an amusing thought. I did not have the time to stop and explain to an officer why I was speeding, let alone to wait for him to write me a ticket. But how nice would it be if I had a flashing neon sign above my car, an electronic marquee that read, "MUST GET HOME BEFORE KINDERGARTEN BUS." He'd see the determination in my eyes and in my grip on the steering wheel as I passed and all of that would be enough to explain my behavior. And I do think he might let me go.

I did not make it in time to meet little girl at the front door that afternoon, but she met us in the garage where I had pulled in seconds before the bus arrived.

Phew.

*****
Growing up I always seemed to have fixations with fear. My earliest memory of being afraid in this way was connected to plastic. Somehow I became aware of the warning labels on plastic shopping bags and what they were there for, and I became terrified that I would suffocate on plastic. If I had had an older sibling, I would have been a very easy target. All you would have had to do to terrorize me would be to stick a plastic bag in my face. Or mention plastic.

I would also become fixated on the fear of dying. I would go through phases of a few weeks to a few months where the thought would consume me. 

As I grew up my fears grew with me. As did the desire to be normal.

And if there really wasn't anything in my carefree young life to worry about, don't worry. There was just a general feeling of impending doom that followed me around for no good reason at all. 

In my early teen years, leaving home exacerbated my fears. If I went to girls camp for say, four nights, my thought process would go like this. "Okay, four nights left. Four nights ago was last Thursday. And I made it from Thursday til now. So I can do this."

While other girls planning pranks, or while engaged in a craft, I was always doing this in my head.

"Okay, two days have gone by. If I can do what I've done to this point one more time, it will be time to go home."

Was I having fun at camp? Kind of. A hearty round of camp songs could pull me out of my anxious thought cycles. I could enjoy s'mores and stories around the fire. When it was all over, I was always glad I had gone. Some of my very best summer memories come from those times. It was just when family and neighbors asked if I had a good time, and I'd say, "YES!", it was like I was trying to convince me as much as I wanted to convince them. All I knew was that the fun was very hard-earned.

Sometimes I would question if this was really how life was to be lived, saying I was fine when I was really a bundle of sick nerves inside. And I guessed it was.

I don't want to be overly dramatic here. I had a wonderful childhood. Devoted parents. Lots of happy family memories. A collection of kids in nearly every house on our street who loved to play kick-the-can as much as I did.

Anxiety, like many other conditions, can be described on a spectrum. I was not debilitated by severe panic attacks. I could attend school without problem. Large group settings did not overwhelm me. And I could get distracted and briefly experience what it felt like to be carefree. Worry was just the lens through which I experienced most of my world and it significantly hampered my enjoyment of life from time to time.

*****
The other day I was going through photo albums on a visit to my parents' house. My siblings and I can say that our happy childhood is thoroughly documented. As I turned the pages, I realized something inside me had changed.

I used to have a mixed reaction to looking at family photo albums. They were full of happy times, but I could also look at my face in many of the pictures and tell you exactly what my fears were fixated on. And I would cringe. And frankly I have always simply come to the conclusion that while I was a nice girl, I was also somewhat of a freak.

When I decided to write down the details of my depression story, one result I didn't anticipate was how extremely therapeutic it would be for me. As I have researched the causes of depression for presentations I have given, I have realized that I had the elements for the perfect storm of a depressive episode brewing in me since my childhood.

Because anxiety and depression are closely related. They feed on each other.

I have realized over the last several months that nearly every awkward moment or experience or phase of my life can be tied back to anxiety. When you look at it that way, all the awkwardness kind of falls away, and all that's left is me simply doing the best I knew how. And everything really was all right.

And so I had a whole lot more love in my heart for me this time as I sat with the photo album on my lap. I didn't cringe this time. I wished instead I could install a flashing neon sign for 10-year-old me, 12-year-old me, 15-year-old me, but not for the outside world, just for her to see. Maybe when she looks in the mirror. And this is what it would say.

"You think that you are a freak. That you're the only one who feels this way. Everyone else seems to be having a great time while you are fixated on your fears. And as soon as one worry is resolved, another steps up and takes its place."

Perhaps we should dispense with the neon sign, because this is not all going to fit.

"You are right that this is not normal. This is not the way everyone experiences life.

"But--this is a real thing. And you are not the only one who lives life this way.

"It's called anxiety. And you're just kind of predisposed for it. And it's okay."

"I know it's uncomfortable at times. But you'll see. You'll [mostly] grow out of it. But because you are familiar with anxiety, you will be more compassionate. It will help you look out for others. Your overall experience as a human being will be richer and deeper. And everything is going to be all right."

Or, condensed, so it can all fit on my neon sign: 

"You are acting and feeling this way because of anxiety. And it's going to be okay."


P.S. This article is fantastic for parents of children who experience anxiety. Or anyone who wants to understand it better.



5 comments:

  1. The girls camp situation is such great insight for me to see... I have several young women who suffer from the same thing! I will have to take good notes and see if I can help them better this year:( sounds like I am going to need your neon signs!!! (What a clever way to share these thoughts, I love it!) thank you for sharing:)

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    1. Yep, I think the hardest part in dealing with anxiety is feeling like you're a freak, like you're the only one, and what the heck is wrong with you. If those cute girls only knew how many many other people deal with it, including probably three or four other girls there at camp with them, it wouldn't seem so scary. They are so lucky to have you!!! Do you take them snipe hunting? Do you braid their hair?

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  2. Love this post! Your temperament as a child sounds very similar to mine--you've captured it very well in words here!

    I was wondering how your depression resolved? Did it just sort of dissipate and get better? When did you realize that it was better? Do you still struggle with it at all? What about the anxiety? I'm sorry to ask such personal questions, and you certainly don't have to answer them, but you strike me as an open person, so I thought I would go ahead and ask: Did you do counseling for your depression/anxiety? What about medication? If you took medication, do you still? What are your best strategies for coping with depression and anxiety in daily life?

    I ask all of this because I am super interested in this topic. Depression runs in my family, and I've had bouts of it as well, and I am just always interested in hearing about people's experiences "getting better." If you've blogged about these topics before, feel free to leave me links to go to. I will come back and check the reply to this comment. Thank you for writing!

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    1. Hi Rachel!! Yes, you and I are both pretty good about letting our hearts be an open book for anyone who is able to stop by, and find it so fulfilling for some reason. I'm glad you asked.

      What I KNOW helped me was 1. the unfailing support of my family. I just knew the love was going to have to run out at some point. I knew I had drained them. I won't say they weren't frustrated or at their wit's end not knowing what to do... but they kept on loving me, especially when I felt I had quit deserving it a long time ago. 2. Being forced back into life again. I spent one full summer curled up in bed nearly all day every day. When the next school semester came along, my parents wouldn't allow it anymore even if I wasn't better. Being around functioning people in the hustle and bustle of real life again helped me realize that the reality I had created for myself in my head was pretty sick. 3. Therapy. I told my story many, many times from many different angles, and one day, the logic that had become my reality fell apart. I was positive I was going to hell. And one day, it just hit me that it didn't all add up. See http://www.muchmorepreciousthangold.com/2014/09/lies-fed-to-depressed-mind.html

      I was on medication beginning two to three months in. I still don't know what part the medication played or if it did. I do remember feeling my mood lift and being super cynical, like oh wow, isn't it great, I'm going to hell and I can feel good about it. I think it probably set the stage for me to feel well when I finally got it all figured out.

      I will say I went 4-5 years depression free. The challenges of being with yourself all day at home have caused it to creep up on me every now and then since I left the work world. Sometimes I don't realize til it's almost over that it is depression that has been making life more difficult than normal. I am still figuring it out, but I am in the middle of a book called Between Two Minds that is really really teaching me a lot. She is telling me exactly what goes on in my head and why. I am relating to so much of it.

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