What we don’t see…life with anxiety

It’s amazing how seemingly small things will trigger you and take you back to a place you haven’t been in a long time nor did you necessarily want to go. I had that experience this evening as someone on twitter made a seemingly innocuous comment that for a moment had me on edge but then I realized I have worked far too hard and long to let anyone steal my joy.

A few weeks ago not only marked my son’s 20th birthday but it also marked 20 years since I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder as my entrée with panic attacks as the appetizer, side dish, bread basket and dessert. For my starter drink and dessert coffee, I have agoraphobia. For years that meant avoiding air planes unless necessary and then only under the influence, car rides that involved bridges and highways and a host of other things that needed to be avoided. Needless to say it made life with me challenging, hell the poor Spousal Unit used to have to avoid all highway driving with me unless I was medicated in one form or fashion.

Up until 2007 when a panic attack caused me to collapse in the middle of a lecture while teaching, I thought I did a pretty good job of hiding my “quirks”. Yet nothing like being taken out on a stretcher in front of your students and colleagues to make you realize, change is necessary. I have done therapy and meds and frankly they didn’t fix my issues they sort of colored over them or maybe a better way to put it…know when you have to clean the house so you throw everything in the closets or stuff it in the rooms no one will look into? That’s what meds pretty much did. Ativan provides a great high but I don’t want to walk through life dependent on drugs if there is a better way.

My better way started some years ago with therapy but in recent years has included yoga and meditation which my old therapist suggested but at the time I gave the side eye to, but after that incident in 2007, I was ready to try them. I admit I was a skeptic but now I am a believer. It’s been years since I was dependent on drugs and I can do most things most adults are perceived as being able to do today as long as I am mindful of my limits. My limits include knowing when to say no, recently that meant when a recruiter contacted me about a position that would have given me a six figure income knowing that while such a position would have been a feather in my cap, it also would have been a huge trigger. The further I went in the exploratory stage for that position, it was clear that while my current position can be taxing at times it gives me the latitude I need to manage my anxiety. Had I been offered this other position and taken it, I basically would have been opening the door for anxiety to walk back in on a regular basis. In the end, no job is worth my mental health.

However there is one area in my journey with anxiety that I have not overcome and frankly I am starting to make peace with the fact that I may never overcome it and as a 39 year old woman, it’s embarrassing as fuck. I can’t drive. Oh, I can drive but getting behind the wheel is an act of torture on every level and being under the influence of both anxiety and panic whenever I get behind the wheel, I have had to face that fact. Unlike many tasks an accident in a car has the potential to shorten not only my life but someone else’s life and after much self-examination it’s not a chance I am willing to take.

Funny thing is we live in a world that makes assumptions, we assume everyone is just like us, on one level I want to say that makes sense but on another level it doesn’t. It blows my mind how often people will tell me oh, just drive! If I were visually impaired I am pretty sure you wouldn’t tell me to just drive, at least I hope not. We are not comfortable with differently abled people especially when we can’t see it (not that I think we are comfortable when we can see it, but when we can’t it blows our minds), pretty much we are steeped in ableism and I never realized just how shitty it is.

Maybe it’s my fault because for years I suffered in silence and the Spousal Unit has gone out of his way to assist me, hell the first job I got in Maine required I drive a lot and I didn’t even know how to drive when we moved here. So the man would drive me where I needed to go and then park so no one would know my shameful secret. Poor dude often had to stay up to 2-3 am working since his work day was spent driving and hiding.

I admit having a driving phobia on this level is hard in a state like Maine and I suspect it may be the one reason I do eventually go back to Chicago or some place with a kick ass public transportation system. Since the downside is currently I can only handle being behind the wheel in limited quantities which does impact my social life especially any social life sans the man. Thankfully my best pal in Maine knows my secret and has for years and is always gracious in doing the driving.

Not sure why I wrote this tonight other than to say maybe we need to stop thinking that everyone is like us instead accept that we all have different abilities and that is perfectly fine.

PS: I know a few readers may be concerned about me sharing something so personal, well with a 20 year history its known knowledge as far as my medical records. As far as future employers, I am at the point in life, that hiding me doesn’t work, I did that for years and I have seen it blow up in a rather messy fashion.




12 thoughts on “What we don’t see…life with anxiety”

  1. thank you so much for this post. it’s nice to know someone else has similar struggles. i have driving anxiety and i recently just got accepted into this job that is perfect in every way except it involves some local city driving and i’m so nervous. i understand how you feel completely. part of me, a big part, wants to get over it, but the other part is so scared…like i have dreams about driving and not good ones that’s an anxiety. it just ruins my social life, professional life…it’s just sad. i am trying to work out how to overcome this, but it’s just sad… thank you for this post

  2. Don’t know why I decided to read this blog, yet I am really glad that I did…first I want to say that admire your sharing about your trials and triumphs with a mental health disorder that debilitated many people. I know you have helped someone gain an understanding about hiw to take care of and nuture yourself. It also helped me to understand the other reason you said no to the position… I will admit I felt that you had other reasons that were none of my business:)

  3. Hi! I found you on Twitter & I heard an open, real, honest voice in your written words.

    I have “multiple chemical sensitivity” and your saying that it’s hard to have a hidden disability like anxiety gave me validation. Thank you! No one can see chemical sensitivity & there is lack of understanding about it too.

    I have an uncle in Machias. He is a wonderful open person, gay white humanist artist. He feels not completely at home in small town Maine, although there is a large gay population in his town for whatever reasons.

    Maybe we all don’t feel completely at home in some parameter of our lives. I am considered racist by a group of black people who view interracial dating as abusive on the part of the white person, & they judged me because I had had a black boyfriend long ago. I respect their views but I felt so alienated from that whole dimension of that mindset among some people in D.C. I still try to understand. I have come to understand their logic but my heart rebels & thinks there is a deeper truth that maybe they’re not seeing.

    Hope I didnt broach too many topics at once. Thanks for listening & sharing! Karen

  4. It is GOOD that you shared this. More people need to understand anxiety. My mom has had anxiety, probably my whole life, but I never understood it. I am such a DIY person and take a lot of pride in personal strength, ability to “muscle through” tough situations . . . I also feel I have a lot of compassion but one area I’ve struggled to be compassionate in is when I perceive people as weak, as not being willing to work hard or get up the guts to do hard things.

    This outlook has made for a strained relationship with my mom. She was an on-and-off-again single, working mom (married a few times) and then when I was in high school, she got really sick, had to go on disability, and her life changed dramatically. Since then her anxiety got worse and worse but I never knew that’s what was going on. I just knew that “normal” life stresses her out to the point that she gets sick and can’t function. Something like going to my grandma’s house for a visit – something we used to do all the time, it was no big deal – would throw her into a tailspin.

    There’s a lot more to it and her story, but it was only in the last couple of years, as I got to know someone online who opened up about her anxiety, that I began recognizing what my mom has gone through for so long. I’ve felt so guilty for being frustrated with her, feeling as though she’s a drama queen and so much more . . . when it all stemmed from something very real and painful. Something she’s ashamed of and doesn’t want to talk about.

    Just a few weeks ago was the first time she really talked to me about it and how devastated her life has become due to the anxiety. She was doing ok with the panic attacks – they came and went, but she was functioning – and then she had a really bad experience and it set it off again, in a major way. She’s been hiding it and I feel helpless being states away.

    I wish I’d known about this years ago, I wish I’d known about it months ago. I wish she’d been able to say something, I wish I’d been more compassionate so she’d feel safe to say something. I wish this part of mental health was as understood as depression so that those of us who love people with anxiety can spot it and suggest getting help. So we can support better.

    I don’t have anxiety but I do have others things I’ve been ashamed to disclose, and I know how difficult it is to admit these things not only to the people in your life, but to the whole wide world. So kudos to you for speaking up. When you talk about this, it helps people like me understand it more. It helps people like me realize that someone we love is going through this too. It helps people like me dial back the frustration and turn up the compassion.


  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I come from a family with generations of anxiety, and is the one thing I wish had not passed to my daughters. You touched me deeply. I suffer from post polio syndrome and took myself off the road before the doctor did. My legs jumped so much from spasms and I had to hold my leg down on the pedal, which, of course, worsened the anxiety. When a man in my town drove knowing he had a seizure disorder and killed a father and his sons, I knew I had to give up driving. Of all the limitations I have now, being dependant on everyone to take me everywhere is the hardest so far. I believe we all connect through our vulnerabilities, our humanity, and I am so glad you wrote this. Good luck to you.

  6. I have suffering from depression on and off for the past 40 years and trying to put up the “correct” front for people is exhausting. For years I had an escalator phobia and people who found out about it made so much fun of me. It was very hard to try to fit another person’s vision of what it correct behavior. I am glad you have been able to figure out what is effective for you,and frankly the world would be a much better place if more of us walked or took mass transit. I understand the difficulty though, where I live in Dallas Texas it is pretty much a car city that sees bikes and pedestrians as a bother.
    I always appreciate your honesty and willingness to share.

  7. I don’t drive because of an anxiety disorder as well. When I tell people I don’t drive or don’t have a license they immediately jump to the conclusion that I’ve had my license revoked! Now that’s embarrassing. So I have to explain about the anxiety thing. The difficult thing for me is to imagine how much better the kids lives would be if I could drive the damn car. I’m impressed that you drive at all. My hat’s off to you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Well I can’t drive with the kid in the car…she is too noisy, so I am not too much better off than you and believe me I struggle with that. So many things she wants to do, hell I want to and unless papa is available, if we can’t walk to it or bus it, we don’t do it. Thankfully we are in an area of Maine that has public transit, the train to Boston is minutes from us so that helps a lot.

      I understand you though, people do give you that side eye, it is really hard.

    • Edmund, if you do, I’d love to hang with you and Lanna. 😉 Or in most cases I can get in town but now that the kid has a regular bedtime and all that, generally I’m the bum who just needs a ride back down here. What driving capacity I do have is generally used for work stuff.

  8. Thanks for sharing! I’m dealing with anxiety & depression creeping back on me after six years of being “ok.” it’s hard to speak openly about this kind of stuff because, well, you don’t wear anxiety or depression. People don’t see what’s going on inside of you. And sadly, it’s still stigmatized. But, you’re not alone. Just remember that!

    • Thank you so much. I really was unsure about writing this but really am like maybe if I do write it people will understand my “quirks” better.

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