anxiety…

anxiety
C SPhotography

For as long as I can recall, I’ve suffered from anxiety. Like Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety disorders weren’t widely recognized or prevalent in society 35-40 years ago. My parents had no idea the mental torment I faced most days just walking out our front door; and I can still recall memories of my dad carrying me into my kindergarten class unaware that leaving me with those small inquisitive humans was the most terrifying abandonment my small chaotic mind could comprehend. How could they have known? I had no means or comprehension of how to verbalize my inner chaos, and they had no inkling, no tools, had no idea the questions to ask.

 I survived kindergarten…barely. It did not bode well for the remainder of my school experience. I was labeled lazy and a loner by teachers; weird and quirky by my fellow classmates. Teachers didn’t understand my OCD tendencies or that any change, any influx of new information would cause my anxiety to spill over and affect everything in my day. How I would start writing a paper over and over and over because I didn’t like how my name looked on the sheet or I needed to cross out a word. Or if I couldn’t get assignments exactly right, my mind shut down and I’d turn in half –assed work because I didn’t care anymore; then spend sleepless nights filled with anxiety fearing the grade I would receive. My classmates didn’t understand my aversion to the hustle and bustle of school life and activities; or my need for solitary recovery. Every. Day. I simultaneously struggled and wrestled with loneliness. I longed to connect with my peers, but truly had no idea how to. I felt completely out of place and awkward trying to participate in social activities; and this social awkwardness typically resulted in a premature departure from the premises, or declining the invitation altogether. I much preferred the safety and solace of my bedroom and my books.

I did have a small group of acquaintances that accepted me and allowed me to connect and detach as I chose. Through that interaction, I was able to experiment with appropriate social interface and pushed the boundaries of my anxiety to a more acceptable level. I gained insight into which behavior was and was not accepted, and which situations caused the most stress for me. I’ve become somewhat of a chameleon, learning to adapt quickly to different social situations, but most of the time I still watch for and take my social queues from those around me and pattern myself accordingly.

I was sick a lot during my tenure in school. In hindsight, I believe most all of it was attributed to anxiety or an offshoot of anxiety. I unfortunately discovered after my schooling was completed that one of the best remedies to my anxiety and the chaos in my mind was writing it down. Every. Thing. I own notebooks upon notebooks of lists and information and journaling. I go through them periodically and destroy those that are no longer relevant, but I understand now that any pertinent information needs to be recorded outside of my crowded mind if I am going retain it. You will never find me without some sort of notebook accompanying me. It is my surrogate brain and a means to placate, to keep at bay the anxiety that is always edging forward threatening to suffocate me. It is ever present, but I keep trying to stretch my boundaries anyway. It is how I’ve learned to adapt, to survive with Asperger’s and anxiety.

detaching…

detachedDeath and grief, one always shadowing the other. Up until a few years ago, I had calculatedly escaped their acquaintance; politely excusing myself from the rituals and festivities surrounding those in my life who passed. The simple truth was I had no idea how to express grief, or more specifically, my grief. It was too engulfing, too overwhelming and was much easier to avoid…so I did…for as long as I could.

My father’s death was a lesson in learning to express grief. Learning how to process it, to accept whatever came out of my pain, to let go. These revelations produced uncomfortable, but insightful contemplation. I’m recognizing and identifying my patterns with much more clarity now, but as always, I am still evolving.

This was all very painfully revealed to me again a few weeks ago with the loss of one of my pets. I become deeply attached to all my animals; and the impending dread that I would need to end her suffering as she became increasingly ill intensified the knot increasing exponentially in my stomach. Putting down a pet sucks. Plain and simple, and I miss her a lot, but the process I took to get into the head space of being OK with letting her go provided insight into my patterns of letting go on a grander scale.

I’m always trying to detach. I do this with every relationship in my life especially if I know an end is imminent, permanent or not. Detaching is a coping mechanism, a way of putting distance between me and any pain associated with a relationship that I fear is ending. If I’ve resumed my predictable routine, gone on with my life already, then it won’t affect me as much.

I tried to detach from my dad. It seemed easy at first because I didn’t see him or speak with him consistently. I could compartmentalize his deterioration because I wasn’t witnessing it firsthand, and I rationalized that we didn’t have a traditional relationship. That quickly vanished as my excuses were drowned out by the inevitability that my dad, this man who knew me since birth would not be present in my life much longer. Devastating. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t detach, and the reality of his passing came crashing in and swallowed me whole.

As the grief worked its way out over my internal protest, it broke me. I could not distance myself. The carefully structured routines and safe guards crumbled and were replaced with uncontrollable and exquisite pain.  Grief affixed itself to me, becoming an unwanted roommate for months and I was forced to confront the uncomfortable emotions it produced, un-detached and completely conjoined. As a result, I am able to receive death and grief differently, and I’m not so terrified to face it or the emotions of loss that accompany it. Detaching is still my trigger reaction, but I recognize it and see it for what it is…coping…striving to survive unbearable heartache.

crossroads…

crossroads

I don’t think that any one particularly likes change. I laughably tried to convince myself for years that I was a go with the flow kind of gal….but I’m not. I’m galaxies away from it actually, and I haven’t blogged in a long time as a result.

As with any upheaval to my predictable ordinary life; the dust, stirred and agitated in my mind needed to settle in with the new normal I created. I’ve often instigated change in my life, consciously pushing myself out of my comfortable spaces as a way to adapt and blend in with the ever changing fast paced world around me. It is tangible concrete evidence I can use to proclaim “See? I adapted! I’m normal!” I conveniently forget the toll it takes.

In truth, my bravado and sometimes blasé choices result in months of uncontrollable paralyzing anxiety and seemingly endless days of squelching the incoming tide of a panic attack. The disquiet that alteration to my life generates is a constant companion lying in wait, just under the surface waiting to strike when my resolve to push onward and upward lapses for even a moment. It is a constant conflict; forcing acceptance to change knowing the anxiety and chaos that will inevitably rear its ugly head for me to battle. My inner voice whispering calm soothing platitudes over and over to control the paranoia and inner paralysis anxiety ushers in.

Time has proven to me that I will survive, regardless. A little bruised and worse for wear but nonetheless, I will survive. So I keep pushing through the white noise in my mind until some semblance of normalcy and routine returns because I know in due course, it will. And it has. I finally feel settled, expressive, unforced; which allows for space and time to write again.

As I mulled and sorted through the random thoughts that flitted through my mind, I came to the conclusion that I’ve reached a crossroads of sorts. I began this blog as an outlet to process my grief. I did not anticipate my own self-discovery; or the depth of insight and understanding that I would gain into my father’s life.

Even though he is gone, I feel closer to him now. The knowledge I’ve reaped about him, about me, is invaluable to me; and I feel as though I am only scratching the surface. His Asperger’s enlightened me to my own presence on the spectrum. My quirks and idiosyncrasies mimic his in so many ways. Different, yet the same. I am encouraged to push on, to delve deeper, and to learn more. This syndrome is ever presenting in my life, but it is no longer the elephant in the room to be avoided; and as I gain increased understanding about myself, I discover more about him and that keeps his legacy alive with me. And so this blog re-calibrates to a slightly altered course, adjusting to follow a new path of discovery.