the face i dare not show

Again, today, i heard something familiar.  When discussing anxiety and the trouble it can cause, the person i was talking to smiled brightly and said, “Yeah, you say you have anxiety, but you always look so cheerful and confident to me.  I don’t think it’s real.”

At first i felt frustrated.  Her image of me spits in the face of the reality i know.  Then i realized, to her experience of me, she must feel fully justified in her opinion.  There are faces i dare not show.  She only sees me on my best, bravest days.  For, thank heavens, i have days were i can walk through the world unhampered. Whether it be from medication or a sense of duty or just a miracle from the divine, i get these gifts of days when i am useful and reliable. Responsibilities have always had enough power over me to push me past fear and worry – only, i tend to fall apart when i get home, once the adrenaline wears off.

Yet, on the highest anxiety day, no one will ever see how fear and self-loathing can cripple me, because i will be hiding behind locked doors with the computer and the phone off.  Pain feeds the anxiety, and they will amp each other up over the course of time until i am rendered impotent. If you come to check on me during one of those spells, and knock on the door without my expecting it, i will hide in the bed, or crawl into the tub where no one peering in a window can see me, utterly terrified.

On the next step up, i might interface with you through social media or text or email, but i cannot get past my fears to pick up the ringing phone.  i stare at it in mild horror as it bleats for attention. It jars the fragile zen i can maintain while alone. Those moments are what caller ID and voicemail were made for.

Those days, i meditate for hours to keep myself calm.

Most of the time, i feel like an overfilled apple cart, one more apple and the whole thing will fall apart. My wheels will roll off in opposite directions, the structure of my being will collapse into a thousand pieces, fruit flying everywhere.  Worst of all, that new apple could come from anywhere.  Someone asks me to do a job, and i don’t feel like i can say no and i am suddenly (more) overwhelmed.  Another medical bill comes to me, that i cannot pay, because i am still limited in how i can make money.  A lot of days, i cannot check the mail.  The thought of it makes me start to tremble with angst.

The worse it gets, the more impossible it is to reach out for help, because people can be too helpful trying to solve my problems, as though anxiety means i cannot know what will work for me.  For every useful piece of advice, i have also had my heart broken.  What if i unburden my anxiety and someone uses that as opening to stoke my greatest fears (thank heavens you can’t make art so much any more, it was really awful) or my most tremendous guilts (Is that why this paperwork isn’t done?  What do you do with your days?) and the whole rickety construction of coping disintegrates?

Even worse, what if i do ask for help and then i am too needy, i keep talking too long, my need for a sense of belonging or compassion overriding my common sense? When i am in great pain, i distract myself by talking – it uses up so much less focus than listening. i am aware that i am listening too little and talking too much just like i am aware inside a dream.  Seeing that look of boredom or imposition on someone else’s face in response to my yammering can wreck me too.  i do not want to be the one who complains all the time, one of those people who see doom in every moment and cannot begin to have a positive thought or feeling.

For the anxiety, the depression, always live in tension with the joy i get from making art, the love that i feel for my friends, the multitude of blessings that i freely admit exist in this life of stress.

There are those tremendous days when i can move mountains. Thanksgivings pour from my throat until i am hoarse. And, there are the terrible days when no one sees me because i am hiding in a dark house, too afraid of everything to turn on a light.

It’s both.  Most of the time, i am in some kind of middle space – not moving mountains but not paralyzed either – and there’s no magical solution.  Progress can be excruciatingly slow, but inching forward nonetheless.  If i can work, i do.  If something urgent needs to be done, i can often put on the big girl pants, despite the chafing, and get it finished.  Often i am better at a regular job than my own art, because i am less invested in the ultimate outcome.  There are clear rules and procedures that help guide me. i can be glib and funny and am expert at hiding my pain.

So, with me and, i imagine, with many others who have anxiety and depression: what you are seeing is the best of us.  The worst is reserved for my cats, my dog, the two or three people closest to me, and those moments of solitude when suffering echoes around inside my own skull.

 

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