A few years back, I had an incredibly stressful year. It wasn't until about six months later that I realized how stressed I had been. I'd wake up each morning, do what needed to be done, always focused on the end goal. I continued because I felt I had to. It was a difficult time and I remember recognizing it as such but somehow I missed entirely the signals my body was sending me. Repeated sickness. Exhaustion. Little cries for help from my body. For me, often it's not until the stress disappears that I realize just how much it weighed on me.
This last week in Florida was similarly eye opening. For one week, I didn't have any of my normal worries. I woke up each morning, wondering what was on the agenda and rarely thinking beyond the events of the day. I comfortably passed the days with my parents and slept easily at night without the normal barrage of threateningly anxious thoughts.
I didn't realize how stressed I had been until I remembered how it felt to be calm.
So returning, then, was difficult. I am accustomed to the normal post-vacation blues, when going back to work and no longer having free time to do as I please seems unbearable. But this was different, harsher. And I could feel it building in me.
I heard an interview on the radio the other day with the well-known blogger The Bloggess. She's quite popular for her humorous writings and was on the radio to promote her new book. She has been very upfront throughout her blogging about her struggles with a severe anxiety disorder and she devoted a chapter in her book to just that. During the interview, she commented that one of the most difficult parts to write was about what a panic attack physically feels like, that in writing about it, she experienced multiple attacks.
I have written a few times now about my own struggles with anxiety. Though quite mild in the grand scheme of anxiety, my own encounters have left me shaken and frightened. For a long time, Adrian didn't understand. "Just stop thinking about that and you'll be fine," he'd tell me. But I couldn't because it went beyond mental. It would become a physical manifestation of all the worries and fears and terrible everythings that collected inside of me. And I could feel it. I could feel myself begin to slip below the surface, drowning under the physical weight of all my collective worries.
I began counseling two years ago to help me to understand my anxiety and to learn how to manage it. I finished my sessions about a month ago and am so thankful to my counselor for the depth of care, knowledge and compassion that she imparted to me. These last few months have been proud months for me and I am beginning to see the difference both my counselor and Adrian have already seen for a while now.
But I returned from vacation wholly unprepared. I hadn't noticed how stressed I had become until I had a week to be unstressed. And confronting all those stressors upon return was a shock. I cried Sunday and I cried Monday. I felt my muscles tighten and my teeth clench. My forehead felt like it could simply split apart at any given moment. I could feel slipping under.
Somehow though, travel had worn me out and I miraculously fell right to sleep both nights. And Tuesday I tackled every little anxiety-inducing task I could think of. Since then, I've squared my shoulders, put my head down and pressed forward, all the while reminding myself that I can do this. I've found that I need those little reminders through out the day. That I am strong. That I can handle this and that this phase of life is just that, a phase.
And if that all fails, well, then I'll take my ticket vouchers from an overbooked flight and head back home to visit my family and to remember how it feels to have a quietly content heart.