The Anticipation is (Maybe Literally) Killing Me
I started feeling the physical manifestations of anxiety long before I knew what was causing it.
In fifth grade our school planned a field trip that was a 2-night camping trip, my first time spending the night away from home or family/friends accommodations. I remember being super excited to go, and hearing all the adventures we would go on while at the camp. I remember the day of the trip developing insane laryngitis and being unable to speak/taste/smell for nearly the entire weekend. I was sick the entire trip.
In middle school I was part of an interactive arts program, and I really enjoyed acting. We prepared a play in the comedia dell’arte style (essentially early Italian slapstick) and planned performances for the end of the year. I secured the role of the lead rascal in the play, and was having a ball learning the part. The night before the first performance I got stomach flu. My understudy had to perform the play in my place.
These coincidental illnesses pop up remarkably regularly in my life story.... The first days of my backpacking trip through Europe. The week before I got married. The days before our first cruise. All oriented around big moments in my life.
At first I thought I was cursed. Why did I always feel so crummy right before these big moments? Once or twice is bad luck but I can’t ignore it when I see potential patterns.
Then it occurred to me that it may be no accident. What if I was causing it?
As a young professional I would occasionally beat myself up over small mistakes or over-emphasize my faults in a project where my accomplishments were much more laudable. An alert and caring manager suggested I take a professional development course called Grace Under Pressure. The daylong training was about managing stress and understanding stress triggers in the workplace. I won’t bore you with the minutiae (though I highly recommend the training!) but the key takeaway was a phrase that the instructor repeated a few times throughout the day.
“Stress is chemistry not character.”
A good portion of the day was talking about adrenaline flooding. Our bodies have terrible ways of coping with the modern environment. We as humans are consuming and processing infinitely more information than our ancestors. And yet we’re running all the stimulus and information through similar equipment to our ancestors (minor adjustments notwithstanding).
Our reaction to stress is some varying cocktail of hormones that trigger our “fight/flight/hide” reflexes. And those responses have no business in most modern stress responses. And yet they are the tool our body unleashes on us reflexively to most outside stresses.
My first thought was guilt. This was my fault, crummy body chemistry.
Almost immediately though I felt something stronger. Relief. I finally felt like someone was putting language to something I could never quite articulate.
And then fear. What if this isn’t something I can fix? What if I am broken?
In retrospect this one day training did a lot of heavy lifting in priming me to pursue therapy.
Tomorrow morning I will be going to get my first dose of the Covid vaccine.
(INSERT FURIOUS CELEBRATION EMOJI)
This morning I couldn’t taste anything.
(INSERT BLIND PANIC EMOJI)
I had no temperature. No headache. I could smell but the senses were faint.
I examined all the totally logical reasons why my senses could be dulled: dry water reservoir in my CPAP mask? Yeah that could do it. Having a few drinks last night further aiding in dehydration? Assuredly a possibility.
But y’know this thing’s been going around lately…. It’s kind of all over the world…
My response, naturally, was animated largely by adrenaline....
A few panic-stricken moments later, my wife graciously dropped everything and drove with me to a rapid Covid-testing site.
This isn’t a suspense novel or a horribly ironic blog entry, the rapid test came back negative. FUCKING HALLELUJAH! (85% accuracy, and my anxiety around statistics, is a whole other ball of wax)
To be totally honest with you, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I did get covid.
Obviously I don’t want to catch any illness. And I do have a few of the comorbidity symptoms. But I am still relatively young, and anxious enough about my health that I would never let even the mildest symptom go undiagnosed basically immediately (regardless of my crappy insurance).
My biggest concern throughout this pandemic has been ending the pandemic. The only way I can think to contribute to that is by following all worst-case-scenario guidelines and limiting the spread of the virus. I neither wanted to get the virus nor give the virus to anyone. And following the guidelines seemed like the only logical step, even though it feels like we failed as a society to rise to the challenge in front of us. Hell, even I slipped here and there, and felt horrible for it.
(Feeling like I always get in trouble for following the rules is another post!)
BUT THERE’S THIS END IN SIGHT.
I worried I couldn’t make my appointment tomorrow if I tested positive. I worried how much longer I’d have to be anxious about leaving my house or about idiots in public (I am fully aware vaccination will not solve for the latter).
I worried that I would have to keep anticipating an end to all this vs. planning towards it.
And that worry ruined any attempts I made to calm myself down. A shady $200 medical exam conducted in a makeshift med center in a strip mall parking lot was the only way to assuage my fears.
I am absolutely relieved that the scenario in my head didn’t play out in reality.
But there’s always a toll.
How many more times will concerns about my health trigger these anxiety attacks?
What can I do to be proactive about short-circuiting these avalanches of body chemistry from impacting me physically?
Forgiving my body chemistry, and by extension myself, for these behaviors won’t be easy. And I worry I will carry this cross forever.
But it’s worth the work, and I am never shy about confronting challenges head-on.
And I can’t wait to get a shot tomorrow!!
Native Stranger Productions