Spoiler alert (with a plot twister later): It’s anxiety.
Yeah, yeah, “everyone” is anxious and/or depressed right? Or maybe it’s just the people/writers I happen to be drawn to, but I’ve read much on the internet lately (running blogs, mommy blogs, health blogs) about a variety of mental health issues (e.g., how we need to keep working on removing the stigma), and a high proportion of these articles have focused on anxiety and depression and their authors’ direct or indirect experience with these conditions. So I feel a little like it’s being talked (written?) to death right now. Nevertheless, I want to write about how I’m feeling and get it ‘out there.’
Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a high-strung person. My mom apparently, repeatedly, asked my pediatrician if I was “hyperactive.” (As they then called it. He’d reply that I was simply “active.”) I used to be very ambitious, goal-driven, Type A – probably as a result of my natural “active” energy level. But over the years, a variety of, let’s call them set-backs + that high energy level have maybe burned me out. I’ve spiraled into someone who is also decidedly NOT Type B (I wish!) but who can no longer manage effective Type A behavior.
Let me back up and second and clarify that my anxiety is not what I would call severe (though I have had a few, recent episodes where my heart starts racing and I feel like I’m falling – for no discernible reason). I actually very much enjoy social situations (most of the time), and I can function day-to-day. That is, I don’t hide in closets or avoid going out, I don’t end up “trapped” in my house, etc., etc. Here’s what does happen:
On one hand, I won’t be able to sit still. I hurry when I don’t need to hurry. I skip things I should/want to do (e.g., exercise, meditate) for fear of not having enough time for the things I need to do (e.g., get the kids ready and to school on time) or even other things want to do. As an example, in my rushing around, I will fail to plan out what we’d like to eat this week before going to the store. This results in multiple trips to the store to pick up forgotten items, which wastes time and makes me have to hurry around even more. Then I beat myself up about how disorganized, inefficient, scatterbrained I am, leading to more anxiety. Also, simple tasks like folding laundry make me edgy and give me a slight headache. I am told this is not normal.
On the other hand, I will find myself either having done so much yesterday, that I am too burnt out to accomplish much of anything today, OR I will feel so overwhelmed about all the things I think I need to accomplish today, that I will just SHUT DOWN and complete nothing but that which is required for survival of the family and – maybe – me. And then I beat myself up about not using my time effectively, leading to more anxiety and other bad feelings. Let me just clarify that when I say “shut down” I mean I will suddenly find myself just plain done. I’ll be fine one minute, then the next I’ll find myself unable to complete the next task on my list, no matter how small or insignificant. My head will feel like it weighs a hundred pounds, and I’ll literally be unable to make myself do anything but go and lie down. Fortunately, this only seems to occur when I am alone – when there is no outside distraction. That is, I haven’t had to go take a nap in the middle of the day while I was at work. (Which is among the reason why I still have a job, I suppose.)
To summarize those two above paragraphs here’s a quote from a book that made me go, “Yes, yes, yesssss!”
“My addiction-prone, ADD brain always wants to look to the outside to get away from itself. As a result, I tend to oscillate between excessive, multitasking busyness and a proclivity for “vegging out” in ways that leave me nonrested and dissatisfied. Meditation, with its demand for stillness and self-observation, has not been an activity I’ve joyfully embraced.” [Emphasis mine]
Gabor Maté, MD, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
Between starting to write this post and right this moment, I determined I have two, broader issues. (Clue in the quote!)
One, I’m too compliant, too afraid of rocking the boat / drawing attention to myself / not being taken seriously to obviously, outwardly exhibit all the symptoms of anxiety. I’m like Rachael on Friends with her OCD and her “Sanford & Sons” closet. I’m good at concealing my craziest side, locking the closet and hiding the key. Which I think leads people to not take it seriously when I am having a REAL problem. And then I just internalize it. Like I’m constantly cannibalizing my own crazy. And you are what you eat.
Two, it appears that my primary problem has been flying under my radar. That is: My mother was right. I took an assessment for adult ADHD, and my score came out “moderate to high.” Well, how do you do?
Here’s my guess: I’ve always been prone to ADHD-type behavior/personality, but I’d been able to manage it. Over time, however, the compounding effects of “failures,” busy schedules, balancing work and family, etc. have tipped the balance to where I can’t ‘out-perform’ the underlying ADHD. Slapping that label on it has been a huge EUREKA! experience for me, as I now understand better how to deal with it myself and how to ask for help.
As an example – which I started doing before the ADHA ‘a-ha’ – I now have self-imposed “rules” for doing and putting away the laundry. My old “rules” were to put it off, do it all at once, and “save trips” up the steps to put clothes away. That system was a big fail every time, not only making me grouchy but also explaining why there was almost always at least one basket of not-put-away clothes sitting in my living room. New rules:
- One load at a time.
- When it’s time to fold, bring up a spare basket to fold the clothes into, so that folded items don’t pile up around me on the furniture or floor like an angry mob. (Yes, the clothes in this household have a hostility problem. Yours don’t?)
- Put the folded items from the baskets away before retrieving additional loads.
Guess what? I don’t hate laundry any more! (Okay, maybe just a little. But not as much now as meal planning and cooking!) I’ve gotten so good at this (go ahead and crack up as I ecstatically celebrate my laundry successes) that I panicked one Sunday night as I was folding the girls clothes and there were only maybe seven things in the basket. I thought, “What happened? Where’s all their stuff? This isn’t enough stuff! What are they going to wear this week?” And then it hit me: They could wear whatever they fucking wanted to because the rest of their clothes were already clean and put away. I had no idea that laundry could be a pain-free experience.
Once again, what I expected to be a fairly brief post has become quite lengthy (but I’m mentally ill now, so you’ll have to forgive me), and I haven’t even gotten around to the impact on my fitness.
Basically, my mile-a-minute brain doesn’t allow me to effectively make decisions, like, today I will run four miles then tomorrow, I’ll take a class at the gym or I’ll do my core workout before I head out to run today, instead of after. Plus, the whole fear-of-running-out-of-time limits the number of activities I manage to squeak in, as I spin my wheels, trying to figure out what my plan is. Here’s a great example:
Last Tuesday evening, I had these grandiose plans about how I was going to get up by a specific time, get to the gym by a certain time, do my core workout, run on the treadmill, shower at the gym [one of my new ideas for feeling less rushed – as needing to be in the shower at the same time Bob needs to be in the shower would no longer be a constraining variable], get home, and meditate, all before it was time to launch into the day’s lunch packing and other prep activities. To make a long story short, between 4:50 and 7:00 AM Wednesday morning, what I had actually managed was 1) a 30-minute treadmill run and 2) a gym shower. Yes, yes, I had also managed to put gas in my car and play tooth fairy, but a bunch of other getting-in-my-own-way stuff (e.g., leaving the house and having to double back for a towel for the shower) kept me from sticking to the schedule I’d mapped out for myself. Classic Melissa.
Now that I finally covered the fitness-related component, I should probably wrap this up. The good news is that more accurately identifying my “issue” (kinda like naming Rumpelstiltskin, I think) has been liberating for me and has opened my eyes to new strategies for managing and coping with my life. I never thought I’d be excited to know that something is “wrong” with me, but I am highly tempted (and I’m so impulsive – obviously – that it could still happen) to start telling everyone I see, “Hey! I can’t focus. Not even a little bit. But it’s because I have ADHD! Isn’t that like the best news you’ve heard all day?” Armed with this new knowledge about what’s making me tick, I am feeling much more confident that I can better tackle all of the things I want to and need to accomplish, including actually, actually sticking to a fitness plan. Among the ‘gifts’ that this information has given me is the ability to forgive myself and be gentle with myself when I can’t make thing go exactly as I see them in my head. It’s not all my fault. It’s not that I lack discipline or competence. My brain just isn’t always able to cooperate with me. But we can help each other out, my brain and I.
I know it’s cliche, but progress not perfection is my new motto for health and fitness, as well as life in general. Now, I think I need to go post that on the bathroom mirror – right next to my morning checklist.
[about to hit publish….nervous….do I dare…?]