Behind These Hazel Eyes

Yesterday I had to laugh at the irony of that Kelly Clarkson song coming on my iPod as I struggled to walk on the treadmill. Last week I started run-training again after giving it up for 10 months. Every day I promised myself, “Today’s the day you start back training. You’re gonna be a runner, at least for 5K.” So in the midst of a busy season of life I need to reign in my mind and get back to running. Even though I have allergy and sinus crud beating me for the last week, I ran three days last week. I felt my normal self creeping back into the picture and I never felt better, mentally.

That’s when I normally trigger…when things begin to shift back into good. For years I have battled and struggled with this ugly word no one likes to talk about. The moment you say it, you see people look at you differently, you see their minds shift into diagnosis and images of straight jackets. I have a very mild form of anxiety. I am lucky, and I count myself in that category often. It could be so much worse, and I could be non-functioning and paralyzed with depression far more often.

In total, up until now, three people knew this. My family did not even know. I went to a counselor for a few years prior to moving to Nashville…and have not gone back since. The move to Nashville seemed to push the anxiety away, and really stayed at bay.

Until this last month.

I have had two panic attacks within the last month and I should have seen it rearing back up. I had gotten to a place where I would only talk halfsies, as my counselor used to say. I would get out half of what was going on in my head, and allow the other half to stay whirling and mutating inside. I grind my teeth, clench my hands together, and get intense migraines. Those are my coping mechanisms for my anxiety. Most people just think I do those out of habit…yes, it’s a habit of coping.

The one most people don’t know, and I never talk about, is why I felt the need to write this post. My other coping mechanism goes against the grain of who most people know me to be. I am normally extroverted and chatty for the most part. Yesterday though, on top of still not feeling well, I coped through quiet introversion. It’s the worst coping method I use from what my counselor used to tell me as it tends to make me come off angry, snobbish, or rude. I had someone comment yesterday that they thought I was mad at them because I hadn’t spoken to them. If only this individual knew. If they knew that the moment I opened my mouth to speak to them, I feared losing it. I feared my anxiety letting loose and everything coming bubbling out. (Yes, I know that’s exactly what I need to be doing, but in that moment of yesterday, I couldn’t…I just could not) This person knows me well enough that I couldn’t fool them with an “I’m fine” response and walk away. For better or worse, I could not get away with that facade with them. I love that I have that kind of person in my life, just not on days when I am fighting hardest to keep my anxiety tightly locked behind my eyes.

So now, here I am, telling the entire interwebs something deeply personal because it’s something I am currently struggling with. Something that, in the South and in the church, we don’t like to discuss. We like to keep our secrets quiet, lest we be the town and the church fodder for gossip. I am a functioning, loving, human who believes in God. I love my family and church, friends and neighbors. But I struggle with anxiety.

Today you may find yourself in a similar struggle. Know that it is okay to talk about it, to seek counseling and not bear the burden alone. That is the greatest lie this world will tell you about mental illness…if you would talk with someone about treatments when you have a cold, why not when you have a mind issue? Today you may encounter someone who is in this struggle. Who wonders if they should talk about it, who believes the lie they are all alone in this struggle. Be kinder. Be gentler. But most of all, be understanding that this is a hurting world and we are all carrying around a load we wish we did not have to bear alone.

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