My finger hovered over the delete button for quite some time before I finally decided that these words needed to be published. I share so much of my life here, but most of what is shared is the put together product of my life without the messy underside that isn’t so noticeable if I don’t let it be.
Anxiety is a constant reality for me. I have a successful career, am a good mom and wife, write a growing blog that I am very proud of, make time to garden and run and care for others. But running as an undercurrent of all of that is my near-constant companion: anxiety.
There are days where it’s almost or completely non existent, but then there are other days where it threatens to overwhelm and consume me. I share the writing below with my neighbor as I was debating whether or not to publish it here, and she told me that until I’d started opening up to her about it in the last few months, she didn’t realize I had any anxiety at all and that I was just “totally put together” pretty much all of the time.
Those words stuck in my head and made me realize that even someone I’m close to and see every week, and oftentimes many times a week, doesn’t know what’s laying just beneath the surface, than my wonderful readers here can’t possibly know what I don’t show them.
My life is busy, full, and most times wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with hard things as well. If I’m going to share the good and uplifting here, then I feel that I need to be radically honest as well about the rest of it.
I wrote the below on a particularly hard day. My husband, who is one of the only people who has been fully privy to those hard days, picked up our son from preschool so I could run as long as I needed to settle myself down. I took off down the trails behind our house and I found myself again for one more day.
Running From My Anxiety
This is what a high anxiety day looks like. To anyone else, it looks like a quality, productive day at work. A day supporting friends. A day cuddling my son and sending him off to a day at preschool. A long run through beautiful woods on a beautiful day.
From the outside, you can’t tell. I’m busy and productive and supportive as always. But all of that comes on a day where I feel like I’ve had a live wire strung through me all day long. Where I look down at my hands and I’m surprised to see that they aren’t shaking.
It’s a day where I can get a lot done while at the same time feeling like my heart is going to jump out of my chest and I can’t breathe. It’s a day where I text my husband to pick up our son at preschool because I need to be by myself for a little and I need to take care of me and I need to run and feel the miles fall away.
It’s a day where music and podcasts don’t accompany me because they add to the anxiety. It’s a day I change into my running gear and lace up my shoes and tell myself I just need to go for twenty, thirty minutes and then I’ll feel better.
And then I’m out the door and into the woods and suddenly I can breathe again.
Ten minutes. One mile down. I can hear the birds singing. Two miles down. The sun is shining and I notice it filtering down through the trees. Three miles down. I notice the dirt and the flowers and my breathing is easier the longer I run. I no longer feel like shaking, I no longer feel wildly out of control.
I keep running and let the miles trail out behind me, dropping pieces of my anxiety along the trail. I’ll pick them back up later for sure, but for now, as my legs start to burn and the sweat drips down my face, I feel free and centered out in the woods. My soul is light and I can really breathe again.
High Functioning Anxiety
I don’t feel every day so intensely as the day I wrote the above. But on many days, that live wire thrums off in the distance just inside my awareness, ready for one word or one moment to pluck it into existence.
In some ways, I think my high functioning life comes from the same place as that high functioning anxiety. When people ask me how I’m able to get so much done in my days, I tell them it’s because I don’t watch television and I don’t sit down much. While this is true, that drive to keep moving isn’t always one that comes from my want to do more things, but instead it comes as a way to cope with that background anxiety.
When I was getting ready to share this post, I sent my words over to Bethany at His and Her FI and we talked a bit more about what anxiety can feel like. That you can never stop moving because you have to stay ahead of the out of control feeling that comes on some days.
As Bethany put it: You can’t be at rest. You need to do something with that intense feeling.
There are days I talk about wanting to slow down and be less busy, but that feels in some way the luxury of someone who doesn’t feel things so intensely, that can really relax and breathe and just let things be. I feel hours and days of that, usually outdoors, either on a long run or disconnected on a long weekend camping in the woods. But most days, that busyness comes as a way to fill the cracks and keep the anxious thoughts at bay. And then I’m out the door and running down the trails again.
Ironically enough, writing this post, while cathartic in parts, has also given me some anxiety knowing that I will be pushing “Publish” and sending it out for all to read, my hidden pieces of me laid bare. As Bethany also said to me, being vulnerable online is terrifying.
But it’ll be worth it.
*Running is a form of coping but not the only one. Medication, as well as regular therapy, can be powerful, important parts of tackling anxiety, and while it’s not a road I’ve gone down as of yet, it’s one I expect to explore in the future. Mental health is a tricky thing, and something we all experience differently. And for me, now that I’ve gotten over the mental hurdle of accepting that medication can be a very positive thing, I now have to get past the hurdle of finding the time and effort – and courage – of dipping my toe into those waters.