By Kristen Taylor
She asks. A stranger, at this point, since I was initially skeptical about therapy. It is a question dipped in concise innocence that cut so deeply into my vision of anxiety that I felt foolish that I hadn’t thought of such a simple phrase years ago. I spent so much time defining my anxiety, naming it, feeding it and letting it grow into a viable character in my life. I give it a space in my home and it sits next to me while I try to manage a cluster of tasks. It is the monster that lives inside of me. It sticks me into two corners of past and future distracting me from the present moment. The monster creates “to-do” lists and completion checks. Then it slides me into depression like the ocean waves hitting the sand it curls around me as I distantly get caught up in my own thoughts and worries. Everything becomes a reminder of the future – the things I should be doing- the mother, woman, and human that I should be. It reminds me, with past failure to shape my perspective on the future. It is downright exhausting to be in my head some days, making it impossible to visualize a life where the character called anxiety was not the constant antagonist.
It seems easy enough, right. Create an altered narrative to this story. That phrase will echo over and over, what does it look like? What does a life of minimized anxiety feel like? My answer lately has been this: balanced. I was too afraid to admit what the unbalance looked like until I was laying on my kitchen floor gasping for my breath. I was unhappy in a job that was as equally demanding as figuring out how to be the mother of four. My phone chimed a meeting as I was putting away the dinner dishes and starting the bedtime process. I was going through motions of motherhood, as most of me was still sitting at my desk waiting for management to notice how much I had been slipping lately. I knew that meeting wasn’t exactly the promotion my stack of bills from another childbirth and partially unpaid maternity leave needed, for or the reduction of workload I had indicated in my secret meeting with HR. My work life was like the game of Jenga we played as an exercise in team building. I was the tower, and little by little pieces were being removed. I was toppling and they kept pushing pieces out. Some days it was the workload, or the declining relationships with management and almost always the craving to be present in that photo my husband sent of my children running around the zoo. Everything led up to this, the unbalance in my home life and the stress in my workload. I simply couldn’t handle it anymore; I lost my balance and fell.
It is a year and a half later. I am still picking myself off my kitchen floor. I always thought a breakthrough in managing my anxiety would be a sudden burst of clarity; as if the monster would just disappear the way they do in fairy tales. But balance, as I learned by practicing yoga, is built slowly and with focus. I am sitting outside on my patio surrounded by all the sounds of early summer – the soundtrack of birds with a baseline of a distant train and the vocals of neighborhood children. I am appreciative of this moment, it is one of the moments that I craved when sitting in a windowless cubicle. I get my work done in the morning. I tend to my favorite hobby, writing. I am hopeful for a sunset run. I focus on the good things of getting two toddlers to sleep, like tiny kisses and little hands holding my arm for comfort. Then, I can enjoy a glass of wine and finally start season 2 of the Handmaid’s tale. This is what a good tonight looks like.
The day after I lost my job, I made my mental health a priority. I would never be useful in any job or relationship if was charged by the electricity of anxiety. I started a running routine. My brain is a full bottle of champagne just waiting to be corked and running allows me to pop the cork, no one else. I need an appointment with my own thoughts, but they were so busy they couldn’t fit me in. So it got clogged. I made mistakes, first little ones then much larger ones. Or was it a lot of little ones that made me look like one big failure? Either way, I didn’t have time to organize my (many) thoughts. And the cork blew on me. With running, I am alone in my head, letting it all go. All those analyses, those worries, the funny musings and the downright cliché; it all piled on top of each other, like the laundry I don’t have time to sort. This wasn’t just about something that happened last year or recently; this is a lifetime of bubbling anxiety. I need to get healthy and create my balance. What does that balance look like? A goal of four runs a week that resets every Sunday but understands when things get just so chaotic that routines are broken. It gave me bonus friendship for added accountability that rewards me with mini therapy sessions and sweaty hugs. It gave me legs that could stand an eight-hour bartending shift so that I wouldn’t have to feel financially guilty if I didn’t work a full-time office job any longer.
I am starting to accept my anxiety in all its various forms. It can be a burst of negative thoughts that isolate me to my home. It can be a fight with my husband that scares me into words I would rather not say. It is a pouring out of frustration over two toddlers that never seem to listen. It is a bad tip on a large check or a spreadsheet that doesn’t quite tie. It is a deadline that I didn’t plan adequately to meet or a phone call I dread making. It is finally getting the courage to open my credit card statement or asking my mom for help. I have come to know what anxiety looks like. With each of these toxic moments, I am trying to learn and find something pull me off of the floor, the balance I need to stand tall. It can be a run or a yoga class. It is a long phone call with a good friend. It is actually getting time to hang out with my sister. It is a road trip, with my husband driving and Band of Horses playing. It is how happy my children get when we visit their grandparents. It is Friday night wine and watching true crime stories with my neighbor. It is listening to my favorite podcast “Beautiful Anonymous”, loudly and verbally agreeing with the caller as I clean an empty bar. It is the beautiful shade of dark blue that I painted my bedroom walls. It is the proud little smile I get when someone tells me I am actually a good accountant, or bartender, or Mom. It is an unexpected gift. It is reading a book that I can’t put down. It is writing a verbally eloquent essay. It is random and adolescent conversations with my teenage daughters. It is quoting every line of Spaceballs and still thinking it is the funniest movie ever made. It is realizing the little moments that make me happy, embracing them and using their light to keep the dark monsters quiet. At least that is what balance is starting to look like for me.
To read more of Kristen's writing, check out her blog cassidymarierose.com