Something I am learning about supporting loved ones with generalized anxiety disorder. I can read up on it, learn strategies to help ease the panic, cultivate my ability to be an AMAZING, PERFECT listener, thereby creating that safe space that everyone says is so important to alleviate and manage anxiety when it comes down like a flood, soaking everything in sight. But still. I am nothing more than a life preserver in the waves, floating in and out of sight of my beloved, as they struggle to keep their heads above water. All of their energy is devoted to their survival; my feelings about it are my own problem. And since I am not in the water with them, the expectation is that I will manage those feelings from the safety of the shore. I can\’t jump in the water with them. I can\’t go into the doctor\’s office with them, hold their hand. I am forced to wait outside the building, in the parking lot. Where they cannot hear my voice or grab my hand to ground themselves a little bit.
Anxiety takes up all the space in the room and there is no room for anything or anyone else in those moments. So the person wanting to offer support (hint: me) has nowhere to put their feelings of helplessness and futility. And when anxiety is such a daily companion, it seems like there is never room for anything else, no other events or feelings. It feels in slightly bad taste to share the piddly stresses of the day. There is no way to be in the room with anxiety and get any attention. Nothing is as big or loud. It\’s like the drunken boor at the party that is demanding everyone\’s attention. Nothing we think to say sounds reassuring enough so we don\’t say it. Sometimes the anxiety is so loud it turns on us and starts yelling how it\’s our fault, even when love and reason knows it is not. That can sting. And then where do we go with that sting? Our loved one has enough to manage, so we are on our own. Again.
Don\’t get me wrong, I feel anxious about stuff. I still get nervous before teaching sometimes. I feel my heart rate increase when I am in an uncomfortable encounter with someone, teacher or para, friend or foe. More recently, I feel that same elevation when I read things on the internet about how men are, yet again, speaking for and about women: their bodies, their abilities, their worthiness of equal pay or rights or something crazy like that. But my anxiety is not like theirs. It does not engulf me and make it hard to take in enough air. It does not fill everything around me with peril and danger. It does not steal my reason. Not usually. I leave that to my depression, but that\’s another post.
So what does self-care look like for the helper? I am not sure. I know that this writing is helping, giving words to the uncomfortable truth that ITS A LOT. Just as I know that my darkest days in depression was A LOT to manage for those that loved me. I know they must have felt the same sense of despair of ever being able to help, to heal, to alleviate the darkness. And maybe they had that same sense of never being enough to draw me back from the edge, no matter how well they listened or what great strategies they offered. For the moment, it fell on deaf ears. And they had to be sort of okay with that.
So perhaps the best that I can offer myself is compassion. I am not powerful enough to speak the magic words and chase the anxiety back into the closet. That is probably not a great idea anyway. I am also most definitely NOT A THERAPIST. I don\’t have the language or the training to offer immediate solutions. So how about I let myself off the hook for that? I am not responsible for banishing the beast; I am asked to simply sit in the suck and wait it out, for that beloved one. And if I need to take a walk in the forest, to visit with my own demons and maybe shoot a squirrel for dinner, then that is okay.
from the edges,