A few years ago, I penned a column titled “My Tired Is Not Your Tired” that expounded on the severity of fatigue that people with MS and other chronic illnesses experience. I contrasted the general fatigue most people occasionally feel with fatigue related to chronic illness. Reflections on that column, combined with my current intense anxiety, led me to this week’s subject.
Make no mistake: My angst is not your angst!
Anxiety is another resident that I want to evict from my dwelling! Like depression, anxiety surfaces often and unexpectedly. Anxiety lingers, waiting for the perfect opportunity to occupy every aspect of my existence. It grabs hold and refuses to let go. I become a prisoner of my mind, chained to my thoughts. I overthink everything, obsess over details, and envision worst-case scenarios, which is an uncomfortable space to occupy. Currently, I am exploring mindful exercises, praying, and hoping for comfort and peace. My ultimate goal is to manage anxiety in my everyday existence.
The holiday season triggers my anxiety. I am visibly perturbed, preoccupied, worried, exhausted, and short-tempered. I overreact by yelling, screaming, crying, or all of the above. I have been told numerous times to “relax” or “calm down.” While well-intended, advising me to relax agitates me and leaves me feeling angry, misunderstood, and invalidated.
Anxiety is a complex condition that requires more than taking a deep breath, exhaling, and adhering to verbal directives. Meltdowns occur at a moment’s notice without much prodding. Only people who experience anxiety can understand its truly ruinous effects.
I tried to think of appropriate ways to talk to someone who has anxiety without isolating, offending, or attacking them. I employed myself as the apparatus and my experiences as the equipment. Following are my suggestions:
- Attempt to calm your loved one down without saying the words: Talk about a subject they enjoy or divert their attention from the source of distress.
- Show affection: Who doesn’t appreciate a hug? A hug expresses emotional support. A hug allows the person to feel valued, respected, and loved.
- Learn about anxiety: You don’t have to experience anxiety firsthand to have empathy for someone who lives with it. Empathy allows us to care for one another without judgment or criticism.
- Don’t punish your loved one: Never make the person feel guilty or ashamed because they have anxiety. Let them know they are in a judgment-free space.
- Encourage your loved one to seek help if needed: Remind the person that anxiety is manageable and that they are not alone.
- Reach out to a support group if your loved one struggles with MS-related anxiety: At times, the support partner needs care. Don’t be ashamed.
Please be attentive and understanding if you are supporting someone with anxiety. The above antidotes are not universal. They are personal suggestions for desired actions and tend to work for me.
To anyone struggling with anxiety: Take care of yourself.
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