Anxiety is the essential truth of my life. Above and beyond intelligence, love, family, fear rules me. I wake up every morning and I decide, before getting out of bed, how much I can fight today. Do I have a full day in me? Only enough for work? Only enough for family? Nothing at all?
I have said on more than one occasion that I am fierce. I have to be. I am in a constant, daily struggle for life. My default setting is terrified. The worst part of it is that the target keeps shifting. One day I'm terrified of success, the next of failure. Of getting too close to people, of not being close enough.
Everything I have achieved in life has been in the face of a tide of fear. My family, my career, the happiness I tune into on a regular basis. The self doubt, the panic attacks, the constant crushing knowledge that the other shoe – the other boot – is going to drop any moment – they are all normal to me.
I'm old enough now to have a ton of regrets in my life. And anger, too, the anger at the anxiety, and at myself, for sometimes not fighting 'hard enough', for sometimes not being successful, even when I do fight, and for sometimes fighting when there was no need to fight at all.
The fear leaves me off balance, and has led me to develop some freaking amazing coping skills. I have a vast menu of coping skills. One for every day of the year, and then some. I have coping skills for when my coping skills don't work. I'm so good at coping skills that I teach them for a living. And most of the time, I don't feel like a fraud when I do.
But here I am today, at the bottom of the well, holding on to that last, essential coping skill – the ability to forgive myself – and the ability to know that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday soon I will find, or build, or perhaps be handed a ladder, and I will be back safe on the ground, out of the well.
It's enough. Sometimes its barely enough. Is it worth it to build happiness when you have anxiety? When you have depression? Absolutely. It is the knowledge that I have happy moments, happy days, happy weeks, happy years that keeps me from sinking under the cold, dark water in the well. And its the knowledge that I can stack those coping skills, one on top of the other, and use them to climb out of the well that helps me get the strength to try.
For today, I'm treading water. It's almost peaceful here, in the bottom of the well, and I swim pretty well. Tomorrow is another day, though, and the sun I can see is calling me.
For those of you who also fall in the well, remember that no matter how dark and cold the water, there is sunlight above, and you have the tools you need to climb out. Rest if you need to, bathe in the cold waters at the depth of the well, and then climb up, and out, and over the lip.
Let the sun warm you, let those who care wrap a warm towel around your shoulders, and let yourself feel that happiness that is there in the air around. I know how hard it is to let the happiness in, the goddamned happiness that ebbs and flows and lets you down sometimes. I know that at first, you'll only be able to stand it for a moment, or a minute, maybe a half hour, if you're lucky, a day.
It was never really gone. It's there all around you, and when you are fierce, when you fight back from the fear and depression and pain, you'll feel it again. And so will I. Remembering the promise of happiness – that's how I get through days like this, at the bottom of the well.
See you when I climb out.
(P.S.: This was absolutely terrifying to write. But I want you to know that I have committed myself to being utterly honest in my writing, whether giving you a list of 'how-tos', reviewing a book, product or service, writing about the zombie apocalypse, or getting passionate about some psychological, sociological, or political topic. I feel exposed, and vulnerable, but also freer than I have in days. Thank you.)