My phone buzzed right as I was getting settled into work. It was the school.
I had just dropped my two older daughters, K and E, off at middle school a half-hour earlier. K is in eighth grade. E just started middle school this year; she’s in sixth grade.
I answered. The secretary told me E was in tears and wanted to talk to me. She had come home earlier that week because she had felt sick. Sixth grade had been a tough adjustment for her. But, there seemed to be more going on.
I knew she wasn’t really sick the day she came home. I knew that something at school was bothering her. But, I sensed that there was something wrong on a deeper level, one she probably didn’t even understand.
I suspected she had an anxiety disorder. I know a lot about anxiety because I live with anxiety.
When E got on the phone, she wasn’t crying. She was panicking. She was desperate to be rescued even though she couldn’t articulate what was threatening her. E and the school didn’t realize it, but she was having a panic attack. I told E I’d be right there.
Living with Anxiety
I have no idea when I first developed my anxiety disorders.
That’s not a typo. I have two different anxiety disorders. I live with generalized anxiety disorder and trauma-induced anxiety. The trauma induced anxiety presents much like PTSD, but the trauma that caused it doesn’t qualify for me to be diagnosed with PTSD according to the DSM, the Bible of mental health disorders.
I have lived with my anxiety diagnoses for more than nine years. But, based on what I now know about anxiety I have probably had them since I was in elementary school. I’m in my early forties.
I have only started talking about my anxiety publicly in the past few months.
My anxiety fluctuates between being one of my adorable quirks to being completely debilitating. In February 2017 I had a panic attack almost every day. I would get the kids off to school and spend most of each day on my bed in the fetal position, afraid to do anything.
Most of the time I’m pretty high functioning. I have a freelance writing business, and I’m the primary caretaker for our four children. My wife is a full-time nursing student at one of the most competitive programs in the country. I’m a work from home dad.
But, for most of the past nine years, I’ve felt like I was the victim of the world’s cruelest prank. The peculiar way my brain works allows me to be great at my job, but without warning the carpet gets pulled out from under me.
I’ve spent the past nine years learning everything I can about anxiety and how I can control what I can only categorize as attacks through non-pharmaceutical methods.
It’s like there’s another consciousness in my brain. My anxiety takes control without notice and wreaks havoc.
I never bothered to wonder “why me,” because we still don’t know the exact cause of anxiety disorders. It’s a complex cocktail of genetics, environment, and who knows what else. It doesn’t matter why I have anxiety, I have it and it’s up to me to figure out how to live with it.
I also didn’t want to talk about “my condition” with anyone other than my therapist and my wife.
I don’t like to say “suffer from” because even though there is a fair amount of suffering, I still have to live my life. Even when things are going well, the anxiety is always lurking. I live with anxiety.
My anxiety had no purpose.
It was just something that made my life a little harder. Other people face bigger obstacles.
I arrived at the school and found E in the office. She goes to a great school. Her principal, her advisor, and the secretary were talking with her. They weren’t towering over her. They were down at her level, trying to understand what was wrong.
The moment I saw her, I could see that E was in the throes of a full panic attack.
She and I went for a walk outside.
As we walked, her anxiety dissipated. I have found that walking helps me drain my anxiety of its power. But, even though E was able to calm down, the attack had left her drained. She didn’t want to go back to school because she was afraid of having another attack. She was embarrassed.
As E and I walked around outside, for the first time I was grateful for my anxiety. I understood exactly how she felt. I also knew what questions to ask, when to stop talking, and what not to say. Together we discovered the immediate trigger of the attack.
Over the next several weeks I was able to help E find ways to begin living with her anxiety while we worked on getting her an appointment with a therapist.
The school has been wonderful and accommodating. E is now loving school. She has a great group of friends that support her and look out for her.
But, she still has her struggles. She has a lot of adults in her life that care about her. But, most of them have a hard time understanding her battle.
Often, I can look at her and know what’s happening in her head. I help her come up with coping strategies and a self-care regimen. We support each other by reminding each other to do our mindfulness practices.
Before E’s panic attacks, I thought my anxiety had no purpose. It was just a cruel twist of fate. But, now I see my anxiety as an incredible gift.
It’s still horrible. But, it was because of my own journey with anxiety that I was in the right frame of mind to be my daughter’s best ally. I can help her avoid a lot of the pain and suffering I went through.
Because I learned to live with anxiety, I can help her live better with her anxiety.
The purpose for my anxiety was to make me the father E needed me to be.