When teaching The Catcher in the Rye, I ask my students to write an essay about explaining that Holden was either psychologically damaged or just a kid going through a tough time. While debating the character, a student, one who suffered from bouts of mania, said one of the most profound observations:
“Everyone is psychologically damaged. What makes some people seem insane is their inability to hide it.”
I’ve carried his words with me for over a decade, reminding myself to “hide my insanity” when it might be showing.
I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember creating escape plans to get out of my classroom if various catastrophes arose. It has taken me over forty years, but I have learned to live with and manage my anxiety. I do not talk about it; talking about it makes it available to creep into my head. I greatly admire people who are open with their struggles, but my journey just isn’t something I am comfortable sharing with the world.
The silver lining to managing my own anxiety is that I am equipped to help Liam manage his anxiety. He’s learned breathing and grounding techniques and I encourage him to talk about things that worry him. We create plans to help him cope and discuss strategies to keep his anxiety from taking over his mind.
For the past few weeks, my anxiety has been creeping back onto the scene. We’ve had a bunch of small, first-world type issues come up that have required hours of attention at a time. It started around Christmas, when my car broke down, forcing me to purchase a new one on Christmas Eve. This spiraled into me not being at all ready for the holiday, a holiday I wanted to be as great as possible since it was most likely the last Christmas that Liam will believe.
Those few days reminded me of my need to be a “precrastinator,” or someone who gets things done early. Interestingly, Liam follows this trait, getting his homework done immediately after school. I have suggested that he spend time at afterschool care playing with his friends. He explains that his brain won’t let him do that; he cannot relax and play until he knows his homework is completed. Since his mom has lesson plans done at least six weeks ahead of time, I totally understand where that comes from. If skipping an after school round of four square is what he needs, then I support that.
I’ve been focusing on helping Liam learn to live in his head.
I try to pretend that my head is perfectly fine. I try to pretend I have it all together. My need to keep everything organized and orderly may seem like my perfectionism at play, but it is something my mind needs to stay calm.
Yesterday, after a few weeks of first-world problems eating a lot of my energy, I felt a panic attack coming on. It has been years since one managed to surface. I was supposed to stay after school for curriculum building, but I canceled, explaining that I needed to leave for my own well-being. (I am beyond blessed to work with people who understand this is important.)
Here’s what I did to get myself back on track:
Picked Liam up earlier than usual from afterschool care
Played with he and Banjo until Banjo was too tired to chase the ball
Made dinner with Liam- and let him make garlic bread
Went for a run while listening to Mumford and Sons
Put together my new lid organizer, which will help me avoid frustration every time I go into that cabinet
Checked to see how many animal crackers Banjo could catch in a row
Watched the latest Young Sheldon with Liam
After he went to bed, Banjo and I watched This is Us
Tried to put my thoughts into words
I’ve worked so hard to manage it, but my anxiety is not something I should feel I have to hide. As someone who tries to look like I have everything together, this is sometimes hard to accept. The truth is, my need to have everything organized and prepared is a small part of my plan to keep my mind at bay. Running and staying active is another piece of the puzzle. The best I can do is try to better myself, allow myself to struggle and do things that scare me, continue the quirky habits that keep my mind calm, and try to make others feel loved and supported.
Keise Laymon said it best in his memoir Heavy:
“Some broken folk do whatever they can to break other folk. If we’re gon be broken, I wonder if we can be those other kind of broken folk from now on. I think it’s possible to be broken and ask for help without breaking other people.”