Life Lessons with Monica: Hidden Manifestations of Anxiety
When you think of someone with anxiety, do you picture a person nervously chewing their nails? Perhaps you see someone seemingly on edge, pacing back and forth. Is the person holding themselves as though trying to hold pieces together from the outside in? Or maybe you see Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her, watching her best friend steal the love of her life away, then in a psychiatric facility, wringing a handkerchief over and over and over again until drawing blood on her palms. (I was born in the 80’s and my parents had GREAT taste in movies as I was growing up! Death Becomes Her is and always will be a classic. Go watch it! After you finish reading this, of course.)
Sure, those are classic manifestations of anxiety, but sometimes there are people in the world with other situations. Situations in which showing classic symptoms of anxiety is not only frowned upon but also dangerous. Real talk here on my experiences in life. I learned how to make myself small. I am an adult with ADD/ADHD combined type, something I have had my entire life. When I was a kid I had no idea what it meant. I genuinely thought it was funny.
“Monica! Sit down! You’re bouncing off the walls!”
“Would you sit still! Stop running around so much! You are way too hyper!”
Common things I would hear in school, Sunday school, large and small gatherings, family gatherings, even at sleepovers. I would just make it seem as though I was unaffected and say, “I have ADHD! I am always hyper! I can’t help it!”
Sure, the ADHD was a part of it, but truthfully I was anxious. I was an anxiety-ridden child, adolescent, teenager, and young adult. I still have anxiety to this day, but now it is more nervous excitement, or the pure torturous hell that is “parental worry and guilt.” My ADHD did not prevent me from achieving high honors in school, from being an avid reader, nor from writing stories, letters, and half-hearted journal attempts in my youth. It did not make me bounce off the walls, it did not prevent me from sitting in my seat – save for one instance that I am going to divulge because it is what shifted my behaviors for decades to follow – and it did not cause my voice modulation issues. It was the easy-out answer. One that could easily be used, explained, and fit well enough to cover what was really going on: severe anxiety.
Most resources out there will lay out anxiety’s physical symptoms as being headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, panic attacks, body pains, etc. That was not my case. I was not officially tested nor diagnosed with ADD/ADHD combined type until I was a sophomore in college, struggling with attention and focus issues. What I learned from my first ever psychological evaluation was that I struggled with focus and attention, but my impulsivity control was not overtly severe. Yet, I had bursts of excess energy, struggled to sit still, felt uncomfortable in my own skin half the time, and couldn’t ever seem to control nor hear the volume of my voice. This is something that I still fluctuate with when I am not being mindful of my own emotions (especially the volume control part, my poor husband has to tell me that I am yelling a lot of the time).
When I was in the fourth grade, during the middle of a test, in a silent classroom, my teacher unknowingly was conducting his own form of a scientific experiment with me. He would drop his pencil. I would jump out of my seat, pick it up, put it on his desk, and then sit down and return to my test. At parent-teacher conferences a couple of weeks later, he mentioned this to my mom and me as we were going over my grades and behaviors. “I believe that Monica has ADHD. I dropped my pencil four times during the test. She picked it up every time, and then sat back down without saying a word. I don’t even think she noticed she was doing it. Monica, do you remember that?”
“No, I don’t. I guess I didn’t notice.”
Nothing was done about it, but the observation and comments made created a complex. I needed to practice better self-control. I needed to stop doing things that I viewed as being helpful to other people. It was who I was, who I still am. I always try to go out of my way to help others. Pick something up that is dropped for them, allow a vehicle that has been waiting to turn to go ahead of me, and even give a random compliment to complete strangers I see simply to make their day brighter. I am the “fixer.” On the Jungian Archetype range, I fall directly into the “Caregiver Archetype.” Empathic, sensitive, and generous at the expense of myself most of the time. What I viewed as a kind gesture was labeled a “disorder.”
Forcing myself to go against my nature, to behave in socially acceptable ways due to a lack of understanding from others about who I am, created an even deeper sense of anxiety. Suddenly at eight years old I was finding myself second guessing every action and reaction I had. Was I moving too quickly? Was I laughing too much? Did I upset someone else because I said something wrong, did something wrong, moved wrong, breathed wrong? Overanalyzing everything I did, said, and even thought and felt meant an increase in internalization.
Instead of getting up and moving around, I would sit in my seat, quiet, withdrawn, and shake my leg up and down almost maniacally. This has become my tell in adulthood. My husband always knows if my emotions are running high when I am silent and will ask me, “You okay, shakes?”
My anxiety manifests in bursts of hyper-focus on a task at hand, random shaking of my legs, issues with voice modulation, and cleaning. When I say cleaning, I don’t mean something small like loading the dishwasher. I am talking about cleaning a six-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2800 square foot house within two hours’ time from top to bottom. I refer to it as “whirl-winding” the house. It happens when I can’t make sense of my emotions, when there is a blockage of thought processes, or when I have a trauma trigger occur.
The reason I am sharing this with you today is to hopefully make you pause and think a bit deeper about the people around you, the reactions you have, and the way others around you behave. As a trauma survivor, and as a parent, I have learned to utilize my experiences and signs to recognize behaviors that don’t necessarily match up with common manifestations of issues with my children. This has helped me to approach them with deeper understanding and empathy for what they are experiencing, recognize when there is a need for additional help from medical providers, and advocate for them in whatever situation they come upon in life. Everyone is different. There is no set standard for one way of being, one way of thinking, or one way of manifesting reactions to emotions. Allowing for differences in everyone, as you would for the allowance from others for yourself, opens the door for further growth in life.
Parents have advantages in life. I don’t mean financially. I mean mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. We have the ability to take the events of our lives, evaluate them, and determine what our own set of behaviors were and sometimes still are. In doing this, we are able to see the traits and behaviors that we have passed on to our children. We have the advantage of changing the storyline for ourselves, and for our children and their children after them. I could have chosen to never attempt to better myself, to never attempt to understand myself, and be blinded to the plights of my children. It is not who I am. I am not a perfect parent. Far from it. I snap at my kids from time to time, I can be harsh with them, and I can come off dictatorial much of the time (especially when it comes to school and back talk). I could allow this to be who I am as a parent, take up the role of being “the one in charge,” and walk through my life believing that this is the right thing to do. It is not.
My children have four parents. They have two loving parents, and two that simply don’t try. It is unfortunate. It is heart-breaking. It does not have to be their story. I cannot change other people. You cannot change other people. BUT we can change ourselves. We can choose to listen and hear our children. We can choose to care about the things that they express, talk them through their fears and concerns, hug them through their tears, and comfort them when they are hurting. We can choose to trust and believe in them. We can choose to tell them the things that we as children once believed, “Anything you can dream of you can achieve.” Then you teach them how to fight for it, to fight for themselves, to stand up for themselves, to speak up for themselves. This is our role as parents. It is the role that educators should have. A disorder is only perpetuated by those who choose not to help. Choose not to reach out and talk to the person, ask what is going on, and genuinely listen to hear their story instead of listening to respond. This kind of change could change the world.
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