A Day in the Life of Anxiety–In Which I Encourage You to Live More Fearlessly than Your Mother

Dear Lily June,

There is a blogger who wrote a description of anxiety recently that I feel encapsulates and encompasses so much of my reality sadly and beautifully. Your letter today is devoted, in part, to her, as she inspired me to give you (and my little corner of the blogosphere) a peek into the life I lead. Thank you, Bits, for giving me the courage to share these things with my daughter.

Without further ado, Lily, I present a Day in My Life [of Anxiety], brought to you also by the Beatles tune of similar title. I don’t have synesthesia, but the song’s instrumentation from 1:45 to 2:15 sounds like my anxiety feels. If that makes any sense.

***

When I sleep, Lily, I sleep fitfully. I often find my mind infested with “What If’s” and their crawling and scurrying keeps me awake at night. What if this is the night that you (SIDS) or your father (sleep apnea) stop breathing? How would I live without you two, who make my whole small world much larger? I turn and check first one of you, then the other.

The mask your father wears pumping air into his lungs howls like a banshee. It wakes me up further. I go to the bathroom to pee. I have broken the seal on my interstitial cystitis. In moments of peak anxiety, I get up as much as a dozen times throughout the night, swapping the pain in my mind for the pains in my bladder. Rinse, repeat.

***

When I wake, I wake worried. Will I be awake enough to drive to work, or will this be the time I suffer some micro-nap from sleep deprivation and get into an accident on the short drive? I should make sure to pack my cell phone so that I can call home if I’m dead.Β Logic and sense don’t factor into my worry. I pack my cell phone (if I remember to; if not, I’ll spend the rest of the day worrying about it at home, seeing repeatedly in my mind the exact image of the place where I left it).

I make my cup of tea. I make a small breakfast (a bowl of cereal or oatmeal or grits). I sit in front of a computer screen streaming Netflix, trying to turn off my mind. I hear a sound from the bedroom.Β Is that Lily?Β I am like the Little Prince. I can never let go of a question once I’ve asked it. No matter how tired or still in pain I am from the night before, I will now have to check on you, no matter the subsequent stillness or silence, just to be sure.

***

If you are still sleeping, I go back to my spot in my chair (the same chair every time) and look around our apartment. Is everything in place? It’s all or nothing with me; I’m anal- retentive or anal-expulsive. Either we’re living in filth, or the place is close to spotless. I take joy in putting objects back in their designated spaces. I rarely move something once it’s been set, unless I move it by a pattern. When I dust the bookshelves for instance, every knick-knack–the stuffed William Shakespeare or Edgar Allen Poe, the pocket Emily Dickinson, the incense burners, the candles, the family photos–all get slipped just one shelf up before I’m allowed to dust. Being allowed–by following my own, made-up rules–is a must.

***

If I’m not too tired to remember, I take my dishes to the dishwasher. This is a minefield–the highest source of anxiety for my disorder. It has to be loaded, by what my mind argues is, the right way. For instance, in the dishwasher’s silverware slots, it must go butter knives, sharp knives, small spoons, big spoons, small forks, big forks.

Any variation–usually because the dish was loaded by your father–must be corrected before my head explodes. At the beginning of our marriage, this was a constant source of friction. Today, I constantly remind myself, “Your ‘right way’ is artificial, Alyssa. Don’t scold him for not following the rules that you’ve created.” On a good day, I listen to my own advice, and let him off the hook for not being my brand of crazy. On a bad day, I don’t, and I scold him for nothing. Then, I mentally scold myself for ten times longer for being impossible to live with.

The difference between OCD and OCPD is this line: The person with OCD sees their rituals and repetitions as a source of constant shame; the person with OCPD is sure their rituals are correct, necessary, right. The grass is always greener, but I wish I lived on the other side of that line.

***

There are times when the difference is more blurry. I count everything in five. When I clean each night, for instance, I choose five items on my list using a children’s nursery rhyme (Ocka Bocka Soda Clocka). When I pick up in a room, I pick up five items at a time. When I wash dishes or bottle parts, it’s in fives. I work hard to make sure I am counting only in my mind. I caught myself, early on, counting aloud in front of you, Lily, and I was terrified. I do not want to ever catch you imitating this.

***

Personal hygiene is hard for me. While others have worked this into a natural, daily routine, my rules often prohibit me from even starting. I’m only allowed, for instance, to shower every other day. I can only brush my teeth if I’ve finished my tea; I can’t drink anything immediately after. I have to brush my hair before and after getting in the shower. It becomes exhausting, and because I’m often depressed with what I see in the mirror, a self-perpetuating cycle develops where I don’t like the reflection I see because I don’t take care of her. I used to add self-cleaning items to my list of things to clean in the apartment to serve as a reminder, and this worked better for me. I was cleaner, but I wasn’t saner.

***

All items in my closet are hung by type (sweatshirts, sweaters, blouses, pants, skirts, dresses), which is an improvement for me. They used to be hung alphabetically by the name on the tag. I choose what I’ll wear for the day with my nursery rhyme. If I don’t, I might end up wearing the same thing, I justify. Every habit I have has a reason. Fives are calming. Lists are orderly. Productivity–even in my down-time–is important. I no longer remember why these are things I believe.

***

At work, I have a lot of down time, through no fault of my own. As a secretary and receptionist, I’m only as busy as the tasks others assign for me. When asked for information, I process data quickly and efficiently. (This is the upside of OCPD; I’m rigorously organized, a benefit for a woman whose primary tasks are to book appointments and file documentation).

It’s the way I spend my down time that gives me away: I have a spreadsheet tallying the blogs I’ve read, and it numbers in the thousands. I answer emails in fives, clicking to visit those bloggers who have visited me. Every followerer, every like, every comment, every time. The list is categorized, has tabs for the things I want to write to you, Lily, tabs for the award nominations I’ve given. This is my hobby. This is my “fun time.”

It’s better than the hobby I used to have at home before there was you, playing video games where I pretended to be a waitress who would serve customers over and over, trying not to incur their animated storm cloud ire. It made recreation my work away from work. It stressed me out, and I enjoyed it. I couldn’t say which one of those statements is more true, if either.

***

When I get home from work, I get the Lily Report from your father. How many poops, how many naps, how many ounces eaten. He leaves for work, and I eat the dinner he graciously made me. If you’re not too wiggly, I try to eat while holding you on my lap. If you are a fiddle-bug, I set you to wriggling on the carpet, pulling yourself up on things while I watch you, giggling. These moments are my saving grace, my respite, my peace. But they can’t last forever. There are things to be cleaned.

***

I do my nursery rhyme, I choose my tasks, I clean. If there are clothes to fold, I fold them in fives. If there are items to be picked up, they must be returned to their proper spaces. I can deal with messes if I’ve seen them for enough days. What really frightens me is change. For instance, I have a small heart attack when my phone rings. I like things quiet. If I look at my phone and it’s a friend, I have to psych myself up to answer it. I have to tell myself it will be okay if I can’t think of what to say. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have only made and kept two friends across my entire life: Wanda and Mira. Months go by when we don’t speak because I haven’t been able to accept that I can’t script our conversations in advance. And Lily, I love them.

This is the one part of my mental illness for which I am truly sorry. Mostly, my isolation just harms me. But I hate what my friends and loved ones must think I think about them. It feels like narcissistic terror, the fear I might say something wrong to people who already like me, but I can’t seem to shake it. I have the hardest time with love letters and compliments to your father. If it’s not as perfect as he is, as he deserves, I just don’t say anything. I worry that my silence is deafening, especially when I can speak when it comes to scolding. In this way, I am like my father. In this way, I never want you to be like me.

***

The perfectionism mentality follows me everywhere, and in everything: All or nothing. If I can’t do something perfectly–my work, my cleaning, my hygiene, my conversations, my recreation–I don’t do it at all. It’s why our family Bucket List on the weekends has been so important to me. It forces me to try. Try out new things. Try out a new life, with (as close as I get to) spontaneity. With less fretting before and less agonizing after. With relatively less anxiety.

***

After cleaning time, assuming there were no calls, nothing new to deal with, I hold you and we read, talk or sing, or I set you down, and we play. I have to remind myself not to gear you towards something, force you to play in an orderly way, for instance. I let you crawl and explore. You love popping open a metal tin we have packed to the side of our living room, which is filled with Christmas ornaments, and spilling them, all glitter and shine, over the carpet. You like smacking the glass patio doors, watching the weather just outside of your grasp. You like tugging clothes I’ve painstakingly folded and arranged on the shelves of your changing table into a messy pile you roll around in like they were autumn leaves in February.

Lily June, I let you. I love you, and this is the time and space I can bend without breaking. Like laying down and setting my head on your father’s chest at night, these are the times of my day I live for because nothing is scheduled and yet, contrary to my standard operating protocol, I feel no anxiety.

The rest of the evening goes on this way until you get your nap.

***

You sleep, curled like a comma in the crook of my arm, and I unclench. I watch Netflix in the dark and listen to you breathe. Or I listen to some sitcom streaming behind my turned head, and I watch the rise and fall of your chest. Your father slips in about an hour later from his own work, and we watch something together while you play at our feet. When that’s over, whoever’s turn it is, his or mine, someone feeds you your last bottle and puts you down to sleep, joining the other who’s been warming the mattress, waiting. This is our routine.

***

I turn over in my dreams, and some small sound–a mattress spring, a sigh–wakes me. When I sleep, Lily, I sleep fitfully…

***

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32 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of Anxiety–In Which I Encourage You to Live More Fearlessly than Your Mother

  1. bitsfromheaven says:

    My dearest, I had no idea my life could help anyone, let alone someone so much like myself. Thank you for your kindness, your likeness. I do very many of those things: to the point, and perfectly or not at all. It’s ‘just so’ or just dirty. All my family’s closets are exact. Except for mine…which I’m sure a good therapist would tell me it’s about self loathing. I’m so proud of you mama. You were such a support to me…you still are. This post will give you panic attacks so stop reading it over and over. (Coming from personal experience of course) you are truly my kindred and anxious spirit. Well done. πŸ’œ

    Liked by 3 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      You even got me on the reading this over and over. I do it with all of my posts, though I try to keep myself from correcting them. I had a teacher once joke that the reason they lock the Louvre at night isn’t to prevent theft, but to prevent the artists from sneaking back in and forever tweaking their paintings. I’m trying not to be that tweaker. But I will read and reread, freaking out about what I’ve written. And then I remember that, ultimately, the only reader who matters is my daughter. And she can’t read yet. (So it should hopefully be a short-lived relief for me.)

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Patricia says:

    πŸ‘You are aware, you accept and deal. Please add me to your list of friends. Mine has dwindled, mostly due to boredom on their part.πŸ˜† Anxiety sucks but I also am aware, I accept and I deal just not always the best way. I like moving away so I don’t have to deal on a regular basis with friends and family. I love being alone because there is no reason to perform, I can’t screw up and I can control what happens in my environment (this is, of course, not reality but I can pretend). I like you as you are. I am intrigued by your “fives”, you keep life interesting.πŸ˜€

    Liked by 3 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Oh, Patricia! You are definitely on that list of friends, and if I could (had the time, ability, etc.) I wish I could honestly meet-meet you! I’d buy you some good quality coffee or some cheap snacks (with no mayo, I promise) and we’d have some awesomely long and undoubtedly winding conversations! I understand, though, enjoying your solitude, so maybe it’s best we “met” this way so I can’t bug you too much. πŸ˜‰

      For what it’s worth, I like you as you are, too, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to swap so many words with you. Believe me when I say it is more meaningful to me and my life than you might believe or ever know!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Patricia says:

        If we could meet, I would talk your ears off, I promise you. I don’t really isolate and in reality am a very people person. I just bore people with too many details, opinions and serious subjects and long stories. Good thing I found blogging. I wish we could meet also but I refuse to give up calling it a friendship just because we haven’t met in person. People do try to slip mayo past me, often intentionally. My mom used to make a may0 cake which was really moist and very yummy once it was cooked. My sister and I tried the batter once and you could taste the mayo. We shuddered for quite a while, in fact, we shudder just to talk about it. How far do you live from Colorado? lol

        Liked by 1 person

      2. dearlilyjune says:

        It would take me about 18 1/2 hours just to reach your state! But you’re right, that’s the beauty of the internet. It lets us chatty cathy’s shake our opinions out like a dog shaking rainwater off his body. Don’t stand near Patricia and I, everybody, if you don’t want to get wet!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Patricia says:

        πŸ˜‚ Yeah, that would be quite a journey. It was such a long drive just to get out of Texas. It is a 24 hour drive from where we lived to Durango. So the trip we took back to get the remainder of our “stuff” was not a pleasure trip. We were so done with living in Texas and to have to go right back 24 hours each way. We had to do an immediate turn-around because the truck was costing by the day. How can we exchange e-mail addresses? Possible?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. lindalanger6 says:

    I had no idea that you suffer so much every day, and I would love to hug you and tell you how strong and brave you are. I struggle with the bad thoughts form of OCD, although sometimes earlier in my life, it erupted in hand-washing and religious scrupluosity. In my twentes (such a long time ago), I was hospitalized three times and diagnosed wrongly with schizophrenia. This was back in the 1960s when no one knew about OCD. Many years of therapy ended most of the OCD, but I still suffer from anxiety. I take a number of psychiatric medications so I can sleep. I don’t know how old you are. I am soon to be 74, and I will tell you that thing get better. I am a spunky old lady with snow white hair and I have a great husband and a wonderful life. I never would have realized the extent and degree of your pain from your lovely writing. I do think Lily is just about the cutest little sucker I have seen, and I know you bring her joy because I see it on her face. Since she is reflecting you, I know she brings you much- deserved joy, too. Be well, my friend

    Liked by 5 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      I wouldn’t call it suffering, Linda. For me, it’s always been this way, and being anxious is as natural and seemingly involuntary to me as breathing. I have to work to be conscious of how it affects me (but especially those around me, like my husband and daughter). I know it makes my life seem small to those not living it; for me, it’s cozy. I have my close friends, and I enjoy being a homebody. I do take an antidepressant to keep me a little more stable, if only because this much worry eventually exhausts me, and before I know it, I slip the other way…

      I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia and to have been hospitalized back in the 60’s. It’s just proof of what a brave woman you are and what moxie you have: You got through it and can report back from the other side. Your an inspiration, and I’ll hold those words “things get better” close to my heart. I don’t know that I can imagine a life without my rituals and worries, but I can hope. Especially for Lily.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Allie P. says:

    I focus on threes as they just seem like a natural pattern to me. Perhaps this is due to my early art classes which instructed us not to use a color in a work unless we were prepared to use it three times, which supposedly is a trick to give the piece a sense of balance in a viewer’s eyes, much like a three legged stool. Or perhaps it was how I was raised – a task repeated three times becomes either a personal chore or tradition. Or maybe it stems from how I divide time with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If I ever adopted your rules, as right as they might be, I likely wouldn’t be able to stop until I’d reached fifteen, and that would be exhausting.

    Regarding the late night paranoia, I wish I didn’t relate to that as much as I do.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Lucinda Tart, MSW:MH, ILS and Advocate, Fibromyalgia Peer Advocate/Life Skills Advisor says:

    Oh my. I had no idea you suffered this much dear one. I have anxiety and PTSD, depression, Fibromyalgia, but the OCD part is not one I have experienced to this degree. It would be a nightmare for me! As I am sure it is for you. I am so exhausted that while I try to stay organized to beat all the above from overwhelming me, I would be comatose if I my anxiety increased to this next stage. Sending love your way. Also, reblogging on my blog in case my peers experience this debilitating mental health issue. XX Lucinda Tart

    Liked by 1 person

  6. orchidblueblog says:

    Hi beautiful stranger. I had to laugh a bit reading this, as I’d written tonight’s post on my blog before coming here and I laughed because we have the same OCD “Five” thing. Mine is with number on a volume dial and steps. Always has to be divisible by five. I’m happy to know that I’m not alone yet not happy that someone else suffers what I suppose some would consider an affliction. I try to consider it a quirk. πŸ™‚

    I adore your writing. It’s comical, educational, beautiful and so honest. It’s the hardest thing to bare your soul but it’s such a beautiful thing to know that one day little Lily will get to know just how much she is loved and how wonderful and strong her mother is.

    I also need you to know that your comment you left today is now in my #jarchallenge. You are such a beautiful human… Thank you for your honesty and baring your soul as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. fancypaperblog says:

    Your blog makes me stop what I am doing and find the time to read every word. It is that powerful. You are being wonderful to LilyJune . My dad had repeated routine when I was growing up and even though I became aware of them, I didn’t mimic them. I am no professional,but I think you shouldn’t add that to the worries x

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lucinda Tart, MSW:MH, ILS and Advocate, Fibromyalgia Peer Advocate/Life Skills Advisor says:

    Reblogged this on livingyournewlifewithchronicpain and commented:
    Good Day Peers,
    I follow this wonderful woman’s blog. I am choosing to reblog this post from her as it may touch some of you where you survive. Mental health is my profession and has touched my life these last two + years as well. I am dealing with anxiety, depression and PTSD from being rear ended two+ years ago while at a red light.
    My peers often tell me that they suffer from true depression and anxiety (empirical research discuses these comorbid mental health issues with fibro as well). If you are one of my peers who do have these issues, I understand. I still choose to focus on my positive moments and call them gifts; my negative are also gifts, just ones I would never have chosen.
    XX

    Liked by 1 person

  9. BunKaryudo says:

    I was particularly interested to read about the difference between OCD and OCPD. I knew the word “personality” in the latter must carry some great significance, but you encapsulated it very clearly, I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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