When I was around nine years old I read Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass. In one of these books, I can’t remember which, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice she should pick an age and stick to it. What a great idea, I thought! I’d choose to be twelve as that’s such a grown up age but not too grown up and I’d get to do so much more. So I spoke my wish out to the universe, to the gods of fairytales and impossible dreams that every child believes in. Then it struck me: if I was to never get older that meant I had to…die.
What followed was four years of extreme anxiety, believing every twinge was lethal, every headache a brain tumor, every cough consumption. It wasn’t until I turned thirteen that I could relax and trust that I wasn’t actually going to pop my adolescent clogs.
It’s funny now, over forty years later, but at the time I was miserable and scared. I couldn’t even watch Marcus Welby, MD without crushing anxiety taking my breath away. Yet until recently, I would never have described myself as an anxious adult. I’ve suffered from depression on and off for over 20 years, in addition to fibromyalgia, but I have always been strong and capable, the one who copes when the brown stuff hits the fan. What happened?
I don’t think the anxiety truly went away. It was hidden, shoved up in the attic with the name calling and bucked teeth and shyness while I faffed about looking serene and confident. Underneath, nothing had changed. I just got better at hiding it.
I’m older now and illness has taken its toll on me and I am not the woman I used to be. I’m tired and in pain every day and no longer have the reserves to put on a brave face when I’m feeling anxious. I use up my energy on trying not to look ill. Fibromyalgia has stolen me in increments: my life is so completely changed now and the thought of losing yet more of what makes me *me* turns me back into the nine year old with an accidental death wish.
So, what can I learn from this? In my calm moments I can remember that I didn’t die when I was twelve and I likely won’t lose all of my, for want of a better word, individuality now. But I still over-react when I hit a bump and it’s hard to get my sensible head on before the adrenaline rush leaves me breathless and perspiring. In the grand scheme of things, life could be so much worse and I am privileged beyond belief compared to many. But I can’t remember this when my heart is playing a polka in my chest. Humpty Dumpty has a lot to answer for.
Do you suffer from anxiety? How do you cope?