I was sorting through a couple of small containers of stuff I hadn’t dealt with in a while when I found the button. I’ve since thrown it out, but I recreated it for you above.
It was a birthday gift! When I look back now, I think the coworker who gave it to me was exasperated. It only took me a couple of decades to understand his point.
I’ve written before about my battles with depression. That’s all I ever heard – depression, depression. But that wasn’t the whole story. Life was a roller-coaster until I was properly diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder that, left to run amok, fuels depression.
It’s not a surprise. My Mom was a one woman anxiety factory. She assumed that someone who was late for dinner was dead until proven otherwise. It’s catastrophizing. Her Mom, widowed at a young age, was probably the same way This isn’t to lay blame, but to explain that when you act this way around your kids, it imprints on them. (And everyone has their own shit. I’m certainly not claiming this is the worst thing that could have happened in my life.)
Anxiety looks like – and probably is – mostly worry. In our form of anxiety, it’s verbalizing everything that can possibly go wrong, perhaps in a misguided attempt to keep those things from happening. It’s a fear of life’s surprises, like knocking on wood for good luck, in reverse. “If I think about it, it won’t happen.” The anxious person mentally counts the lifeboats on the Titanic of their day and tells everyone around them that there aren’t enough for everybody. Part of it is a futile attempt to achieve perfection. To the untrained eye and ear, it’s babbling negativity and it must be hell to be around. I understand how others confuse it with plain old bitching.
The last one to notice the water is the fish.
Dr. M. Cornfield
A person doesn’t make a conscious choice to be anxious. In fact, when you’re in the throes of anxiety, it’s almost impossible to recognize what your anxiety is doing to those around you. And, like an alcoholic or drug addict or anyone else with unwanted behavior, there’s nothing you can do until the person decides they want to change.
The button certainly didn’t open my eyes. At the time, I thought its message was a reflection of the giver’s grumpiness. Then, someone I deeply respected was brave enough – or fed up enough – to say something about how my verbal stream-of-consciousness was affecting them. It was painful to hear but growth is a painful process and it led me to assess what I was doing. I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep, drinking too much coffee, and ignoring my physical health. All were contributing factors.
It was time for a change.
That was two decades ago. I called my MD and said, I want to live differently, I want to be better. I asked her to book an assessment for me at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and have them figure me out. She did and they did. She didn’t hesitate, because I already had a documented history with depression.
At the time, CAMH was running a brilliant campaign of celebrities admitting their mental health struggles. That helped, but walking into that building on Queen St. W. was still terrifying. I’ll admit I thought about what I’d say if someone I knew saw me. I decided it depended on who it was. Now, here I am telling the world and I care not a whit what anyone thinks. My, how things have changed for the better.
That assessment took the better part of a day and it was one of the best things I ever did. After deep analysis, I came away with a true understanding of myself and how to move forward in a healthier way. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and talk therapy followed. I got harder on myself and gave myself a break at the same time.
I’m not 100% successful 100% of the time. But who is? Everyone gets anxious sometimes. And if they don’t get anxious, then they get something else. After all, some situations call for being a “bitch”. And some buttons end up in the garbage.