Is it real? Or is it Memorex? My 80's peeps know what I mean.
And it is a question that I'm really tired of asking myself. It's what I ask when I wonder if the things I do to keep my anxiety at bay are all just part of a larger self-delusion, and it's the exact moment when self-doubt creeps in.
It's the question I'm asking myself now as I'm sitting home alone, having said no to today's family outings. Yesterday was Thanksgiving - 8 hours of genuinely nice togetherness - and I have an anxiety disorder, so today I decided that it was better to rest.
I am so very tired of the doubt that comes with that decision. The worst part of it is that I don't know if I'm a liar, or if I'm telling the truth. Was the therapist right? And do I really have anxiety if I can live at this level without medication?
On top of all of this, I read a lot of advice and get a lot of coaching from mentors in the area of personal improvement. Many professional self-improvers say that genuine happiness comes from self acceptance and love - use your energy towards working with what you've got, and stop trying to be something you're not. The other side of the self-improvement coin is the message that you can be anything you put your mind to, and in fact, if something scares you, you should do it. Push through the fear into a bigger, badass-er life. Accept and go with the flow or tilt at windmills and push yourself til you're vomiting in the gym parking lot. I have yet to read the book that suggests a middle ground.
It is these competing messages that make me wonder if I really do have a mental health issue or if I'm just making excuses. If I stay home, am I honoring my body and mind, or am I just being a hermit-wimp? Do I accept that being in close quarters with family and especially with high-energy children requires a day of recovery and rest or do I push through that feeling of fatigue and spend the day in the car with a bunch of people? Which of these stories that I'm telling myself is true?
I live with the unsettled feeling that taking care of myself via listening to that internal voice is somehow not enough, and that it doesn't look as hard as what other people are doing. I've had this internal debate for over 15 years. As soon as I started working with a weight-neutral, trust-my-gut approach, life became so much easier and more enjoyable... and that really fucked with my head. Fucks with my head.
This I know for sure: if I'd gone with the family today, I'd be miserable, and I'd be making the people around me miserable as well. I like to think that if I go quiet and pretend to be invisible, then other people can't see that I'm not in a good head space. Even if that actually works in the world of worlds, I am surrounded by people with superhuman vision, who can see me, even when I am trying to be inconspicuous. And when they see that I'm struggling, it makes them uncomfortable and sad for me.
So I sit here, downloading thoughts after a day of moderate productivity and solitude, and I'm once again doubting my diagnosis and the choice to live within that diagnosis. But I check in with myself, and I feel good - relaxed, ready to join the family in tomorrow's adventures. And I remind myself that that the reason I'm not on medication is because the first three medications gave me migraines, and the fourth gave me migraines and a terrifying desire to walk into traffic. So I'm having to deal with a legit mental illness without any pharmacological help, and the only way to keep me functioning at such a high level is to keep an iron grip on my anxiety. Which means I have to accept it. And respect my need for recovery days.
By the way, this whole post represents what goes on in my head when I decide to take a mental health day. Every. Single. Time. And it's exhausting. So I've written this - not because I think it'll help me get off the merry-go-round (though wouldn't that be amazeballs) - but because maybe, someday in the future when I take a day in the middle of the 4th of July family rodeo, or I go to only a few hours of the family dinner, I'll feel comfortable with that decision.
At the very least, I hope that it makes you more comfortable with your decisions around self-care - namely, that even when it is difficult and causes you to doubt yourself, it is infinitely better than pretending to be OK when you are not.