Mr. Clark stopped talking and walked to the ringing rotary phone on the wall.
We were experts, as 7th graders, in anticipating what phone calls would be about. I’m surprised we never got around to making bets. I missed my chance to be a bookie. When the phone rang, it could mean someone was in trouble and had to go to the principle’s office.
Everyone was quiet waiting to see if their name would be called. No. That wasn’t it.
It could mean there was a school announcement. It could mean there was something wrong with our bathroom plumbing! But it had never meant that a space ship had exploded. Seventh grade was not the time to grasp what this meant. If we couldn’t grasp it, if our perceptions were unable to see it, then it could not actually exist. Right?
We kids had other things we were trying to sort out. Boys and girls. Getting your period or facial hair. Zits. What Melissa said about you when you thought she was your friend. These were space occupying in our minds. There was little room for understanding that this phone call announced the end of 8 lives, a billion-plus dollars blew up, nor especially not what it meant politically! Spouses and children, watching and cheering in the bleachers live, front row and center, witnessed as their own individual loved one exploded into tiny particles.
Mr. Clark walked, white-faced and perspiring, to the radio, asked for silence over the hum that had built up, and we heard. The challenger, the 8 people aboard (one of them a teacher), in 1986, was gone.
A spaceship exploding is about what anxiety feels like. That may sound extreme but it is the truth. And those who have experienced it, as if their were going to come apart, will do anything not to experience it again. This urge to avoid anxiety expresses itself in emotions and behaviors. But often, when anxiety doesn’t reach a full explosion, the afflicted individual doesn’t even know that they are sensing the urge to avoid, nor how they are responding to this avoidance. The afflicted person and those who know him get think that these medical symptoms are actually the afflicted’s personality. “It’s just the way I am.”
You may be someone who feels inner congruence with decisions. By temperament, you like closure! But even so, against your own hard-wiring, you find that you have trouble making decisions. How you talk is driven by indecision. You’re couching what you say, being careful. Your self-esteem erodes.
Manuel had some similarities to this, but also, on top of his medical condition with avoidance symptoms, his personality was one that got energy from being alone. That doesn’t mean Manuel didn’t like people or interpersonal relationships. It just means that he got energy from being alone. And he did stay alone most of the time. When around others, the energy poured out of him like lemonade through an open spigot. However, he wanted others. Being lonely was not his goal. But there he was, more energy when alone combined with a thrumming buzz of nerves when he tried to make friends, when he tried to date, or when he was approached by someone spontaneously in public who asked the time.
Fudge! She only wanted to know the Blinking! Time! he screamed inside.
Manuel had some friends with whom he was deeply bonded to by shared experiences. But he had gone on to college and his friends had not. It was niggling in whispering thoughts that he might still be hanging out with them because they didn’t disrupt him. Because he came apart. Terror, like a spaceship exploding in the atmosphere after take-off, filled his perceptions, if he tried to hang out with anyone else! And Manuel didn’t like thinking about his friendships that way. They lost value when tattered by that persistent wind. Nor did Manuel like thinking about himself as someone who couldn’t get other friends if he wanted to. As someone who would use the faithful. Friendship by default? No. He felt shame just thinking it and he knew it’s falseness. In his most essential self, he knew he loved them for more than proximity. But he really didn’t know if he was weak. It was a possibility. And besides! What girl would want a weak man?
People with anxiety have barriers to any number of connections in life, like coming up to an energy force field we can’t see. There are interpersonal connections we might have had, but never initiated or explored because the anxiety held you in place. This is what anxiety does to us. Anxiety takes away our freedom to choose. And as the consequences and fruition play out, we live out the related losses.
Manuel came to me because, “Mom told me I better come and talk to someone.” Mom was fed-up with his isolation, hours of video games, and she had noticed that he was spending even less time with his childhood friends.
Talking to Manuel, unearthing these patterns in his life, his insight grew a bit. But once he looked at anxiety, even with a sideways glance, which was anxiety provoking in itself, he came up against the need to decide,
Should I treat?
Deciding to treat is a decision to make between the patient, perhaps including their support system, and their treating clinician. When there isn’t a clear answer though, like a blood test that shows the vitamin D levels are low, we respond with vitamin D replacement therapy, but in these areas of diagnosis, it often feels nebulus to the patients on what to do.
When the decision doesn’t have clear form, like an undefined space, go toward the data. You may trust your clinician to know that data integrate it into all the information that goes toward deciding on treatment. Or you may choose to spend time researching and evaluating the data on your own and then go forward. Either way, if you stay with what you’ve been doing, you will remain ill and the illness will progress over time.
So either way, going with the data, either via your clinicians recommendations directly, or indirectly. Accept treatment. In fact, run toward it! You will have a much higher quality of life. And… those around you will too.
Self-care tip – Go toward the data!
Questions: What had influenced your choices in treatment or not to treat? Please tell us your story. We need your voice!