Day 38: Let’s talk about anxiety

At some point, if you’re serious about boosting your spirits over the course of a year, you’ll pull some nasty tangles out of dark corners and see if they look different in the light. Sometimes they don’t. But it never hurts to try.

Earlier this year, a doctor used the word “anxiety” to characterize some of my behaviors for the first time ever, and I’ve been pondering it ever since. I was taken aback, but quickly realized he was calling a spade a spade: it was like seeing the hidden shape in a Magic Eye drawing all of a sudden after years of squinting away at it. I chose this photo of a hummingbird for today’s post because that’s the best way I can think of to describe it – what one mind might achieve in long, deliberate wingstrokes, mine achieves through teeny tiny flutters.

This morning a hummingbird got stuck underneath our eaves. It couldn’t figure out that an overhang of clear plastic roofing was actually a solid object and tapped away at it frantically for what my husband said was just a few minutes but which, to my anxious brain, seemed like hours. Meanwhile, another hummingbird kept darting back and forth, trying to show its friend that it was really, really easy to find another way out. The confused bird finally noticed the giant park just to its left and darted away. I watched it, thinking, I see you, buddy. I’ve been there. Maybe I’m there right now.

I can’t trace this to any particular cause. It’s just the way my brain seems to work. Sometimes I swear you can hear my mind whirring away, my hummingbird next to my husband’s hawk, surveying the world from the heights. “What are you thinking about?” I’ll ask him sometimes, and he might reply: “Nothing much.” This is unfathomable to me. My thoughts spin, incessant.

It’s what makes writing so easy and fast for me, and true rest so difficult. It’s why I attempt meditation and then swear. It’s why I love running, I think, because it moves the hum in my head to my legs and then lets my brain slow down just a touch. It’s why sadness or depression make me speed up instead of slowing down.

I don’t have anything profound or useful to add to the conversation I see happening in the world about anxiety, but I do want to be one of the people who is open about her struggles, especially since I think that openness is just starting to come to Costa Rica and should be hastened along wherever possible. I want to be more like Cris Gomar, who, through her mental health initiative Vaso Lleno here in Costa Rica, has been creating some terrific posts about anxiety lately in hopes of removing some of the stigma from it and raising awareness of what it’s like to be inside our heads. For example, her friend texts her simply, “Cris,” and her mind responds with a host of worst-case scenarios (the friend hates her, family members have been hurt) before the friend continues by asking if she can borrow a shirt.

Yup. Sounds about right.

Costa Rica is often hailed as the happiest country on Earth – it even says so in our airport – and every time I see that title now I wince a little, because I don’t think such a silly title is good for mental health. This is a country of wonderful serenity and positivity, and it is also home to cities that are very difficult to live in, and an extraordinarily high cost of living and economic stress, and brutal inequalities, and so forth. You’re not a freak if your brain generates six different alerts between your name and “can I borrow a shirt?” You’re a human. You’re a human in a country where mental health struggles and suicide are very real, and where pulling crap like this out of our closets is a much needed exercise. Maybe our fast-moving hummingbirds do better once they get out from under the eaves.

Have you found or hear about any good strategies for dealing with anxiety? Have you noticed any differences in attitudes towards anxiety or mental health across cultures (or even across languages)? My ups and downs over the past few years have left me with what I think will be an enduring fascination with this topic, so I’d love to hear from you.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

 

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