On New Year’s Eve, we indulged in something that has become a tradition in our household: Junk Food Dinner. We cook up some hors d’oeuvres and have chips and dip. The boys love the chance to eat foods that we rarely otherwise eat as we ring in the new year. NHL even made it to midnight for the first time. (JSL fell asleep earlier but woke up 5 minutes after midnight.) After the ball dropped and the boys were tucked into bed, we climbed into bed ourselves hoping for a good night’s sleep and the ability to sleep in the next day.
I woke up a couple of hours later, though, feeling off. The first thing that I could tell was wrong was that my nose felt clogged up. This began to make me anxious that I wouldn’t be able to breathe. Ever since my surgery, I’ve found that a clogged nose is quickly followed by anxiety attacks of this nature. During the day, I can stave them off by distracting myself with various activities. During the night-time, though, there is less to do. The house is quieter and the anxiety looms larger. This also brought back memories of my post-surgery anxiety attack when I couldn’t fall asleep nearly the entire night. Add in that I started to feel nauseous and my anxiety of not being able to breathe was joined by the anxiety of possibly throwing up and I was a nervous wreck. Even my own skin seemed to feel wrong.
The next day, I was feeling better. However, as nighttime got closer, I could feel my anxiety climbing. The night before had had an anxiety attack that kept me awake. Obviously, tonight was going to be no different. Obviously, tonight I was going to lie awake, getting in and out of bed and pacing around with my mind racing with worst-case-scenarios. Obviously, I was doomed to have anxiety attacks every night. Right?
That’s when I realized that my anxiety was being a bully.
Years ago, when I was safely away from the bullying I suffered in high school, I realized that bullies try to dictate reality. You’re not allowed to go to someone for help because the bully dictates that this conflict is between you and him. He can gather his friends together to taunt you as well, though, because that’s allowed (by him). Any attempt by you to seek assistance reduces your position – or so he says.
Similarly, this anxiety was framing the argument. I was approaching the night when, during the previous night I had had an anxiety attack. Therefore, my anxiety bully proclaimed, there was a 100% chance of an anxiety attack this night. And the next night. And the one after that. The anxiety bully told me that I was incapable of going to sleep and staying asleep the entire night.
In truth, though, the bullies NEED to define the rules to protect themselves from behaviors that would stop them. Seeking help doesn’t weaken the bullying victim. It strengthens them. Getting help when you need it can lead to the bully being forced to back off. Similarly, the anxiety bully was purposefully focusing in on the nights when I had an anxiety attack and ignoring all of the nights when I went to sleep and slept fine. It tried to keep my focus away from anything that might help me to increase its own power.
Thankfully, I was able to get to sleep just fine that night and proved my anxiety bully wrong. Putting your anxieties in context can be tricky when in the midst of an anxiety attack. It won’t help defeat every one you might have. However, if you feel one coming on, remembering the times that everything went smoothly might aid in warding off anxiety’s bullying tactics.
NOTE: The image above is a portion of a web comic by Lunarbaboon. He posted this comic the night I had an anxiety attack about fearing not being able to sleep due to an anxiety attack. Besides drawing funny, insightful, and amazingly entertaining comics, he obviously has hidden a camera in my house somewhere to gather his material. How else would his comics mirror my life so often? In any event, he was gracious enough to grant me permission to use part of his comic in my post. Go to his website and read a few dozen of his comics. You won’t be disappointed.