For the next week I will be visiting Northeastern Pennsylvania, where both Ryan and I call home, and handling my anxiety the best I can. Yesterday we loaded the truck with Christmas presents and the cat and headed east. It was an easy trip where Popeye and I slept most of the journey.
We have been planning the trip for awhile so over the last few weeks I have been preparing myself both for the travel and being away from our apartment for a week. Both cause a lot of anxiety for me.
I love going “home.” I grew up in beautiful rural Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River. Ryan grew up on a 200 acre farm, whose farm house provides hours of entertainment for Popeye as he explores nooks and crannies.
My family has always been loving and supportive, and my in-laws have welcomed me into their family. Remembering my childhood is always an enjoyable experience, and running into old friends is an anticipated occurrence.
I’m sure you are asking, why the anxiety?
Living with migraine, Fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety are challenging on the good days. So adding unpredictable travel (when we attempted to head home in March, our truck broke down on the way out of town) and planning for any conceivable health concern makes even the easiest of trips challenging.
I planned well, I made a list, packed my medications and brought my essential oils and other comfort items. I also have anticipatory down time activities such as books and crochet to keep my occupied and distracted when I’m not feeling my best.
However, no matter how I try there is one thing I can’t prepare for and this is what brings me the most anxiety.
I have had overwhelming support of my friends and family as I navigate life with chronic illness. However, unless you lived it, there are some things that are just not comprehensible. I can feel good early in the morning and by lunch time find myself needing to lay down in a dark room. I have a schedule of medications, and dietary requirements, that while not extensive are specific. Spending a day on my feet may result in 3 days in bed. And regardless of how I have been feeling, or how well I take care of myself, the whole trip may see me flaring with the inability to socialize even at minimal levels.
Besides answering the inevitable question “How are you feeling?” There are occasions when I see someone who is not familiar with my entire story, or the extent that even though I don’t look sick the chronic part of my illness is real.
So I get asked “So what are you up to these days?” Or “What do you do?” Well this is a complicated answer, and although I try to pass it off as easy and no big deal, it really is one of the hardest things for me to encounter.
People who ask these questions have the best of intentions. And probably do not even realize the anxiety that I face answering them. Some days I answer the “How are you feeling?” question with a good or a fine. But I find this mostly unsatisfying as it feels like I am lying.
Sure, when I’m having a good day I will let you know. “Pretty damn good, thanks for asking.” And people love to hear that.
But what about when I’m out and about and feel not my best? Usually you can’t tell, I smile and laugh, and drink my coffee. “You seem well today.” “Nope, totally faking it, thanks.” I have had these interactions with people. Usually strangers who wish they had my energy.
For friends and family, when I do answer with the truth and I say “not awesome” which is my standard reply when I feel not awesome, I get an “oh.” Yeah “oh.” People just don’t know how to respond to that. They are confused, this is not a usual response that they get to this question. They also feel uncomfortable, being reminded of the vulnerabilities we all possess.
As for my current occupation or activities, I try to be as honest as possible, regardless of how it makes me feel. Usually my response starts with “Well…” And then I explain that when I am able I do fiber arts. I teach. I write. I say “I have a craft business”, “I write a blog,” or “I’m currently working on illustrating a coloring book.”
These answers alone are not usually satisfactory and open themselves up to more questions. What people really want to know is how I make money. For some reason this is how people judge someones success or worth. And although this is not how I value people, it is hard to not judge myself the same way.
Last week I was experiencing anxiety about coming home, and expressed how I was struggling on facebook. I said that I felt like when I felt well I was working very hard but I had very little to show for it. I was reminded by an awesome friend that “no one’s worth is measured by their productivity.” Which I acknowledged that I knew this, but was hard to actually feel it. I also explained my encounters with the “What do you do?” question. This is something I want to explore in a future post.
I’ve been home for a little over 12 hours now and so far so good. Of course the first thing I was asked was how I felt. I said “horrible.” “Well you look really good.” And since I had not seen my mother in law face to face in 2 years I took it as the compliment it was.
For now I will take things day by day. I will do what I can, when I can, determined by my health. And I will try not to get too stuck on the small things.
Not everyone has a place to go home to, and I will forever be grateful that I have two loving families who call me theirs.