The best description of anxiety I’ve ever heard came from a PA at my doctor’s office.
She told me anxiety is like a monster in a cage. And we all have one.
When the monster is asleep and calm, your anxiety is under control. This is how people without an anxiety disorder feel.
When the monster is agitated and rattling the cage, your anxiety has been triggered. This is a normal response to an event that causes anxiety.
When the monster is trying to get out of its cage and you’re actively pushing on the cage door to keep it contained, your anxiety is a problem.
When the monster is out of the cage and chasing you, your anxiety is out of control.
You want to live with the monster asleep and calm, and only have it rattle the cage when triggered before it goes back to calm and sleeping.
My monster is never asleep and calm.
To live with an anxiety disorder means you're constantly pushing on that cage door to keep the monster in, while trying to make sure no one knows you’re doing it.
When the monster inevitably escapes its cage, it’s impossible to hide.
I had panic attacks for years before I knew what they were. I always blamed them on some stress in my life - job, family, finances, relationships.
The last time the monster burst out of its cage and chased me into a panic attack was three years ago at a big box retail store. I needed to buy my then 2 year old daughter mittens. It was December and the mittens I had sent to daycare, I was told by her teachers, were inadequate.
But I couldn’t find any mittens her size in the store. That was all it took that day for my monster to burst out of its cage screaming “what kind of mother doesn’t have warm mittens for her child?!?!?!”
I bolted from the store, got in my car, gripped the steering wheel, and took purposeful, deep breaths until the monster shut up and I could push it back in its cage. Then I got out my phone and ordered mittens from Amazon. There was no way I was going back into that store.
Therapy, exercise, meditation, sleep, yoga, multiple medications.
My treatment list keeps the monster in its cage, but it’s still pissed off and rattling the door. My doctor and I have worked for the past five years to try to get that rattling to stop. But to no avail. Some days it’s softer than others, but it’s never gone.
If the monster metaphor rings true for you too, know that you’re not alone. That trying your best each day IS enough. And that a monster rattling its cage IS better than always pushing on that cage door until the monster busts through and starts chasing you.