Anxiety Becomes Her

A few nights ago, sometime between a quarter to pitch darkness and half past the witching hour, I lay wide awake across our soft, twisted sheets. The bits of me just along for the ride - my limbs, my chin, the tips of my fingers - had long gone to sleep, sinking heavily into the mattress and pillow with every whir of our table fan. Exhausted, the vital rest of me - my torso, my head - pulsed with electricity. Not the sort of electricity that you may imagine when two protagonists finally sidle up to one another on the movie screen, tossing scalpfuls of shiny hair and shy smiles as they laugh and touch and kiss for the first time, cue the fireworks. The kind of electricity that sparks from faulty electrical work and burns down the refurbished colonial on the corner. The kind of electricity that powers a wood chipper.

After counting sheep and deep breathing and peaceful visualization and twisty yoga poses, after reviewing the plot of every sincerely lovely Sloane Crosley chapter and every calming, rhythmic episode of Frasier over and over in my head a single phrase remained:

Anxiety becomes her. 

Because even after months of poor sleep, I am apparently still poetically perceptive.

The phrase cycled through my brain again and again. I could feel my racing heartbeat pounding in my teeth.

Confession: it's hard these days to tell me from my anxiety, to split the conjoined twins at their seam. Big life plans and changes are the culprits, especially as I attempt to move through this world unmedicated. And my anxiety? Well, it's something I've earned for the strange decades that I existed without my SPD diagnosis. We'll call it a badge of valor. In the middle of an already pretty complex neurological condition is yet another, psychological condition. It's like a set of Russian nesting dolls.


In psychological terms, we call this a "comorbid" condition, which means the two exist together. In delayed-diagnosis sensory adults like yours truly, secondary "comorbid" psychological conditions often tag along. It's not just SPD, it's SPD with a weighty dash of a mood disorder or an anxiety disorder. These comorbid conditions span the gamut from ADHD to anxiety and depression, and some psychological conditions even look so much like SPD that professionals often insist they (and not our difference in wiring) are at the core of our concerns. In reality, they're like buying a bottle of sunblock and getting a second, trial sunblock absolutely free. Two for the price of one? Thanks, The Universe!

I believe that something like anxiety or depression, when it comes about for delayed-diagnosis sensory adults, is the result of our undiagnosed engagement with the sensory world, as well as our particular neurological makeup. I didn't know that strobe lights weren't scary outside of my perception of them, and I didn't realize that undulating crowds weren't inherently bad because I couldn't pinpoint where my fear lived. No one ever helped me connect the dots. I just knew that sometimes I felt sick somewhere inside and detached from my surroundings, but because I didn't know what was triggering these feelings, I couldn't predict when I'd feel that crawly, floaty, overwhelmed way. I learned that things were to be feared, but nothing was scary in particular - nothing tangible - just everything everywhere. I also learned that something was "wrong with me," that I was "different," and that sometimes, when I didn't go with the grain, I was "bad" and a nuisance to others. Along with this came shame, guilt, and the fear of drawing attention to my undefined sensitivities. And so I began avoiding many things. In time, I learned to fear much of everything.

And you wonder why anxiety becomes me, why anxiety and depression and a myriad of comorbid psychological conditions become you and your delayed-diagnosis sensory loved ones, and especially why these conditions are so hard to unlearn. My experience of the sensory world has always been through the context of fear. The sensory world is all around us, and so fear pervades everything in my life, with or without therapy and medication (clearly much less with both of these crucial components). We call this Generalized Anxiety Disorder, because the anxiety is literally generalized across all areas of one's life experiences.

These are the sorts of things that come to me late at night as I struggle to breathe through the vice of anxiety and find some proprioceptive calm underneath my weighted blanket. Life is complicated for all people. Life for people with SPD is even more so, and life for those of us like me who didn't come to their senses for many, many decades is sometimes wracked with truly painful, invisible, internal struggles that even this typically optimistic advocate can't nice away.

Most days, it's my SPD center stage and my secondary anxiety disorder waiting in the wings, like a shadow. Strip away sleep, one anxious moment at a time, and I am at the mercy of both, the sole audience to the eerie, unseen pirouette and bow.

Shameless Self Promotion: Want to learn about SPD and hear more from yours truly? Pre-order Making Sense: A Guide to Sensory Issues today!


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