As a kid, I was afraid of the sun. The sun was blinding. It hurt my eyes so badly that my mom joked to her friends that I was a vampire. If we had to go somewhere on a sunny day, I had to wear sunglasses.
One of my first memories is of being in a stroller and having lost my sunglasses. That was not a good day. There was nothing my mom could do; we still had several blocks to walk to get back home. I cried until I threw up all over myself. My mom and I both learned important lessons that day. My mom learned to never leave home without a spare pair of sunglasses. I learned that there was nothing my mom could do to protect me from all the things in the world that seemed destined to one day gang up and kill me.
I was terrified of the sun for most of my childhood. Even if I didn’t have to leave the house that day, if I looked out the window and saw the sun, I felt a sense of impending doom. For many years, just the thought of having to go outside in the sun gave me chest pains and headaches.
I was equally anxious about water. Water felt like fire. Getting water poured over my head to rinse my hair was basically torture, but just sitting in a bathtub full of water was pretty bad. As a kid, my mom made me take a bath every night. I spent most of every day in a state of anxiety, worrying about the bath I would have to take before bed time.
I was also afraid of losing my pink pup. I sucked my thumb until I was 8, and whenever I was home I carried around a stuffed pink pup that I would hold up to my face while I sucked my thumb. Somehow I managed to misplace the pink pup several times a day. Although it was the most important thing in my world, I couldn’t seem to keep track of this worn out dusty pup. It got to the point where even when it wasn’t lost yet, I feared losing it. I was in an almost constant state of anxiety about losing the pup. Once I started to school, I was sure that my mom was going to throw it away. I couldn’t bring the pup to school. I spent most of first and second grade worrying about what would happen to my pup while I was in school. When I got home, I couldn’t enjoy the pup because I was too busy worrying about what would happen to it the next day.
I wasn’t diagnosed with aspergers until adulthood. No one in my life, including me, understood what exactly was going on with me. My mother insisted I was “mentally ill” or “emotionally disturbed” and offered these terms as an apologetic excuse whenever we were out in public and I melted down. At some point, during my late teenager years, my mom said maybe I had an anxiety disorder.
For me, aspergers and anxiety go hand in hand. They always have. I know this now, as an adult.
I’m no longer afraid of the sun, or water, or losing my pink pup. I have new, grownup fears now. Such as worrying about having to deal with people, trying to keep a job, struggling to make enough money to pay my bills, health problems, and many other things I have little control over.
Over the years, before I was diagnosed with aspergers, medical professionals focused on my anxiety. There are pills for this and therapies for this. I saw psychiatrists, behavioral therapists, and so on by the dozens. I took pills, none of which helped me and all of which came with side effects and/or withdrawal effects that were worse than the original anxiety. I eventually quit all of this and decided that only I could save my own life.
After barely surviving a suicide attempt in 2004, which was largely prompted from very bad withdrawal effects from going off an anxiety med, I vowed to never take another psychotropic drug. (I know medications help a lot of people, but it became clear that I’m not one of those people.) Instead, I began trying find ways to change my mindset.
For the past several years, I have been working to change my state of mind about certain things. It’s a slow process, and I still have fears and feel anxiety. I don’t think it will ever completely go away. But it’s better than it was. I think it’s only natural to feel anxiety about certain things, because it would be unrealistic not to worry about money if you don’t have any, etc.
I work mostly on trying not to feel so much anxiety about unrealistic fears. I don’t need to waste my energy worrying about something that might happen ten years from now, for example. I also probably don’t need to worry all the time about whether or not my apartment will burn down, which is a semi-realistic fear I had for years while living in an apartment where the neighbors set the yard on fire multiple times with their fire pit. If a fear doesn’t serve me, or no longer serves me, I try to let it go. This is easier said than done.
I try to manage my mindset by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. When I find myself thinking “If I screw this up, I’ll probably lose my job,” I try to reframe that thought to, “I won’t lose my job over this,” or “Even if I lose my job someday, I can find another one. I’ve done it before.”
I try to manage my moods by catching my thoughts before they spiral out of control. One tiny bad thing can turn into a catastrophe in my mind, if I let it. For example, this morning I ran out of oatmeal. I love to eat oatmeal for breakfast and don’t like a change to my routine. I get my groceries delivered every Friday, since I don’t drive, and don’t have anyone I can call to run out and fetch me some oatmeal. I will not have any oatmeal until Friday. This might sound like a minor thing, but it’s one of those things that has the potential to cause me anxiety for the rest of the week. If I’m not careful, things like this can lead me to a meltdown. Since I often self-harm during meltdowns, I try to do everything in my power to avoid having one. This morning, I caught my thoughts starting to spiral over the oatmeal. THE REST OF MY WEEK IS RUINED, I thought. Then I thought, No. The rest of my week is going to be awesome, because I HAVE SAUSAGE BISCUITS. For the rest of the week, I can eat sausage biscuits for breakfast! This will be a real treat, since I usually only eat them once on the weekend. This week is going to be awesome! (There. Problem solved.)
I try to manage my stress levels to reduce anxiety. I have found that being overstimulated or on sensory overload will push me into a heightened state of anxiety. I therefore try to prevent this from happening by engaging in relaxing activities every day and creating/maintaining better habits to reduce overstimulation and sensory overload. Although I doubt I will ever completely eliminate my anxiety, I am much calmer now than I was in the past.
Is anxiety a problem for you? What helps you to manage your anxiety?