Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Peggy Goldwire Goodwin, a public school art teacher and artist in Englewood, N.J.
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My anxiety created a level of insecurity that pushed me to constantly justify my intelligence, my talents and goals to a frequently critical family. I was looking for validation. Family members told me I was just crazy. Some still believe that.
I pushed myself relentlessly to do what I needed to do. On time. With excellence. To the point of being a type A control freak with tremendous energy. I would never allow anyone to be able to criticize me because I kept my ship tight. Until I was ready to collapse from exhaustion.
Further, in black culture there’s this idea that we have survived much, much worse. Therefore, whatever your burden is, it’s minor. You’re told to suck it up and keep it moving. I fed into that idea that I can overcome every obstacle through sheer strength of will and a solid plan. That is how my grandmother did it and that is how many black women I knew did it. But we are blind to the side effects of that concept. It limits you from seeking help, and feeling shame when you do.
After conceding I couldn’t just power through it, I finally sought help. My ADHD was making me miserable. Acknowledging that this is what it is took a large burden off my shoulders. It was difficult to admit I couldn’t manage my ADHD without any medication. I cried for weeks about it. I saw it as a personal failing. Then I got treatment and for the first time in my life I felt like I was in control of my inner space. Working with my doctors we realized that the anxiety was a constant and was working in conjunction with the ADHD. They feed off of each other. Having a name for what I’m feeling makes it easier.
• Being short tempered
• Speaking to others without compassion in a sharp and overtly blunt tone
• Insomnia and muscle aches
• Racing heartbeat and feeling a sense of severe dread
• Exhaustion from trying to compensate/counterbalance what is happening
Thankfully, these happen less frequently today but in my youth these symptoms were constant:
• Inability to focus on tasks with distracted thoughts
• Overthinking and worrying about possible future outcomes
• Sense of dread and a feeling of being overwhelmed, like the walls are closing in
• Everything is irritating, everyone is irritating
My need to control whatever is going on compels me to go into hyperactive overdrive. I am overtly demanding of expectations; running myself ragged trying to accomplish an impossible level of goals I have set. I can be exceptionally brusque with little tolerance for slacking. As the day goes on and I realize I’m not going to hit my target I feel a sense of dread. I want to cry but I can’t. I can’t shut the nagging doubts and negative self-talk down quick enough to focus. Anxiety turns into panic.
Usually I either take the day off if I can or try to avoid engaging people too much. I have to warn folks that I’m having a bad day and try to keep a very low profile. I also have to remind myself to chill. The world will not end if this doesn’t get done.
I have several tricks. A nice soak in a tub of water then a nap when my mind is in complete disarray and my body aches. If I have too much energy, I will do easy-to-accomplish tasks like cleaning an area with music on. Once I am finished I feel a sense of accomplishment and control (plus everything is clean). Having routines and clearly defined expectations helps me guide my day. I keep a master list and only try to do one to two things a day. Anything else is a bonus. I accept I can’t do it all. Writing also works.
My husband is super awesome. We talk about things often – from the mundane to the critical. He gives me room to have my moments when I can’t focus or I’m flustered. Sometimes all it takes is a hug and kiss on the forehead to remind me this too shall pass.
I have begun tending to my plants and having a long stretch of time where I just don’t speak. I move quietly around the house, enjoying the views with a cup of tea. When all else fails Joshua 1:9 and the Breton Fisherman’s prayer. And a cookie.
Anxiety manifests in many ways. Its a broad spectrum disorder. Too often I see people tend to be dismissive or willfully ignorant about it. It’s easy to just say that someone has “an issue” than it is to address it. People would rather place labels than correlate how pervasive this is. We’re all overwhelmed with expectations that we have on ourselves, as well as the ones that society places upon us.
I do appreciate seeing other women of color coming forward and talking about their struggles.
My anxiety is a blessing of sorts. It’s my secret weapon in doing my work. Our kids need adults who just listen to them. Feeling that you’re heard validates so much. Problematic students need empathy, not pity. It’s hard to control yourself when you’re impulsive, angry, stressed and you don’t know why. It’s hard to focus when you feel like no one cares or believes in you.
My anxiety gives me a level of understanding for those who are struggling to decipher all of the stuff floating around in their head.