Dread | Sarah Wyland
Anxiety | Wellness

When Dread Comes To Visit

I have become that girl. 

My Instagram feed says I’m living my best life. In some ways, I am. I love it here in Los Angeles. I love my MFA program and what I’m doing. I love a lot about how life is going right now. 

Which makes it hard to reconcile the fact that I sat in my car taking online assessments to determine if what I’m feeling is anxiety or depression earlier in the evening on which I began writing this post. 

It was a Monday. I woke up ready to take on the world. I tend to wake up like that – full of inspiration for the day and determined to be productive. I started the day as I do most days. I poured a cup of coffee, opened up my journal, filled three pages, and then pulled a couple of oracle cards and an affirmation card. After that, I opened my laptop to get a little bit of work done before a scheduled Pure Barre class. 

I left on time, but by then, my stomach was cramping. I blamed it on the small bit of gluten I ate on Saturday night (literally just a triangle of pita bread, but when you have Celiac Disease…) and the fact that I chose a couple of less than healthy options for lunch and dinner the day before. I knew there was no chance I was going to make it through class with those too familiar gluten cramps, so I changed course to Target to run the errands I planned to run after class. 

Target was easy enough. I got what I needed and ventured home. But it wasn’t just the stomach cramps bothering me by then. That ever more familiar visitor, Dread, had started to knock in the distance. I tried to push it down. I tried to ignore it. I’m really tired of Dread, you see. It keeps dropping by without calling first and then overstaying its welcome and enough is enough. So I went home and started to clean. 

Did the floors need to be swept? Well, yes. It turns out Los Angeles is incredibly dusty and I sweep just about every day in an effort to make my dark hardwood floors not look like they have a dusting of snow on them. But did I need to scrub my bedroom carpets? Probably not. I cooked something to eat. I tried to write a blog post. I laid on the floor to play with Knox for a while. I did some meal prep. I cleaned some more. I thought about the reel I wanted to make for Instagram but didn’t actually make it. I tried to get some work done. 

Restless. 

I was oh so restless. 

I was restless because I was trying to outrun my approaching guest – Dread, of the doom and gloom family – that started to tap on the door at Target. Dread was getting louder by the hour and it was getting harder to pretend I wasn’t home. 

I focused my worries on Knox for a while. He’s been refusing his dog food for several days now and I decided I had to address it right then and there. His vet wasn’t worried after checking him over and getting great blood work a few days earlier, but I had decided his mouth hurt (one of our theories on his avoiding kibble) and that waiting a month for his dental was a no go. I made a few phone calls and got him an appointment with a dental specialist a couple of hours later. 

I spent those couple of hours in increasing restlessness. I couldn’t sit still, but I also couldn’t focus. There was so much I wanted to do – so much I needed to do – but I felt like there was an electrical current running through me and I simply could not sit still, let alone dedicate attention to a specific task.

Dread’s knocking got louder and louder the more I tried to outrun it. 

Knox and I went to the specialist. She couldn’t rule out a mouth issue but also saw nothing of concern. She suggested proceeding with the dental, maybe get an ultrasound of his belly, just to rule anything out. Nothing that could be done right then. Dread got REALLY loud, but I was still pretending I wasn’t home. 

I went to CycleBar class and had a great ride. The endorphins were pumping when I walked out. I felt good. I felt strong. I felt like Dread had given up for the day. I took a sweaty selfie and posted it to Instagram. Did you have a great cycle class if you don’t ‘gram it?

By the time I made it to the interstate ramp a mile away from the CycleBar parking lot, Dread had kicked down the door and forced their way in. Talk about a quick turnaround.

It’s an awful feeling when Dread takes a seat on the couch and kicks their feet up on my coffee table. It feels like something awful is going to happen, I just don’t know what or when. So I sit and I wait and I worry and I catastrophize. I come up with horrific “what if” scenarios, usually about things I can’t control anyway. I lose my ability to focus, can’t get anything done. Sometimes, like this particular day, there’s a sense of nausea for added fun. 

As I crept along the 405, I tried to interrupt my catastrophic thoughts. I tried to re-route them the way I learned in therapy. I talked about what I was feeling out loud and then started to list things I was grateful for. Techniques that have worked in the past, but at the time, did a whole lot of nothing. 

And on this particular day, I cried. 

As I sat in my car in the parking garage taking my “is it anxiety or depression?” quiz from PsychologyToday.com (I scored 4 out of 21 on depression, but I had a damned near perfect score – 19/21 – for anxiety), tears burned at the back of my eyes. Everything felt big and scary and I didn’t know why, just that I felt it all. Once my quiz confirmed what I knew – I’m not depressed, but I’m hella anxious – I forced myself out of the car and walked quickly to my apartment on the other side of the building. I worked overtime to keep the tears at bay, lest anyone who crossed paths with me wonder why the sweaty girl in workout clothes was crying. 

The moment I let myself into my apartment, I burst into tears. 

We’re talking full, heaving sobs. 

For no real reason other than Dread had made themselves at home and I couldn’t kick them out. 

I let Knox out of my bedroom and he greeted me with his usual exuberance, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to return the greeting. Instead, I sat on the living room floor, back against the couch, and sobbed while I threw his ball for him. It was a panic attack or an anxiety attack or some combination of the two (note: anxiety and panic attacks are not the same) and I had no choice but to let it happen. It doesn’t happen often, but it did in that moment and all I could do was let it out. 

I went through the motions after that. I made myself eat something. I made some rice and chicken for Knox per the vet’s recommendation to try that for a few days. I signed a couple of papers I needed to turn in for Pure Barre. I tried to meditate to calm down, but I only lasted fifteen minutes before deciding to do what I do best – write about my feelings in the form of the post you’re reading now. 

And so that’s where I am, writing about my feelings to post a couple of days after the Big Monday Meltdown and letting the world know that I’m that girl. 

I’m the girl that posts photos of herself all dressed up and smiling as she explores her new city, but just below the surface, is dealing with a wave of anxiety that just won’t crest. I’m the girl that spent the rest of her evening researching therapists that take her insurance and sending emails to see if they had availability because she realized while taking an anxiety quiz in her car fifteen minutes after she had parked that she needed to talk to someone. 

Dread moved on by bedtime. I was exhausted from fighting him out the door and so I turned down the AC a couple of notches and climbed into bed, but not before starting the dishwasher and praising Knox for eating his chicken and rice. I read for a few minutes, closed my eyes, and fell into what I think was a dreamless sleep.

Will Dread show back up in the morning light? 

At the moment, probably. They seem to be pretty insistent on sticking around for a while. I know they won’t stay forever. They show up for a few days sometimes, stick around for a few weeks others, but they always go away and once therapy resumes next week, they will be around even less. I know that from experience and I try to take comfort in that. I’d love to slap a restraining order on them, but that isn’t an option. I just have to ride the waves Dread rolls in on until the ocean settles once more.

Living with anxiety sucks. 

Truly and wholly sucks. 

High functioning anxiety is especially tough sometimes because from the outside, all looks to be well. Great, even. You’re posting selfies from the beach and highlights from trendy Los Angeles locales on the outside, but behind closed doors, you’re taking anxiety quizzes in your car and trying not to let the neighbors see you cry. 

Honestly? 

I don’t know what the point of this post is. I know that I process best when I write. I also know I’m not alone in feeling like this – in having Dread set up shop as an uninvited guest and thinking the absolute worst is going to happen. And I know that when I share about my anxiety, a lot of you say “hey, same.” So I’m sharing. 

It’s not all doom and gloom over here on the west coast. But it’s also not all sunshine and palm trees. It’s a real anxiety struggle. 

If you’re sitting in your car (or your bedroom, your bathtub, wherever…) taking quizzes to see if you have anxiety or wondering what’s wrong with you, know that you’re not alone. I’m here with you. I see you, and I’m holding space for you.

And if your name happens to be Dread, get out of my house. 

You’ve overstayed your welcome. 

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