It's very subtle, how it begins. It's like a twitch, in the back of my brain. A flare of activity in a place that's long laid dormant but somehow, once triggered, feels instantly and sharply familiar. There is frustration and impatience at first - I do not have time to feel like this now, thanks very much. I hastily push it aside and move on. Then, because it is so familiar and because it has never been nearly long enough to forget how it feels, there is slow acceptance. I am a little older now, and a little wiser, and a little better at recognizing it when it comes - the rising tide of anxiety has found its way back to me.
I check myself, all the time. I try to step back and assess whether this is actually stressful or difficult, or if I'm oversensitive and magnifying it to be so. A psych lecturer the other day was discussing the roots of anxiety (free self-diagnosis is always an entertaining part of provider education). In her world, everyone who is anxious is a war veteran, a victim of child abuse or rape, a closet drug addict and alcoholic - or all of the above. Stupidly, perhaps, I asked her about those people who are anxious and depressed and none of those things. She assured me that some people are just "extremely oversensitive individuals" and just don't know "how to handle stress." Ah. Got it. Thanks a bunch.
It's January. I know this. It is dark, and the very most typical time of the year to feel this way. It's cold, bitterly cold, every single day. I haven't seen the boy since break and I miss him with an ache that is barely touched by Skype conversations and text messages. I know all these things, and yet when I stand paralyzed in the middle of my kitchen, half-dressed and already panicking about the day ahead, it doesn't help to know those things. It doesn't help when I feel my chest tightening around the knowledge that I have a quiz, four lectures, about a thousand pages of reading I'm behind on, twenty-four hours of clinical a week, and an empty gas tank facing me when I walk out the door.
I cry at the slightest thing. I can feel my nerves that are exposed, like raw wires sparking in the sub-zero New England air. The slightest thing - an insensitive comment from a friend, the way my preceptor spends two minutes with each OB patient - will set me off and I'll be leaking tears in a matter of moments.
The raw familiarity of these feelings is always the worst. I think, forever, there is a part of me that hopes to be free from a history of mental illness. That wishes if I could run far enough or fast enough away from it all that it will never catch me.
In my more rational moments, I know that familiarity, and education, and privilege also make me that much more able to access help, if I could only find the time to do it.