As I write this, I’m exhausted. It’s not necessarily a new phenomenon for me; I’m exhausted most of the time. Today, though, is a different kind of day than normal: it’s the day after an anxiety- and stress-packed day.
Anxiety isn’t just a mental thing, and as anyone who’s had a panic or anxiety attack would know, it’s incredibly physical. My heart rate and blood pressure spike, I sweat like you wouldn’t believe, I get extremely warm, and I feel so much internal pressure that it’s as though I might actually explode — and that’s only the physical side. So, when you think of the mental and physical impacts of anxiety, maybe it’s not surprising that I get a sort of hangover after a big day — but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
I knew that this past Wednesday would be a tough one for me. It was my first day of class after leaving university over two years ago. When I was last at university, I did not have a good time; I was incredibly sick. I struggled to leave the house, go to class, even to retain the information that I was studying, so I had to leave.
It was always part of the plan to go back to school, but it was sort of up in the air as to when it would happen. I decided this July that I would be heading back to school, and though it’s ‘only’ part-time, the stakes feel incredibly high. This is my career, my livelihood. I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive another extreme setback like when I was in school last. And I don’t ‘just’ need to graduate — I need good marks so that I can follow my plans and head to grad school in a few years.
This is a field that I’m extremely passionate about (community mental healthcare) and I don’t want to mess it up. So, when my first day of classes as a first-year, mature student came, I was understandably anxious. I was nervous about the people that I would meet and what they would think of me. I am pretty terrified about whether or not I’ll be able to be the good student that I was in high school — my mental illness affects my ability to retain information and focus and my ability to be fully present in class will definitely be hit-and-miss.
So, the day after my first class, I got nothing done. I napped most of the day and didn’t even have the energy to put proper clothes on so that I could have dinner with my mom. I was still anxious, and incredibly irritable.
You know those days where everything makes you mad and everybody pisses you off? And even as you’re snapping at someone you know it’s wrong but still can seem to stop? That was my Thursday. Miserable.
Even more frustrating was that I saw it coming and tried to mitigate it — to no avail. I got to class as early as possible to help me feel less anxious, I visited with a friend that night to help me calm down, and I got as much sleep as I could. Still, I had my dreaded anxiety hangover.
Days like this get me really down. They perpetuate the thought that the struggle will never end — I’ll never be better, I’ll never be able to handle it, I’ll never really live. But that’s not true.
Friends, on- and offline, reminded me that it was a big day. And it was a day that I wouldn’t have been able to do even just a few months ago. It was a big step, and I need to remind myself to allow for growing pains. I took a giant leap and now my legs are sore, and that’s okay.
So if this week I struggle more to get my work done, or I have to take more naps, maybe it’s time for me to take that as a sign that things are changing, instead of making it mean that things never will change.
Well, wish me luck! (And if you can spare some, I could use some extra self-compassion.)