I had trouble sleeping last night after watching the series finale of The Big C. It was intensely sad, as one would expect the last show in a series about a woman dying of cancer to be. But my sloppy TV tearjerker cry didn’t keep me awake. In fact, last night was one of those nights when I welcomed the release of cry TV. It’s so safe to cry about fake people’s lives, and occasionally I relish that kind of fictional emotional release. I let myself tear up, but then I lay there with a gnawing feeling in my stomach for almost two hours after I switched off the tube. E and I had spent most of the night dancing around a fight about nothing, and I couldn’t really let anything go.
Well, that’s not exactly true. We did that dancing around a fight thing for a while, first. But eventually we just got tired of not having the fight and we just had it. A stupid, bickery fight about nothing that couldn’t be settled because it didn’t have a point. That’s why I couldn’t sleep, hours later.
The thing about fighting is that you can do damage whether it’s about something or not. It doesn’t matter if there’s a conflict on the table or if you’ve just been taking shots at each other all night each time you pass in the halls. Watching cry TV didn’t help me feel any more peaceful, really, and even though I eventually drifted off to sleep, I woke up anxious.
I’ve noticed a trend in myself over the past few years and I’m not sure what it portends, only that it’s a change. I used to be an at-all-costs pacifist, the kind of wife who’d see the end of a night of arguing approaching and try, frantically, to make her husband make up with her. I’m not that anymore. I want conflict to end—even more so to avoid it—but I’m less likely to want to give when I feel like I’ve been painted in the wrong light. I’m more likely to stand my ground if I feel like I’m misunderstood.
Unfortunately this comes at the cost of that false security I used to get from a hasty makeup.
And it doesn’t work so well with my panic disorder. My anxiety comes so specifically from avoidance. The more I try to avoid things--particularly difficult emotions or conflicts, or say, wrapping up an argument, the more something is unsettled--the more certain I am to have a panic attack in the near future. I feel anxiousness building in myself, feel the familiar tightening in my chest and the tingling in my arms until hours later I’ll be somewhere unrelated and my hart races and I feel like I need to get away and hide under the covers so I can avoid the world. Blam: panic.
Last night I went to bed unsettled. Today I woke up anxious.
There are other changes that I see as improvements: I’m more likely to apologize now or ask for forgiveness and mean it than I used to be. I’m less likely to let a fight start in the first place. And certainly I know enough about my own anxiety now to know how to manage it when it starts to make an appearance.
But if I could change one thing about myself, I would shake this anxious feeling that creeps up my spine from time to time and requires a "waiting out" period to go away. I used to think it meant I was weak—that things scared me too much and that’s why I felt this way sometimes—that I wasn’t strong enough or adult enough or smart enough to stand up to my fears. Like if I could just do what people told me and “relax,” I’d be normal. Now I know that it’s more a trick of my nervous system than any real symptom of fear, but it’s not any more pleasant to deal with. It's more of an annoying companion to tolerate until it decides to take off. And I know it will. Just like I know E and I will move on from our stupid disagreement that probably had its origin in the fact that the house was overheated yesterday afternoon and we're both ready for the school year to end.
For now, I’m just a little unsettled.