On Tuesday last week, I had an anxiety attack that was so severe, I took myself to the ER. It felt like I was dying. Hot and cold flashes, waves of nausea resulting in aggressive dry heaving, the inability to sit still, tightness in my chest. And even though I knew I wasn’t actually dying, I also knew that this attack was intense enough that I needed some sort of medication, because my normal coping mechanisms weren’t working.
I’ve struggled with anxiety attacks that are identical to this since late 2017 when my husband went into the hospital for a medical condition that took him six months to heal from. Six months of watching him in constant pain, unable to get out of bed, struggling to eat, and dealing with depression. Thankfully, he’s completely healed from that massive ordeal. And also thankfully, I’ve mostly managed to keep my anxiety at bay with natural remedies. Regular exercise. Meditation. Healthy eating. It’s the reason I quit smoking two years ago. I felt like I could only control a handful of things, so I was taking back control by exerting my power over what was directly within my grasp.
Unfortunately, with the current pandemic, the fear of getting COVID19 is a near constant on my mind. And unlike my previous instances of high anxiety, one of the very things I need to do in order to keep myself mentally sane – outdoor exercising – isn’t entirely available to me based on my state’s current mandates. And I made the mistake of ignoring the anxiety as it began to creep in… until it was too big to manage.
I once read a metaphor for depression that equated the struggle to endless snowfall, and it resonated with me and my experiences with anxiety so deeply. When you have anxiety or depression, some days are light snow days and some are heavy snow days. Sometimes, it’s easy to get up and shovel the snow and get outside to experience life. But other times, it takes every ounce of strength to get out of bed and shovel just a little bit of that snow, and it just keeps coming – hard and fast… faster than we can manage to clear it away. That’s what Tuesday was like for me, and I’m only just now – nearly a week later – starting to feel like myself again.
There was a time when I felt embarrassed about having anxiety attacks. I remember having a conversation with someone I love about anxiety and depression in general, and this person indicated that both seem like signs of weakness. Just power through it was the mentality. Well, the truth is that sometimes, for whatever reason, I just don’t have the ability to power through it.
Thankfully, I’ve learned to give myself a lot of grace. I take the time I need to recover when I have an attack. I allow myself the ability to feel a little out of sorts and discombobulated without reprimand for not being ‘back to normal’ sooner. And in the wake of this last attack, I finally decided to talk to my doctor about getting some medication to have on hand in case it feels this big and unmanageable next time.
So… what does this have to do with romance?
One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from a reader who let me know that she found me because she googled positive portrayals of mental health in romance and my name popped up. In case you’ve never read anything by me, nearly every book I’ve ever written touches lightly – or deeply – on therapy and self-growth and change and overcoming emotional and mental problems to get to a healthier place.
This is intentional.
I know that many people look to movies and books as methods of escape. Whether it’s binge-watching shows on Netflix or reading book after book, getting lost in someone else’s storyline can, at least for a while, provide a way to take a break from stress, politics, family life, unmanageable relationships, unfriendly work environments, crazy kids, etc. etc. And with the state of the world what it is right now – particularly in the country I live in – providing examples of families and friendships and relationships where seeking mental health support is normal, positive and encouraged is more important than ever.
I am lucky enough to have a partner who helps me sort through the sometimes fractured places in my mind. Someone who not only encourages therapy but also goes himself. A person at my side that believes a willingness to dive deep into the scariest parts of our minds is a strength not a weakness.
It’s also important for me to remind myself that not everyone has this. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their anxiety or depression with loved ones, or has a home environment with a compassionate, supportive partner or family member.
A lot about writing romance feeds into cliches, and that can’t be helped. It’s the nature of the genre. Tropes and happily ever afters are staples that will be in perpetual creation. And I love that about Romancelandia.
But what I can help is making sure that my readers see characters who are praised for seeking help when it’s needed. What I can do is try to normalize conversations about therapy. What I can create is a world full of imperfect heroes and heroines that demonstrate struggles with mental health and how to handle it in loving relationships.
Romance – at least for me – should be a place where we are constantly seeking true happiness. Striving for healthy relationships. Believing that love can conquer not all, but most. And the rest can be helped by a little time with really good therapist.