This one is very personal. Some of you may not experience anxiety or if you do, may still be working towards the breakthrough. In a world of chaos (maybe in a world that feels like it’s full of chaos) right now I thought I would share some hope. Maybe your breakthrough isn’t with anxiety, and you’ll find comfort knowing there is another side to whatever it is you’re battling.
Anxiety is something I have dealt with since I was a child. As a kid you don’t understand it’s anxiety. You don’t know what the fuck it is. You just think there is an elephant sitting on your chest and will try a number of behavioral combinations as an attempt to rid yourself of the pain and fear. Acting out, sucking up, running around (terrorizing) the neighborhood, eating yourself into an endorphin high…. As a child you find out quickly what kind of anxiety reactions get you positive attention and which ones get you punished. So being well behaved and stuffing my face (kids are quiet when they’re stuffing their pie holes) was the route that I took because it offered short term relief from the demons.
This carried over into my adolescent and young adult years. Except the food thing made me fat so I decided to adopt an eating disorder. That made the anxiety worse. #Weird. Not letting yourself eat when it used to be a coping mechanism and caring a lot about what people think of you is a really great combo.
Eventually, as some of us do, I found myself at a shrink’s office. Eating disordered. Binge drinker. Serial man hunter (Sometimes a nice adjective is all a girl wants to hear).
I went in for the drugs. The “anti-feelings” medication. I wanted everything turned off. I thought a session or two would fix me and with the pills I’d be “normal” in a few months.
Seven years go by and I still had anxiety. My shrink (a very brilliant and very aware psychiatrist) refused to put me on meds because no death threats towards myself or others had been made. I was “fine” and in order to get beyond “fine” I had to FEEL what I was carrying with me. Numbing it would only allow me to suppress it deeper. Which is what I was good at. Ignoring my feelings, shoving them all down, turning emotions into tiny ulcers.
Don’t get me wrong, seven years and THOUSANDS of dollars later I had what was described as “coping skills” and “awareness”. They say money can’t buy you happiness, and while that might still be true, it did buy me “functioning adult”.
A few years more after that, while on my couch, this past Saturday, I finally (had a breakthrough I’d been chasing for years) overcame the anxiety…but not first without a fight. It came, out of nowhere (I refuse to use the word triggered) it hit me right in the chest. My anxiety feels something like this: Tightness in the chest, irritability, zero focus on anything, mind rushing, panic, and wondering how I will die, imagining a way it will happen… then spending anywhere from an hour up to a week being terrified of that. When it hits me, you might as well be talking to an Ostrich (they seem pretty aloof). Not very productive. Zero fun.
As I sat on the couch wondering when it would pass this time and wondering how I could escape the pain. I stopped myself. I had the wrong idea. Life is full of pain (not in a “is this worth” it sense but a “difficulty is part of normal life” sense). You cannot avoid it. But you can learn from it if you’ll let yourself. Instead of the mantra in my head of “how can I escape this” I started repeating to myself “What can you learn from this? What can you learn from this?” Then I experienced something I have NEVER let myself experience before.
I was proud of myself.
Truly, unabashedly, not in a social media post hashtag sort of way, but a deep understanding and experience of pride and accomplishment.
I was proud of myself not because I finally discovered a pill or a diet or a breathing method that removed the discomfort. I was proud because it had taken 25 years to finally come to a place where I had grace for myself. Instead of demanding “perfection” or telling myself to “get my shit together,” I allowed myself to be broken and didn’t berate and shame myself for a flaw that I have and flaws live within us all.
I accepted myself instead of fighting myself. It’s going to sound so fucking strange but in the midst of my anxiety I chose to be at harmony and be ok with wherever I was at. Right then and there.
I spent years running or resisting and what needed to happen was me internalizing: I am capable. (How’s that for an adjective?) I had it in me all along but until I comprehended belief in myself, I was never going to shift.
Anxiety wasn’t the demon, I was.
Realizing my anxiety can’t keep me from moving forward if I didn’t let it WAS the release. My feelings of anxiety may never go away completely, or maybe they will once I start asking what I can learn from being uncomfortable rather than suppressing an emotion that is asking to be heard. I’m not certain. But I am no longer afraid of the feeling.
I am incredibly thankful for my anxiety because without it, I don’t know if I would have ever experienced the accomplishment of overcoming something so hard, and the incredible joy that comes with success after struggle.
I’ve heard of a book with the title “The Obstacle is the Way” and I’m quoting it only because I like the title and the concept of those words alone, I’m certain is true. Without reading the book or knowing anything about it, I’ll also add:
We are the obstacle and we are the way to our own enlightenment and freedom. No one else can give it to you. No pill has the cure. It’s the work we do on ourselves that gets us to the place we desire to be. The opposite goes as well. We can stand in the way of ourselves, place blame on others as to why they won’t give us what we want and think we deserve, self medicate and rely on external factors to provide us unsustainable relief.
You are the obstacle and you are the only thing standing in the way of where you want to be.