I struggle with anxiety.
(and I know I’m not the only one)
A myriad of reasons exist to not write about anxiety in a public space. To name a few: future employers who search your name, current coworkers and bosses, acquaintances who you only see at happy hour who now have a look at your squishy insides, friends and family members who are sure that public blogs are no way to deal with anything, people who may be quick to judge and the list goes on.
Tonight, for the first time I sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair trying not to obviously fidget while cautiously paying attention to my breath. The minute the instructor asked us to close our eyes, discomfort crept up my back and my mind seemed to short circuit, cutting between unread emails, mixed and challenging emotions about an unfolding change* and the noise of the air conditioner. Twenty minutes later I was ready to be done and simultaneously a little more settled in.
The post-meditation discussion centered on types of love and suffering, I raised my hand, “Is there any benefit to suffering?” I braced myself for a stern no, followed by a “why are you even asking that” look.
Instead, the instructor said “Of course. Suffering is where we launch from into happiness. Having suffered ourselves, we can use that experience to share with others.”** I think she also said something about ballet dancers leaping off the floor (in this analogy the floor is the suffering).
Click. My short-circuited brain lit up. Yes, I thought “you can share and you should, because you don’t know what you will learn in the process that will inform your journey or the journeys of others.”
Anxiety is an interesting companion. If I had a do-over and could pick the challenges I’d confront in my life, I would not pick anxiety. “Interesting” is my vague word of choice, because anxiety has many sides, like some sort of emotional hexagon. It can present itself as motivation. I’ve never*** procrastinated on a school or work project, because of this internal work engine. At other times, it presents itself as excitement, such as the beginning of a new relationship, job or move. Sometimes it shows up in a low-grade form that nags at you throughout the day. You may search for a problem, but come up empty and decide you just “feel off.” And, in its stronger form it just sucks. It takes the form of a debilitating anxiety and panic attack monster.
My journey spans this hexagonal spectrum. I cherish the excited and motivating elements that dial me in to achieve goals and I loathe the panic. It is a voice inside my head that questions everything. I swear, the voice is being paid on commission, to weave nonsense stories that are just close enough to reality to raise a red flag, distracting you from your work or relationships. Most of us have been there: He/She doesn’t text back for a day. The rational part of the mind doesn’t draw conclusions, while the anxious insecure part has already written a book of potential stories about everything you said wrong on the first date.
Anxiety’s presentation is as unique as the individual. In my experience it puts up hurdles in romantic relationships, makes detailed and focused work more challenging and at times, evaporates self-esteem. I do not know if the struggle with anxiety stems from the ever-present nurture versus nature debate, if it was catalyzed by tragic events or if it has simply been present long enough that it feels like the status quo. As with the presentation, the approach to managing (I’m not sure curing is possible?) anxiety varies by the individual. Over the past ten years, I’ve worked with therapists on and off, tried light medications and exercised – more recently, I’ve tried coloring, painting and cutting out alcohol and caffeine. I’ve discovered that time outside and good friends help. Luckily, I have plenty of both.
J**** has told me since my early twenties, that breathing helped her get through the anxiety she experienced at a similar life stage. I detest the idea that managing anxiety (and many other things) comes down to the breath. Seeking the magic bullet is a much preferred method. Maybe my therapist will give exactly the right insight and BOOM the anxiety would be gone? Maybe the next relationship would cure it? Maybe the next trip away from cell phone service would give me the space I need? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?
Or maybe it is about the breath. Cue next yogi sounding term: mindfulness. Maybe there is something to this form of awareness and acknowledgement (with an attempt to release judgment) of emotional ups and downs. I’m not sure where the mindfulness path leads, but I’m curious.
I bring myself out of the anxiety closet after at least two decades. I know many of you walk a similar path, because I know you and I’ve read the stats. Let’s converse and share insights.
*Details with held to respect other people’s desire not to have their squishy details on the internet.
** Not exact quote. This is my interpretation of what the instructor said.
*** This is n0t 100% true.
****Even the first initial of people’s names have been changed to preserve privacy.