I would guesstimate that it has only been within the last 10 years I even recognized some of my behaviors stemmed from anxiety. If I am being honest, I have truly only acknowledged and honored my anxiety within the last few years. That means that for most of my life, anxiety has been allowed to run rampant in a mad dictatorship over my brain and body. Creating patterns of dealing with stress- real or perceived- that really aren’t working so well for me anymore.
This awareness feels to me both ironically comical and tragic. Comical, in reviewing some of the perceptions and strategies I employed to do life. I often describe my brain as a hamster running nonstop in one of those wheels on meth. Tragic, that for so long I ignorantly thought I had it all together. I was a success story at life. And I mean by a lot of standards I am a success story. From the outside. But hello, who the hell wants to be executing life with a brain that never fucking stops. Never. It is utterly exhausting.
Even funnier is that most of the people that really know me saw my anxiety long before I ever did. Anytime someone would mention the A word or some neurotic example of it I would scoff. Well, who’s laughing now guys?! Yes, ok you all told me so!
Anxiety for me never showed itself in a stereotypical panic attack breathing into a paper bag TV land type form. To me it was more subtle. It was my need for control, my discomfort with the unknown, my sensitivity to others, my taking things very personal. Anxiety is my infinite To Do List, my inability to relax and stop moving, my foot tapping, my cheek biting. It is the clench in my gut and my shallow breath. It is anger, irritability and rage. Anxiety is deep shame and insecurity. Anxiety leads my never-ending quest for unattainable perfection. It is an insatiable never feeling good enough or having enough pit. It is my over-reaction and inflexibility. It is my poor ability to listen and crumby attention. Anxiety is my intense attention to detail and perfection and my shoddy short term memory. The demon spawn of all of my fear. My anxiety has a lot of faces and an incredible range. Meryl Streep status. I guess anxiety resides that way within many of us.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment of clarity when I was willing to see my own anxiety. Or if it was one moment or an accumulation of moments and teachings that slowly revealed this fact to me. But I do recall feeling almost peaceful about finally understanding what the hell I was dealing with. Internally my brain processed my newfound awareness through first identifying, then accepting and finally the ongoing discovery of effective management processes.
Identification: For myself finally understanding the reason underlying some of the behaviors and emotions I hated about myself released me of the shame I felt behind those behaviors. Rather than feeling incapable or weak or stupid or betrayed by my body I educated myself on the many faces of anxiety and the underlying physiological processes of anxiety.
Acceptance: A better self understanding allowed me to initiate acceptance. Wish that I may to be one of those Type B chilled out persons I am not. I also have to give props to the fact that in my life my anxiety was an effective survival tool. That hypersensitivity kept me safe in certain scenarios. I am not implying that my acceptance means anxiety and I are all “Kum-ba-yah” all the time but I accept that it is here to stay. I also understand that if I am aware of triggers and physiological signs I can implement healthier coping mechanisms. I can keep that hamster in the wheel in check. I also know that if I choose to ignore those signs shit can pop off, quickly and intensely.
Management: I have experimented with a variety of holistic approaches and I use them in combination according to time, setting, feasible options and situation. Methods helpful to me include exercise, reducing my sugar and junk intake, getting enough rest, playing, laughing, being organized, not over-scheduling myself, reading, listening and learning from others on the same path, sex, nature, not creating expectations, the beach, CBD oil, meditation, visualization, breath work and finally sitting and being in my discomfort with the knowledge that it will pass.
My newfound awareness, insight and knowledge continues to be a journey. Every single day. Some days moment by moment. There is a power in this new awareness of mine. Though anxiety is a part of me, it is not all of me. I am not inherently broken. I am not defective. I am a work in progress.
One of the books that was/is an incredible help to me is “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson and recommended to me by my best girl. This penetrative book allowed me to see the many layers of my anxiety and identify that it did and still does serve a purpose in my life. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself.
Melissa and her hamster in its wheel