Do you remember the last time you were free from all worry or anxiety? I do. It was December 2010 when I realized I was a lesbian. As unbelievable as it sounds, the least anxious I have ever been was right after coming out.
When I say the least anxious, I really mean none. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Given the stress, change, logistics, and circumstances during that time I expected the opposite. I credit the miracle of survival mode. My lack of anxiety during that time may have defied explanation but was not permanent.
Moments of feeling afraid and unsure about our lives or in the world around us are common. We worry about how our choices will affect those around us, if we are eating enough fiber, if we are making the right decision, and if we turned off the coffee pot when we left the house.
The list is endless and encompasses more than worrying about things we have control over. What about the things we feel powerless to change or have no control over? Elections, world peace, being a homosexual, and the choices of others which may directly impact us are a few worth noting.
Worry and anxiety are similar. Both are fear based and can impact our thoughts and feelings. However they are not always the same thing. Worry is whether or not your kids will get good grades in school.
Anxiety is suddenly feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest without warning or reason. In my case, it was leaving for school in the morning when I was a young child and being convinced that my family would be dead when I got home.
My “friend” anxiety and I go way back but I did not know its name until I was a young adult. Dealing with it felt like being forced to take your bratty little sister with you wherever you went. Sometimes it was not a big deal and other times it was completely aggravating.
Only after I got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder did I understand what was responsible for my sudden panic and fear when nothing seemed to be actually happening. It is not something I wish on anyone and genuinely empathize with my fellow soldiers in the anxious army.
Being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my twenties was both a relief and an annoyance. I am acutely aware of the challenges this brings to daily life. Anxious thoughts are unpredictable, notoriously irrational, and just waits for an opportunity to mess up my day. It pretty much does what it wants, when it wants. Bastard. My work begins when, not if, it happens.
Over time, I have learned to manage and even embrace this frustrating aspect of who I am. Some days are better than others. In the rough moments, reaching in to the mental health toolbox does not always guarantee an easy fix. I may be an expert in having anxiety, but I am also an expert in forgetting how to push through when I feel afraid. Anyone else with me on this one?
I was not under any delusion that coming out would completely eradicate the anxiety. I just enjoyed the break. Truthfully, there is no fix for getting rid of anxiety. There are only ways to mitigate and cope with it after it is rolling. It may feel impossible to find peace when everything feels off kilter, but that feeling is the anxiety talking and not the truth. While there may not be a cure, there are ways to make it less paralyzing.
Last week I spent a couple of days at the beach with my wife and youngest son. Yes, I was anxious about going. No, I did not let it stop me. Little victories. Finding peace in those anxious moments takes everything I have at times. It can be exhausting and frustrating. I like to fight it but fighting makes it build. I should know this by now, yet I keep on learning this lesson the hard way.
I had a choice to make. Be miserable or find some peace. For me, this meant focusing on the present moment and getting much needed time away from work and the responsibilities of everyday life. It meant breathing deeply and putting my attention on watching my son boogie board in the waves. It meant getting out of my own head long enough to be reminded how much I love watching my boys have fun. The joy in that moment was louder than whatever anxious thoughts or feelings were happening in my brain.
Fear comes in many shapes and forms. None are immune to feeling fear and not all fear is unhealthy. Fear itself exists to protect us from threats to our safety and lives. We all experience differing degrees of fear and we react to it in our own unique way. The silver lining here is that even though we cannot eliminate fear from our lives, we all have the ability within to manage worry, anxiety, and fear.
Knowing this gives even the twitchiest among us hope. Thankfully, there are many different ways to go about the business of nipping worry and anxiety in the bud. Some choose meditation, others choose medication.
Making peace with and accepting its presence in my life has helped. It does not matter what you choose, as long as you understand how important it is to refuse to let fear drive your car. Discovering the method that works best is more of an art than a science.
If you are struggling, ask for help from your family, friends, or a therapist. Talk about it. Do not be ashamed or hide your battle from the world. Trust that you are not your anxious thoughts and that dealing with it, though challenging, is not an impossible task. If one approach does not work, keep trying to find the one that does.
If you know someone who is anxious and have a difficult time understanding why they cannot just stop worrying or feeling anxious, learn what anxiety is and what it is not. Be sympathetic to the fact that anxious people have anxiety about their anxiety and how it impacts not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.
While we may not understand what we have not personally experienced, we certainly can do our best to offer kindness and love to those who are suffering with physical, mental, or emotional baggage. The bags we carry may be a variety of colors, brands, sizes, and have different points of origin, but the road we travel along is the same.