More and more I am reading and hearing about anxiety. Sometimes I read articles or comments that make me feel misunderstood in regards to my own personal experience with anxiety and so I feel compelled to share what it has felt like to me. I have had anxiety my entire life. It was much more severe when I was younger but has never completely gone away. I can’t say for sure what originally caused it, but one theory is medical trauma experienced at birth. Even though I was only an infant, the experience still had the ability to leave deep impressions on my subconscious.
When I was a growing up I am not sure that anyone specifically referred to my feelings and behaviors as “anxious.” As an adult, however, I came to learn that what I was experiencing was anxiety and through self-study I now know a lot more about it. This knowledge has enabled me to be able to talk more openly about it and with greater clarity. I now know that emotions, when not dealt with fully and honestly, can show up physically in the body, as mine did in the form of stomach ulcers at the age of 9. I also now know that alcohol in my 20’s was a way of self-medicating. It made all my fears and anxieties go away, for that moment anyway.
My fears may seem irrational to others, but they are very, very real to me. For me, anxiety is all about not feeling safe. In an effort to feel safe I tried to control everyone and everything around me. When I felt out of control, I felt unsafe and my fears worsened. This need to control led to OCD type behaviors. I wanted everything and everyone around me to be perfect because then I would feel safe, or so I thought. This is why being alone became another coping mechanism. It was easier to control my surroundings if there were no people around. Being alone lessened my anxious feelings, (much like alcohol did) but it could also be very isolating and sometimes sad.
Often times people would tell me to loosen up, relax, don’t worry so much, etc. It felt frustrating and minimizing. I was very aware that the feelings I was having were irrational and I too wanted to not feel the way I did. If it was as simple as just not feeling anxious believe me I would have done it. The unintentional message I subconsciously received when my feelings were minimized was that something was wrong with me. I am making you uncomfortable and that is not pleasing to you, therefore, I am not pleasing to you… I am not good enough. This just led to more fear, more pressure to be better, more perfectionism, more OCD, more pleasing, more coping, more anxiety, more pain. What I really needed to hear was…
“I believe you are worried. I believe you feel stress. I believe you are scared. I believe it feels overwhelming and that all this makes you feel sad and isolated. I believe it feels like you can’t breathe and the world is closing in on you. I don’t know what that feels like but I believe it is real. I believe it is a terrible feeling that is outside of your control. How can I support you and make you feel safe?”
As I have gotten older I have learned how to cope with my anxiety in more positive ways. I have a very close circle of trusted individuals that that I know I can talk openly to about my feelings without them being shared, judged or minimized. I try to stay in the present moment. I practice yoga. I meditate. I breathe. I make lots of time for self-care. I have learned to let go of control and accept things as they come. I appreciate the beauty of life unfolding.
None of this happened overnight and it is still a work in progress. Letting go of these mindsets that have kept me feeling safe for so long was not easy and quite scary at times, but I have discovered how wonderful and freeing it is to be able to move with the ebb and flow of life. This positive experience is what continues to reinforce the change. Now all I want is to feel good. Every moment of everyday. It is a disciplined, single focused, long, slow, steady, continuous process, but one that’s definitely worth it.