My Anxiety Is A Gift?
For me, a perpetual student, there is nothing better than finding a new subject to immerse myself in completely. I love finding something I’m passionate about and learning everything I can about it. This has served me well over the years in my career, in my cooking, and my prowess in trivia games. However, when the topic I needed to learn more about was anxiety and depression it wasn’t as fun.
Once I had a good idea what I was dealing with I started reading everything I could about these conditions, trying to be the perfect student. I generally believe if I understand the ins and outs of something I can manage it better, more effectively. One article suggested no caffeine, so I switched to decaf. One suggested no processed sugar. Cool. Done (ish). Another discussed the benefits of meditation, a different one about journaling. Check and check. Anything I could get my hands on to better understand how I feel and how to cope with it, I did. Then I saw a headline that jumped out at me, “Four Ways My Anxiety Disorder Has Changed My Life For The Better.”
It pulled me in immediately, maybe I was looking at things wrong! MAYBE there is a new thing to understand how I feel and make it work for me. As I read through Andrea’s, a lovely coincidence in my mind, experience with her first panic attack I related to her so much. The feeling of being totally fine and then...you’re not. Her description of her anxiety waxing and waning over several years also spoke to me, if only it were as predictable as moon cycles. If she felt, feels, how I do and found benefits to it, maybe there is hope for me to approach this better.
But the upsides she outlined...where I looked for hope, I just found dissonance. Yes, I feel some of the practical things she explains such as a more intense mind-body connection. I’ve frequently said I feel things too much, and that’s just it; everything I feel courses through my entire body in a way that’s hard to adequately describe. It does make me more empathetic but that empathy is its own kind of draining. When I’m barely hanging on but see someone else suffering in any way I’ll jump into fix it, spend every ounce of energy I have to make them not feel a fraction of the way I do. It has made me more vulnerable but that vulnerability often leads me down paths that cause more strife, more pain. The constant brace for disaster hasn’t made me more aware of life; it has exhausted me, I have wrinkles in my forehead from having my brow constantly furrowed. In so many ways it has fundamentally altered how I live my life. And it isn’t for the better. Even in situations where everything is fine, one tiny change, one small pebbled dropped in the water, can ripple into a tidal wave of anxiety that consumes me. I don’t feel like that makes my life richer. But if my anxiety is a gift...I’d rather get a gift card.
I often wonder if in our quest to destigmatize mental health issues, we’ve gone too far. If, in some circles, we’ve normalized the discussion so much so that we take it a bit too lightly, slightly glamorized them, or try to make them something they aren’t. Maybe I’m not in a place with enough perspective to see it in a more positive light, that is entirely possible. But what I know is everyone’s experience is individual and this experience doesn’t align with mine. The nights I lay in bed trying to force my mind to quiet down so I can sleep, the mornings I can’t get up because I’m paralyzed with fear of what is going to happen during the day, the moments at my desk when my chest gets so tight I can barely breathe, I don’t feel anything positive about my anxiety. My anxiety isn’t a blessing, it isn’t a gift, it doesn’t help me live a fuller life. But it isn’t a curse either. It doesn’t have to stop me from living a fuller life. It just is. It’s something I have, something I live with, something that is simply a part of who I am. I have no more control over how my brain functions than I do over my eye sight. All I can do is manage it, put my contact lenses in my eyes every day so I can see, and do the things I need to do mentally to make it so I can perceive the world more clearly.