“P.S. You’re not going to die. Here’s the white-hot truth: if you go bankrupt, you’ll still be okay. If you lose the gig, the lover, the house, you’ll still be okay. If you sing off-key, get beat by the competition, have your heart shattered, get fired…it’s not going to kill you. Ask anyone who’s been through it.” ~Danielle LaPorte
About 6 months ago I realized that I am someone who deals with anxiety in low doses (or high doses and I’m just in denial…which I’ve never considered…until this very moment….*jots this down in her journal to obsess about it later*)
I remember saying something to my mom about it. It was like all of a sudden, for the first time, I had this moment where I was able to admit “I’M ANXIOUS. I HAVE SO MUCH ANXIETY RIGHT NOW.” It was over something really small, too. Small enough that I don’t even remember what it was and couldn’t even offer you any guesses.
At that moment, I gave it a name. Anxiety. I’d never said it out loud, but my entire life, I have felt worried. Worried that something would go wrong. Worried that something bad would happen to someone I loved. Worried that we would all be poisoned by carbon monoxide in the middle of the night. Worried that my actions would bring endless amounts of pain.
I had huge worries and tiny worries. When most people were daydreaming, I was thinking of all of the disastrous scenarios and preparing for them. When I should have been healing from past hurts, I was rehearsing and over-rehearsing what I should have said, what I should have done differently, and thinking of all of the mistakes I made.
One thing that really sticks out to me is the constant anxiety I had over the idea that I would disappoint people. As a child, I put a lot of stock into making sure that I did things in a way where people would feel special and valued. As an adult, if I have a moment where I simply cannot give someone else 150%, I feel like a failure. I actively struggle with this.
What’s truly interesting about this is that I am a natural host. I have been told that I make people feel comfortable, that I create and cultivate spaces where people feel safe and relaxed, and that I an inclusive, always aware of how people are experiencing things.
But the flip side of this- the side riddled with anxiety and worry- obsesses over missed moments to impact, experience, and love. I remember a specific situation where I thought I had said something hurtful to someone. I was afraid that their experience of me had been a negative one, and that they had left me feeling frustrated. I hardly slept that night, and when I talked to them the next day, they didn’t even remember the conversation.
So what is in me as a natural gift and what holds space for other people had been twisted and distorted into something that made me less recognizable and less able to love.
When I feel like this, I overcompensate and end up feeling huge amounts of stress. When I feel like I have let someone down or not shown someone enough love, I find myself going out of my way in insane ways to “make up for it”- something that they have not asked me to do. And what’s crazy is that the stress is about stuff that hasn’t happened. It’s all made up: This person is probably mad because of something I said. This job is probably too good to be true. This friendship is probably on its way out.
I was living a life of probably’s.
I’ve had this talk with myself over and over: I am loved not because of what I do, but because of who I am. But anxiety tells a different story to your brain. And in those moments when you are your most stressed or most alone, you can’t hear anything except the fear.
Hindsight is 20/20, and as I look back on all of my past relationships, more specifically the romantic ones, I see how hard I worked to hang on to a love that wasn’t there, to begin with. The love that I thought I felt was more an anxiety that screamed, “You can’t lose him. You can’t lose another one.”
Because of that, my relationships- both romantic and friendships- were a showcase of me in my worst form: needy, dependent, easily hurt, easily bruised, expecting that somehow and in some way, I will royally eff all of it up simply because I didn’t deserve it.
We attract what we think we deserve.
You see, anxiety doesn’t speak to its host about the faults of other people. It speaks of their own faults. So sometimes, for an anxious person, they feel as though things are a result of their own misfortune, misaction or mistake. I was a perpetual victim of horrible relationships and horrible friendships and horrible decisions, and not because I didn’t know how to pick good things for myself, but because I didn’t think that I deserved them.
The problem with controlling anxiety and offering solutions is that it looks different for everybody. My anxiety is different from yours. What keeps me up at night doesn’t even make you blink twice. What causes you to have a meltdown in public seems silly to me.
But really, without making light of those of us who suffer, it’s ALL SORT OF SILLY. And it feels silly and trivial at times because to the outside viewer, there is no tangible reason for it. And nevertheless, 40 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from anxiety. That number is staggering, and it’s not even including the population under 18, some of which have endured nearly insurmountable trauma.
I feel dumb sometimes. I don’t have an anxiety that speaks to a horrible memory or a bad thing. I’ve just always felt anxious, felt worried. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I wish something unthinkable had happened to explain my brain. That’s not the case at all. But for those who are just anxious, just worried, just uneasy, it can be frustrating. Because you feel stupid and silly and, well, like a giant burden.
So then take all of this and add the holidays: rooms full of people and incessant cheeriness and “is that disappointment on grandma’s face because of what I just said?” and you have anxiety overload. What should be a happy and peaceful time with family and friends feels like an obligation. You find yourself being forcibly peeled out of your own bed against your better judgment, and you just hope that you can make it thru dinner without feeling overwhelmed.
But, you do feel overwhelmed. Because, well, that’s what you do. That’s who you are. And once again, you have disappointed. At least, you think you have? Maybe not…but does it even matter at this point? Your whole family knows you’re a mess.
But what if you’re wrong?
I saw this meme a few months back that I replay in my head at least once a week. In it, a man talked about his own struggles with anxiety and worry and what he had learned in the process. This was a healing statement for him:
My therapist taught me to interrupt my anxious thoughts with thoughts like: “What if things work out” and “What if all my hard work pays off?” – Sinclair Ceasar
Because really, what if? What if everything that we expect to happen didn’t happen, and really nice things happened instead. What if we had a day and then another day and then another day where worry was gone and we were able to just be. What if life surprised us in a way that affirmed us.
But, what if this is already happening and we don’t see it because we aren’t thinking about today…we’re thinking about tomorrow and all of the probably’s that come with it.
I don’t have my doctorate or any special degree that makes me an expert on talking about this stuff, but what I do have are my own experiences. We are an expert in our own experiences. And my own experiences have taught me is that everything that I think will end me, doesn’t.
My experiences have taught me that wellness is the longest and most difficult process and it requires so much freaking work, but it’s 9 million percent worth it.
My experiences have taught me that I have to strive to take care of myself just as much as I strive to take care of others.
My experiences have taught me that the love that I desire will be given and that I don’t have to burn myself out to earn it.
My experiences have taught me that nobody is more critical of me than me.
But even more than all of this, my experiences have taught me that I am largely imperfect and prone to really stupid mistakes…just like everybody else. I have learned about my humanity and placed that over my strive for perfection.
I have learned that what I deserve for my life has nothing to do with how I feel. I have learned that love is the most patient and kind healer. I have learned that sometimes, we bury things so deep, and when the day comes that they have to heal, it is so uncomfortable and painful. But you know what’s even more uncomfortable and painful? Trying to make my old life fit into my future.
What’s important to take away from that hard inward look is to know what sort of help you need to move forward with your peace.
What does your peace look like? Who can help you find it? Not who can give it to you…who can help you bring it out of you. Because it’s already in you- it’s just being ignored by your brain and your thoughts. So oftentimes, we lose our peace because it was never ours in the first place- we were borrowing it from someone else who thought they were helping us at that moment.
So what does YOUR peace look like?
Peace for me looks like letting myself take losses and being cool with it. Peace for me looks like reading. Peace for me looks like blowing off some steam with Mario Kart (not even kidding). Peace for me looks like writing. Peace for me looks like sitting next to Greg and watching cooking shows.
Peace for you might be medication. It might be counseling. It might be reconciliation or the refusal to reconcile. Peace for you might mean acceptance; Acceptance that you can’t change people. Peace for you might look like unsubscribing from this blog. Seriously. It might mean that.
“What a weird thing to say…”
But is it? Is it weird to give yourself permission and surround yourself with people who give you permission to live out your peace? I want healthiness for you. I want wellness for you. I want nights full of the lushest sleep for you. And if we want all of those things for each other, it means that we don’t make it about us.
This holiday season, what can you do for you? What would it look like for you to have a good Christmas? What would you need to do today to ready yourself for a happy and healthy new year?
Don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to find your peace. I believe in you so much. I’m rooting for you so hard.
Happy Holidays. I love you.