Sometimes in life we have moments that are so illuminating, they actually shake us to our core. We reach realizations about our lives or ourselves that open a Pandora’s box…that have the potential to change everything. A few months ago, I had one such moment. I realized almost every single decision I have made since I was a small child has been based in fear. When I said those exact words out loud, I could feel hot tears roll down my cheeks. I couldn’t control it. It was pain. It was regret. My own fear has stolen so much from me. I have missed out on so many beautiful experiences because I have chosen to be “safe,” to be comfortable. The fear was just too much.
Only people who have dealt with anxiety at its worst can understand how truly debilitating it can be. It’s a life interrupter. It stops us cold in our tracks. It takes over our entire bodies. It tells us that we are not safe. It makes us feel like small, vulnerable children. It convinces us that we are inadequate, that we will never be okay on our own. It makes us question everything we have ever done…everything that we will ever do. It makes us ruminate about the future and second guess every single decision we have ever made. It has us attach ourselves to the people we love and who love us like barnacles…holding on for dear life. The feelings of safety and comfortability they offer is like air. Without them we feel like we literally can’t breathe. The concept of losing them is too much to bear.
Life with anxiety is an endless roller coaster we never asked to ride. There are highs…plateaus…lows. Panic can come out of nowhere… like a hidden drop or sharp turn on the track of life. When it hits, we feel as if we will surely die. We are so intensely uncomfortable inside our own bodies that we don’t know what to do with ourselves. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t actually dying. It feels as if we are. We think about our families…all the things we wanted to do…our lives can literally flash before our eyes. And yet we hear things like, “Just breathe.” “Calm down.” “Relax.” These are some of the most unhelpful things a person can say to someone panicking. Would you tell someone actively dying to “Calm down?” Of course not…that would be ridiculous and cruel. We are not being dramatic or difficult. There are neurochemical and biological processes taking place in our brains and bodies that are telling us we need to fight for our lives or run.
For me personally, dealing with chronic illness and an ED is difficult. But if I could magically change one thing about my life, it would be my anxiety disorder. I get so immensely envious of people who don’t deal with one. My life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to face fear at every single step. I see people thriving and traveling and chasing their dreams, and while I am genuinely happy for them, it also hurts. It feels like a punch in the gut. I wonder, will I ever have that? I sure hope so. But right now…I feel like I am just going through the motions. Yet again, I don’t know what I want. I’m paralyzed in a sense. People bug the crap out of me to do something and then I finally do it. But I’m not sure if it is what I wanted or what they wanted. It is very confusing. But one thing I am sure about is my choice to be vocal and speak up despite everything I have been told.
I have been told that struggles should be kept private…that this is my business and no one else’s. I have been told that sharing my difficulties with the world will open me up to discrimination…to being judged…to being labeled. I have been told that in being open and honest, I may be closing doors for myself in the future and that I can not afford that. But, the truth is, this is a big part of who I am…who I’ve always been. And while hiding it may be beneficial to me in certain ways, I have found the opposite to be more true. Secrets make us sick. They make us feel isolated and alone. They perpetuate stigma. I believe I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. If others feel differently, that is their decision.
Yes, I deal with an anxiety disorder that can be severe at times. But I am not crazy. I am not unstable. I am not overly emotional. Anxiety does not define the entirety of who I am, but rather is something that I actively have to choose to battle every day. It is not easy. But I know everyone in this life has something they struggle with. This is just one of mine.
To everyone who deals with or loves someone dealing with anxiety, you are not alone. Just take it one day at a time. And if you can’t do that, take it one moment at a time. Your decisions or progress may not be up to other people’s standards and that is okay. They don’t get it. They don’t deal with the fear and the frustration…the self-doubt and the disappointment. They don’t experience the physical symptoms and the sleepless nights. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of your battle. Never let anyone quiet your voice. Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself with compassion and forgiveness. You are doing the best you can at any given moment. Never let anyone convince you that you are less than. You are enough…exactly as you are…whether you can face the fear or not. Try to remember that and I will too.
Stay strong warriors,