Something important has happened.
My boyfriend is out of town this week, and I went to work every day he was gone. I know this seems like duh, why wouldn’t you go to work? But in case you haven’t been following my story for very long, I have a history of having to take a day off while he’s gone because of anxiety. But this time, I went to work every day and I am so pumped. Seriously. On a scale of one to curled up in a ball on the floor of the bathroom sobbing and alternately going to the bathroom and puking my guts out, the most I felt this whole time was a two. I woke up 45 minutes before my alarm yesterday with some tightness in my chest and some rapid heartbeat, but it was gone by the time I left for work. And this morning? Nada. I woke up early, cuddled closer to the dog, and the next thing I knew my alarm was dragging me from the depths of sleep with its stupid incessant chiming. It was glorious.
I know that to people without anxiety this might feel like a weird thing to celebrate. But to me, this is huge. This is the first time I’ve been in a situation that has caused me intense anxiety in the past and not felt any. It’s crazy. I feel like I’ve leveled up in a big way.
I was telling my therapist about it during session yesterday, and she goes how did that make you feel, to know this might go away? And, to be honest, my answer to that question might not be what you think, because it feels like I’ve been dealing with this for so long. Two out of 30 years is not actually that much, but it’s been so intense it feels like it’s eclipsed the not-having-anxiety years. When I think about not having to deal with it anymore, I’m kind of torn. On the one hand, it’s amazing. It’s like I can finally see a future where I’m not dreading traveling, I’m just excited about it. And it feels like I’m getting back to me, to being able to do more and experience more and be a little busier and not need as much downtime. I can see a life with my boyfriend where my anxiety is not something that keeps us from doing things. That’s so awesome, and I’m so excited about it, and it’s nice to be excited. I haven’t been this excited in a while.
I also kind of don’t want it to go away completely because, in a weird way, anxiety also makes me feel really grounded. It forces me to care for myself in a way I never really have before; I always just kind of barreled ahead and told myself I would deal with things later and then never did. Anxiety doesn’t work like that. I have to be in the moment; there’s no way not to be when the physical symptoms are so intense. And I have to be mindful of it every day. I’ve changed my life to accommodate things I know help, and that has been great because it means I’m accepting it by making room for it. I’m not fighting it. I still have those moments where I really don’t want to go to the gym or set up all of my yoga stuff — still working on looking forward to exercise, ugh — but each time I’ve reminded myself that this is part of accepting anxiety’s place in my life. That going to the gym is helpful not only because the endorphins are great for my brain, but even more so because it means I’m making space for anxiety and I’m practicing noting its presence and then letting it go. Which is awesome for when I’m actually feeling anxious — it’s so much easier now to be like oh, hey, my chest is kinda tight. Let me belly breathe for a minute and then go about my day.
I cannot explain how freeing that is. What a huge sense of relief I feel. It’s kind of like when you’re playing a video game and your character dies again and again and then finally you start playing the level that gives you trouble and all of the information from your past lives clicks and you beat the boss. I feel like I just kicked the boss’ ass and now I don’t really care what I have to deal with on the next level because this one was so hard. Beating it has made me feel like I can take on anything.
And I know, too, I won’t always feel like this. That I will probably still feel pretty anxious on our next trip, and I will still feel like throwing up on my wedding day, and I will still want to hide from everyone sometimes. And that’s OK. It’s even good — those feelings tell me I’m highly evolved and I care. It’s weird to realize I’ve actually kind of come to love my anxiety a little bit, and to know I would (only slightly) miss it if it went away completely, because it helps me cultivate my empathy and compassion not only for others, but for myself. And it’s made me healthier because now I go to the gym and own a ton of workout gear and that is not ever a thing that I thought would happen. Anxiety has made me proud of myself in a way I have never been, and that is such a wonderful, unexpected result of my time in therapy.
Follow this journey on It’s Only Fear.