When Anxiety Is Like a Big, Heavy Backpack
I love backpacking. When I was younger, I always said that my dream honeymoon was a backpacking trip. My mom used to tell me I would change my mind one day for “grown-up reasons.” She always said there were “other” things I would want to do on my honeymoon. Well, she was right. (Yes, Mom, I just admitted on the internet you were right…don’t get used to it.)
Maybe I didn’t go backpacking for my honeymoon, but two weeks after getting married, my husband and I took off for the mountains on our first of many backpacking trips.
The funny things is, when I take my backpack off at the end of the day, the weight on my shoulders doesn’t seem much lighter. That’s because to me, anxiety is like a big, heavy backpack full of fear — a backpack that never seems to come off.
I mean, sure, you realize a lot of these fears are completely irrational. You try to explain that, but few will ever understand.
“I know the universe doesn’t have a big clipboard where it checks off all my flaws, but that doesn’t change how I…nevermind.”
“Yes Mr. Tour Guide, I realize the monkeys aren’t actually going to hurt me, but for some reason they are triggering me really badly right now and holding one right in my face isn’t going to…” *Gasps for air, returns to the boat and faints*
“I understand he is most likely not going to get in a fatal car accident, but I still feel the need to check his location every few minutes…Yes I know it seems silly but…well…fine, I’ll put my phone away and listen to you. Oh, why are my hands shaking? Maybe because my brain is screaming at me right now telling me my husband is probably dead!”
“Look, I get that it makes no sense that I can slide down the side of a volcano in a cardboard box without a problem but driving on the freeway terrifies me…it’s just…it’s just a me thing, I guess.”
But it’s not a you thing — it’s an anxiety thing. And now, anxiety is a part of you. Try as you might to explain it to them, they won’t understand the fears you carry around in your backpack.
The worst part, though, isn’t dealing with the fears in your backpack. The thing that terrifies you the most is the thought of losing that backpack.
You don’t understand it. How is it that the thing making you the most miserable is the thing you are most afraid of losing?
You feel as though your fears — as irrational as they may be — are somehow protecting you. It’s as if dropping your backpack would make you vulnerable to all the things inside it. If you were to drop your backpack, perhaps all the things inside it would escape and attack you and then dance around your remains as they chatter about how imperfect you were.
That’s why meditation is so scary at first. Your therapist tells you to relax, to release your fear each time you exhale. You try your best, but releasing your fear just scares you even more. Relaxation becomes impossible, and your backpack gets heavier and heavier. The heavier your backpack is, the scarier it is to let go of it. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, you live your life with your big, heavy backpack constantly weighing you down. Faith, therapy, exercise, medicine and healthy distractions can make you stronger and more able to carry your backpack, but they don’t always help you get rid of it. Maybe that is a blessing that can come from anxiety, after all — you learn to get stronger. Maybe that’s what makes us so special.
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