For most of my life, I have been a terrible advocate for myself. Some of that was me not realizing I needed to say something (not knowing a whole situation, so I felt like I couldn’t speak up); some of it was out of laziness; some of it was because I just really did not know how. In college, it took me over a month to break up with someone who told me they weren’t sure they wanted to be together, but then didn’t officially end things. It took me three years at work to feel like I wasn’t at the mercy of my boss’ every whim and could actually push back a little.
I still have trouble, but I’ve noticed a big shift: recently, my default has been to advocate for myself in stead of to say f*ck it, when it used to be very decidedly the other way around.
I credit anxiety for this.
This is one of those times when, as sh*tty as the anxiety can be, it can do amazing things, too. If I hadn’t gone through this experience, I would still be stuck feeling like I should speak up but not wanting to rock the boat. (In my brain, whenever I thought about speaking up, I kept hearing Nicely-Nicely from “Guys and Dolls” telling me to “sit down, you’re rocking the boat.”) Anxiety has forced me to speak up in my personal relationships because that’s the only way things will get better. Even though cognitively I knew that saying something is better — saying nothing means nothing changes — I had a really hard time putting that into practice. Anxiety has forced me to start acting on that impulse to say something instead of just letting it go, and I’ve gotta say, there have really only been good results.
The heart of this, though, is what the advocacy indicates. I’ve always been pretty assertive about my independence, but my Midwestern training to always be considerate of others has kept me quiet a lot more times than I should have been. As most people with anxiety can tell you, it’s easy to think about that time in 10th grade when you should have spoken up for yourself. People with anxiety tend to have long memories, and it’s always about what we could have done differently. Sometimes this is great because it leads us to be reflective about our own actions and maybe start to change something. Sometimes this is hard because we acquiesce for fear of upsetting someone and don’t always hold others responsible for their behavior.
But the instinct to advocate for myself shows me that, now, I value more than my independence: my emotional well-being matters, too. I’ve always been pretty confident, but I’m learning now that mental and emotional health are about more than that. It’s important to work to maintain them, as I’ve been doing, and part of that work is saying something when I need help or something feels off. If I don’t, I know from experience that I’ll be wishing I had and ruminating about it for a long time. And I don’t particularly want to live like that any more.
This is not to say that advocating is easy. I still need time to process and think about what I want to say and how I want to say it, and sometimes that can take a while. And I still get a little anxious right before I say something. And sometimes I end up crying even though I’m not that upset, that’s just how my body reacts.
I still have trouble with it, but I’m glad that I want to, and that I actually do.
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