I’ve written before about my love/hate relationship with anxiety. I love that it keeps me organized and conscientious of others. I love that it has heightened my sense of empathy. I hate that it makes me feel nauseous. I hate that I can’t always enjoy important moments. I hate that it makes simple things really difficult.
My biggest fear when I started to deal with this was: What’s going to happen in the future? Am I going to be able to walk down the aisle without having a panic attack? What about when I have a kid? Am I going to be able to handle parenting when I’m crying and feeling nauseous and like I’m not myself?
Those thoughts scared me a lot because I just wanted the anxiety to go away. I didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore. My main goal was to figure out how to get rid of it once and for all. I wanted to get back to life without anyone knowing. Anxiety felt like a black hole had taken up residence in my chest. It was only a matter of time before it turned me into someone unrecognizable. (Or until Matthew McConaughey tried to use it to send a message to his daughter.)
While this attitude gave me the motivation to start therapy and read as much about anxiety as possible, this is not a healthy way to approach it. Wanting to eradicate anxiety is a form of resistance. It leads to more tension and more anxiety. It’s the classic fear of fear. I was so worried about having an attack in specific situations that I didn’t realize I was keeping myself on alert in every situation. Thus, I was making things worse for myself.
My therapist asked me last week what my ultimate goal would be in terms of my anxiety. She said, “What does the best possible outcome look like?” Well, that’s easy. It’s completely gone. I don’t want to approach it with that attitude because it will make me feel like I’ve failed every time my anxiety shows up. I told her what I really want is to have a set strategy in place. This way when I feel it start to get bad, I will know exactly what to do.
I want to approach this like I’m going to live with it all my life because I probably am, one way or another. Knowing that it’s not going away actually helps me cultivate the accepting attitude that’s so important in anxiety and panic management. Assuming I’ve got another 60 or so years of this ahead of me, helps me to make room for it. Maybe what’s most important is it normalizes it. I want to get to the point where, when anxiety pops up, I’m just like, “Oh, it’s you,” and go back to whatever I was doing.
I’m definitely closer to this than I was a year ago. One of the things that’s been really helpful has been learning how to depersonalize the anxiety. This is helpful in trying to be an outside observer. It allows me to view anxiety as something that is happening to me versus a character flaw. While my reaction used to be, “Oh my god, What the f*ck is going on?” — it’s now more something like, “Oh, well this is annoying but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.” Honestly, I’m pretty darn proud of that.
It’s been a long time since I was crying uncontrollably and feeling like I was going to puke at any second. These days it’s mostly some nausea (sniffing peppermint oil is an amazing help for that by the way), a rapid heartbeat and some tightness in the chest. If I can’t get to a quiet place, then it can escalate. Usually, I can make that happen or at least stand in the back of my classroom and breathe for a minute or two while my students work.
Perhaps, I need one more really big anxiety-producing experience, akin to meeting my boyfriend’s parents or traveling somewhere I’ve never been. This way I can really see where I am. I’m sure this will happen in due time. I feel good most days though, and I’m really proud of that. I’m almost where I want to be. It feels really good not to have that black hole hanging out in my chest anymore. (But if Matthew McConaughey wanted to hang out there, then I’d be OK with that.)
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