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When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Enjoy Things

A beloved community figure and politician died in the city I live in. Paul Dewar’s last message to Canadians included these sentences: “Let’s make more art. Let’s play more. Let’s embrace each other in these days of cynicism and doubt.”

It got me thinking about the concept of “playing” in the uncertain times we live in today. I wondered what this looked like in adults, or even in children. I wanted to know how anxious people, like myself, could enter this world of play.

I have had anxiety since I was a child. In my life, it is the only constant emotion that I can remember feeling. As a kid, “fun” was really an illusion. Nothing was fun and I was never really carefree. If those moments did occur, they were rare and obviously not memorable. My memories are always shrouded by the underlying anxiety I felt.

I was fortunate that I had the opportunities to take part in numerous activities growing up, such as sports and dance. However, there was always an internal pressure to perform, whether that be in skill or through personality. I hated getting called onto the field or having to practice dance choreography in front of the group. Just writing about it makes me feel physically anxious. Even when it came to non-structured activities like recess or birthday parties, I still dreaded them.

In general, children are more carefree and are able to live in the moment. One of my nieces exemplifies this characteristic. She truly lives freely, and although it can be troublesome, I can’t help but be jealous of that style of living. Even when I visit and they want to play with me I can feel that childhood Paige rearing her head full of anxiety. Tragically, this makes me feel like I can’t fulfill my duties as an aunt. Even when surrounded by curiosity, innocence and happiness, I cannot truly let down my guard and enjoy those times.

This chronic anxiety has obviously continued to manifest itself into my life today. I feel like I am missing out on what could be a very positive aspect of living. What would it take to allow me to let go? Will there ever be a time where I can embrace play? How long will it take? These are some of the questions I ask myself.

The trepidation I feel when it comes to things like going to a new restaurant or even watching a new show on Netflix is intense. Those sound like simple things, but to me they are not. It doesn’t matter who I am with because in the end, I will always be with myself, in my own head.

The closest I’ve come to enjoying something unreservedly is through music. Whether it be an indie folk show or a classical music symphony, there is something about the sounds that is moving. Music has gotten me through the toughest of times.

I hope that someday I will be able to accept play into my life. I hope the time it takes to get there is minimal. I hope and long for this freedom.

Getty image by AaronAmat