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Inside the Head of Someone With Anxiety in a Meeting

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You’re in a meeting. There are about six other people seated around the table, many of whom you’ve encountered numerous times before. They’ve always been nice; you’ve even shared a laugh with a couple of them.

As soon as you take your seat the voices in your mind erupt: “This is your chance to speak up! You better say something valuable and profound! Say something that will make them all thank you for attending this meeting. Be the savior. Be brilliant.” They’ve successfully set the bar so inconceivably high and out of reach, but you don’t notice.

The meeting is an hour long, and you’re already counting down the minutes.

Twenty go by, and no words have come out of your mouth. No stroke of brilliance, no saving grace, no genius. And what’s worse, you can’t make connections out of the things people are saying. Are they even speaking English? You see their mouths moving, but you struggle to make out what they mean. No thoughts enter your mind, save for the voices (which you are trying to ignore) yelling at you to, “say the perfect thing.”

And then a miracle happens. You say something. Something very short, something you hope has some value. But as soon as you get halfway through your sentence, the voices shift in tone. Their demands quiet; they begin to hiss, to roll their eyes and snicker.

“That was the best you can do? Why are you even here? You’re offering no value whatsoever. You might as well not be here. What good are you if you can’t even say one thing that is relevant and useful?”

And so, you’re left there, empty-handed and feeling completely isolated from the six other humans seated around you. You are no longer in that boardroom sitting in that chair at that table. You have receded far into the depths of your mind and you’re fighting your way, clambering to get out of the hole you’re falling deeper and deeper into.

You nod and nod and smile and turn your head every so often. You ask a question (two, if you’re lucky), just so you don’t feel invisible. But it’s too late now. The voices have gotten so loud. “Just shut up, they don’t care about what you have to say. They don’t take you seriously. They think you’re a pretty face with nothing inside your head. You’re stupid and anything you say is going to sound stupid.”

And you try so hard not to give credence to what these voices say. You remind yourself repeatedly that you know exactly what’s going on here inside your head. You know the negativity isn’t a reflection of truth and that it’s your illness taking hold yet again. You try reciting positive affirmations to help counter the negativity swirling around boundlessly. But the voices come equipped with megaphones and violence. They’re foreboding and strong. You get to a point where they are all you hear.

For the cherry on top, the intern makes a few comments, shares her thoughts —nothing philosophical or illuminating but well spoken and clear. On the way out of the meeting you hear her boss say to her, “That was great. I was really impressed how you jumped in there to share your ideas.”

And just like that, unbeknownst to him, he’s handed the voices your kryptonite on a silver platter. Now the voices are strapped up with their gloves on and in the boxing ring ready to take you down.

“Wow, you really are pathetic. If the intern could speak up, why couldn’t you? You could’ve easily said what she said. She’s going to be successful and you’re not because you can’t even speak up in meetings. You’re never going to be successful. This will keep you from ever being a leader.”

Right hook. Left hook. Uppercut. Bruise. Blood. Broken nose. You’ve been knocked down, and there is no reviving you. Your face is on the ground and you’re wait for the ref to start his count.

By the time you’ve departed the meeting, you can’t remember what anyone was talking about. The voices get darker and crueler. They start to convince you that they know what they’re talking about, that they wouldn’t say all these things without merit. That they’re logical and working with proof. This is when it really gets frightening. Your eyes widen and you say to the voices, “Damn, you might be on to something.”

This is when a phone call helps. When a smile goes miles. When a compliment saves lives. When a mental health-related Instagram account posts something that is exactly related to how you’re feeling at the moment.

You remind yourself of tomorrow, of spring time, of the sun, of birds singing, of stillness, of warm summer air, of standing by an ocean and feeling so perfectly infinite, of a glass of great red wine, of a song that sounds like you, of the moments you feel like you are entirely at peace with who you are, of the seconds right before a laugh breaks loose from your throat, of soft fur, of a good hair day, of finding your keys exactly where you thought you left them, of love for someone special, of anything that puts a pure and genuine grin on your face.

Those moments, those memories, those experiences, they are the powerful and the mighty. They are the ones that enter the boxing ring and with one swift and effortless thrust, instantly flatten the negative voices to the ground. Knock out.

They are the ones that will pick you up and wipe your face and remind you you’ve got to keep fighting, even on the days where you just don’t want to have to wake up and fight anymore because you are just so impossibly exhausted, mind, body and spirit.

You keep fighting; never stop. Every fight, every tiny success, every whispered word spoken while caged by fear is a behemoth of a war won. Each is a clear reminder that you are the bravest warrior around. You are. You really are.

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Thinkstock photo by julief514

Originally published: April 21, 2017
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