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How This One Word Helps Me Embrace My Anxiety

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Literally one month before the country went into pandemic lockdown, in February 2020, my husband Kenny and I took our (at the time) 5-month-old daughter Katherine on her first plane ride. Kenny had to work at a tech show in Fort Lauderdale for a few days and convinced me that we should all go together. I was really nervous about it. That’s how my anxiety works. It’s impossible for me to be “just excited” about anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s surgery or a vacation, my brain will treat both the same. I’m wired to dread anything that’s written on the calendar for longer than a few days. Unless it’s a therapy appointment. For those, I’m typically counting down the minutes.

Though I believe anxiety will always be a part of who I am, it’s certainly not the only part. My therapist recently encouraged me to think more about using the word “and” to describe myself and behaviors instead of “but.” This simple shift in language really resonated with me. Rather than describing myself as being anxious, but outgoing (or even outgoing, but anxious), instead I say I am anxious and outgoing. It makes those two truths equal, instead of trying to dismiss or diminish one of them.

It also works when describing behaviors or situations or even bigger concepts. When I think back to that trip to Florida, I say that I was nervous leading up to the trip, even at times during the trip and I still went and enjoyed myself. My anxiety co-existed with my excitement, joy and gratitude. I think it’s unrealistic and unfair to think that even on medication, even in the presence of excitement, joy, and gratitude my anxiety is going to be completely absent. So, I embrace the “and.”

Looking back, the trip was definitely a success. Katherine was a total rock star and proved herself one very adaptable little babe. We made some special memories as a family of three, like walking along the beach for the first time together. The warm weather and fresh ocean air were just what we all needed. Plus, we all stayed healthy. Most importantly, it reminded me that one of the reasons why embracing the “and” is so important is that wonderful things often happen when I leave my comfort zone.

It actually seems to me to truly embrace the full human experience, I’ve had no choice but to embrace that tiny little three letter word — “and.” The ability to accept that two wildly contradicting truths can exist at the same exact time, sometimes even within an individual — that’s what it means to me to truly be alive.

The next portion of this particular piece of writing is one that I’ve rewritten dozens of times already. I’m still not pleased with it, and yet it is time to share.

I love to write. I also love to share what I write. Not all of it. Not all the time. Yet, sharing what I write has always been an outlet for me to express myself and form connections. However, I’ve been sharing less as of late because I’ve been feeling extremely insecure in regards to the content I want to share. In the past, while I certainly wrote about deeply personal and at times stigmatized or taboo topics, I never hesitated because I felt like as long as I was speaking my truth then there was no harm in sharing. Recently, though, I realized that I had been taking for granted two pretty major things:

1. I have always been writing from a place of white privilege.

2. I have always shared my writing under the assumption that folks reading it would recognize that my honesty and humility are in earnest and thus would not misinterpret me or my message.

The first point started to reveal itself as I journaled my way through Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy.” It was from her book that I solidified my understanding of white privilege, among many other things. I learned about how possessing white privilege allows an individual to both consciously and subconsciously uphold white supremacy by way of white silence, white apathy, white centering, white saviorism and so much more. I wanted to share about what I was learning but I wasn’t always sure how to navigate writing about my experience with anti-racism in a way that didn’t seem performative. I also even questioned whether I needed to share about it at all. Then, when I’d try to write about something else, something I was more familiar with writing about — like mental health for example, I would think about all the privilege I have even surrounding that and I’d get stuck.

The second realization happened after a few encounters with adult adoptees who, after reading my comments on their posts, mistook my honesty and humility when talking about being an adoptive parent for arrogance and ignorance (a deadly combo if there ever was one). I felt embarrassed and ashamed for trying to contribute to a conversation that likely just wasn’t meant for me.

I began to consider whether or not my voice mattered at all anymore? Not in a self-deprecating or self-pitying way… but in a genuine what’s the fucking point kind of way? Like who really needs to hear about life from my point of view? I should amplify and uplift the too often marginalized voices and keep my thoughts to myself.

Then I remembered my little friend, “and.”

I have white privilege and it is a good thing that I am aware of it and I can put that awareness to good use in my home and out in the world and I am an adoptive mom and I know that injustice and trauma are major parts of adoption and I can put that knowledge to good use in my home and out in the world and I can uplift and amplify marginalized voices and I am anxious and I am outgoing and I can write about my own life experiences and people who read what I share may misunderstand, criticize and/or reject me and that’s OK. It has to be.

I refuse to cling safely to one side of any issue or concept or way of being. If life is a swimming pool, I’d much rather be out in the deep end. Sure, sometimes I’m just doing my best to keep my head above water, while other times I’m like goddamn Michael Phelps out there. Most of the time I’m using a raft and I’m tethered to those I love most, but I am always out there in the middle of it, because I can’t live a full life without trying to hang in the deep end. I can’t live a full life without trying to understand, accept and embrace as many of life’s “ands” as I possibly can.

Original image via contributor

Originally published: July 9, 2021
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