I had a friend once tell me “you seem like an anxious little thing.” My response was to high five her, and tell her I’m like a scared Chihuahua who shakes and looks like they’re holding in their pee. We laughed. The reality is not too far off though. My anxiety is one of my greatest struggles in life, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways.
Hollywood would have us believe that all anxiety looks the same. It’s the girl that can’t catch her breath and is sobbing on the kitchen floor. Now, that’s definitely been me, but the more I get away from that trope the more I can identify different ways anxiety has become insidious in my life. Take for example when grades were released after finals this week. I knew I had easily earned a B in all my courses. I could literally have failed each of my finals and not lost that status, but I am a neurotic perfectionist to my core. I deeply felt I needed only A’s to have the ability to validate myself. A single teacher was delayed in submitting final grades and the entire night before they were released I obsessed. I worried that my husband would be less proud of me if I got a B in Environmental Health despite his assurances that grades will never impact the love he feels for me. I worried how I would look at myself. My fun pack bundle of anxiety ruined a night I could have achieved blissful sleep.
The truth I’m learning is anxiety comes in different forms. For me, the cycle of obsession and self doubt is the most evident in my life today. I cry on the bathroom floor less and less. Struggling to breathe while my eyes are throwing out massive buckets of tears is no longer my norm. Yet, the constant feeling that I am close to panic is still alive and well. My therapist told me today “it must be really hard to live up to the standards you set for yourself. They’re almost unattainable.” And she’s right. In a way I create this chaos myself. The obsession I created that night felt like uncontrollable fear; I played the “what if” game. Well, what if I get a B? Will I be less valuable? Will I be less intelligent? What if I do not get validation from my loved ones for my hard work, does it take away all the hard work I put in? The cycle constantly whirled across my brain, and no matter how many deep breaths or soothing ocean waves I played in the background, nothing could calm me down.
Even as I write this I have a fit of butterflies near my heart, pounding and scared of what my readers will think. Will they judge me as weak? I am getting to the place where I realize none of this matters. What will heal me is learning to love myself and learning to validate who I am versus seeking out validation from others. I realize we all need validation to some extent, but the weight I place on that shows me there has to be another way. I am powerless over the thoughts and actions of others. It would be comforting to shift the tone I use against myself to something other than brusque, obligated self praise.
Anxiety is still a powerful force in my life. It is a tidal wave constantly hitting my back, trying to pull me back into the ocean of insanity. My hope is that eventually I will learn the tools to get just far enough out on the shore that she tickles my toes instead of toppling me over. My anxiety is apart of my strength, it is part of what gives me empathy for mental illness and helps me want to love myself and others. There is beauty in having it, but it is a blurred line. How far do I go in accepting it versus becoming complacent? Eventually I’ll pull myself out of my ocean of anxiety,