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February 28, 2013

Dear Anxiety, You're Not the Boss of Me




Chronic Anxiety. The kind that lays dormant at times but never quite seems to go away. It hinders self-expression. Corrupts imagination. Steals the moment. Even if you’ve only experienced situational anxiety, I’m sure you can relate to the tell-tale feeling in the pit of your stomach, the overstimulation of your senses, the hyperactivity of your nerves. The paranoia.

It can make you want to stay home, not talk to people, and not try new things. It traps you into a false comfort zone. You think you’re safe there, but the butterflies remain. You worry about what you’re missing. What people are saying about you. You worry that you’ll never stop worrying. You wonder why you can’t relax.

And what about the future? What about hope? Anxiety casts a dark shadow of doom over any and everything that is unknown. You’re always bracing for the worst, instead of expecting the best. If this is or has ever been part of your struggle, then you and I have something in common.

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Anxiety & Me

People know me to be calm, even-tempered and generally unphased by drama and negativity. Of course, this is not always accurate because at times I’m a complete spaz, but I’m way better off than I used to be. What I’ve gone through to achieve a healthy level of detachment is difficult to admit but crucial to the evolution of my story.

My adolescence was filled with tension. My young adulthood was rebellious and irresponsible. By the time I reached mid/late twenties I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t get into a car without envisioning the thing crashing. I could not leave my children anywhere for fear that they would get hurt in my absence. I checked my partner’s text messages and emails every chance I got. I was constantly in financial turmoil with cutoff notices, harassing phone calls, and overdraft fees. I was worried about everything all the time.

This was how I lived before I learned that I had choices. Anxiety is not the bully that we make it out to be. It’s trying to give us physical and emotional red flags to draw our attention to a problem. Discomfort always comes with information, but we have to first realize that and then take the steps to translate it. If your car is making a strange noise, you take it to a mechanic to figure out why. If you have a headache, you eat, you drink, maybe go to the doctor -- you try to figure out what your body needs in order to feel better. Likewise, if you’re experiencing debilitating anxiety, you need to know the cause of it so your soul can feel better.

My truth was that I believed it was only a matter of time before I developed my mother’s mental illness. I sabotaged myself every chance I got because I thought I was doomed to fail anyway. I had an abusive relationship with life where I tried to hurt myself before it could hurt me. Anxiety was my standard operating procedure. I'm happy to say that it's not anymore. That doesn't mean I don't experience it, but now I know what it means.

If I were to write a letter to anxiety to put it in its place, it would go something like this:
First of all, you’re not the boss of me. I’m not new at this life thing anymore and I’ve screwed up enough to know that everything always works out the way it should. So, I’m not afraid of you. I mean, you have a really effed up way of getting your point across, but I respect your position. You don’t have an easy job. The thing is, I know how to handle you now. I can look you in the face and feel your effects without running away. I’ve gotten through plenty of ugly situations with your angst coursing through me and I’ve proven to myself that I’m brave. I know that I can’t control or understand everything that happens in the world and that some things will freak me out. There will be times when I’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll be right there, trying to get me to peel back the layers to get to the truth. Now that I know where you stand and where I stand, I won’t let you bully me. Matter of fact, I’ll thank you for the tough love.
Anxiety & You

What is your relationship with anxiety? Is it an occasional visitor or has it completely taken over your domain? I’d love to hear about your experiences and coping mechanisms. Also, do you ever write letters to help you process your feelings? If not, you should try it!

Note: If you are experiencing severe anxiety or panic disorder, you should seek professional help.

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