I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting lately on how anxiety affects me and how to embrace it, instead of trying to smother it. For the longest time, I had this notion that anxiety was something that I could just pretend away.
At a party? Leave your anxiety in the car! Family function? Leave anxiety on the bed with all the clothing articles you rejected for the occasion! Its simple!
Eventually, however, I began to see that this wasn’t very possible. When I ignored my anxiety, it almost magnified. And while most times it kept itself quiet during social events, it roared in my mind afterward, causing quivering and analytical thoughts to crash around my head, and either delay or deny my sleep.
Unfortunately, even the most understanding of people couldn’t grasp why this was such a problem. “Don’t be nervous.” They would try to say soothingly, rubbing my arm. “It’ll be fun! Give it a chance.” They had all sorts of expressions..
“Don’t worry so much, you’ll be fine.”
“Come on, just pretend no one else is there.”
“No one is going to judge you. Stop being silly. You look great.”
“You’re beautiful and everyone loves you. Its going to be fine.”
“Don’t go in with that attitude. The more open you are, the more you’ll have fun!”
I have heard so many combinations of these pep talks and more throughout the years, and yet that type of encouragement hardly ever worked. I don’t blame anyone for trying it, we’re just not used to accepting flaws in our society, or acknowledging any type of trauma.
And so what most people imagine to be comforting words, sadly come off as irrelevant and demeaning to the person for whom they intend them for. What these approaches seemed to say is that I must accept their reasoning, and drop the topic for the rest of the night, or else it would ruin all of the fun.
And so because of this, a lot of times, I would show up late to the events that were stressing me out the most, or end up leaving early after trying to ward off my anxiety with these expressions like weapons.
“Back off anxiety, no one wants you here.”
But anxiety didn’t care. It just tagged along anyway, stuck to my hip like a small child threatening to throw a tantrum. And so would commence the cycle of anxiety, guilt, than anxiety about guilt, then guilt about anxiety, and so on and so forth. It was a very lonely place to be.
So recently, by reading a lot about people’s experiences, talking with the community around me, and finding helpful comics like this one: http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinchack/comics-that-capture-the-frustration-of-anxiety-disorders , I began to see that maybe there IS a way of living with that part of myself.
Part of this realization came with the notion of “self care”, something I have always been notoriously bad at. As an activist, it comes up a lot as a necessity to avoid burn out. But I had to figure out what my self care looked like, how much of a priority it was/how to manage my time around it, and that it was NOT something to be embarrassed about.
Here’s a list of the things I decided I need to stay balanced:
-Healthy food (organic and as local as possible); 3 small meals a day with snacks in-between
-Lots of water
-Time to exercise (by either walking, running, dancing, doing static workouts, and/or stretching)
-Time to Write and Process (like I’m doing now)
-Alone Time or to ability to step out for a minute(this one is essential for me)
-Spending time with animals (I get so much enjoyment playing with them and learning about/ from them, they are like therapy for me)
This list might sound simple, but its easier said than done when you have next to no money, and no time. So I did something that might seem very scary or crazy to some people.. I quit my job.
You see, the job I was working was draining all of my extra time and energy. I was able to work with animals there, which I loved, but there was an imbalance of stress, time, and energy. The majority of days I worked there till the end, I didn’t even have a chance to stop and take a break. This was normal- this was what the boss did herself. But it wasn’t healthy.
I’m figuring out a much better schedule and balance for myself now, exploring more of what I’m passionate about, and creating routines and structures to maintain my self care regiment before I look for another job.
Are those things really self care? you may ask. Most of them sound like basic rights and needs. Aha, yes, you have made a clever realization about the system and culture we live in. More and more people lose their own self care because they have no time to do anything but make enough money to support themselves.
I just took a workshop yesterday called “Social Trauma in the Body”, at this great by-donation yoga and wellness studio called “Justice in the Body”, here in Portland, Maine. I found myself connecting to the ideas and methods presented there in so many ways (so many I will probably write a separate post about it!). But a lot of what they talked about is creating the capacity for our body to deal with all of the stress it must endure-not only from traumatic events, but daily oppressive practices and norms.
So that’s what I will leave here as a question and a thought. How can we, both as individuals and a society, create a greater capacity for those who function differently or suffer? Can we begin to create solutions instead of shutting down those problems, or ignoring them? When must we stop pretending, and start processing?
Thanks for listening to my rambles, everyone. So long for now..