Living with anxiety is like living with a pimple on the tip of your nose (or a cold sore on your damn lip).
When I was in 5th grade, I developed a boil right on the tip of my giant, Sicilian nose. I know – gross, right? It was red and bulbous and painful. I was made fun of ruthlessly for it. I felt hideous. I tried hiding it with coverup but, as many of my ladies out there know, makeup can often exacerbate the issue. And of course, in 5th grade, I lacked a certain understanding of blending and matching your foundation to your skin tone. Needless to say, this was a low point for me. Eventually, I got laser surgery and had the hideous monster removed. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the bullying – and it didn’t make me feel any better about my self-image. The boil was gone, but the damage was done. I hated the way I looked, and no amount of surgery was going to fix it.
But back to my stellar analogy – anxiety and pimples. You have to face it every day. It hurts. It often makes other people look at you differently (Poor ole so and so). AND it is really, really difficult to get rid of. I have met many people who are living with a pain worse than my own. This post is for you…to let you know that you are not alone, and more importantly, that you don’t have to live with this pain forever. All you have to do is DECIDE.
I think I first realized that I was “different” when I was 6 years old. I was shy – I mean REALLY shy. People scared me. I was nervous around family and worried about what my friends thought about me. As time went on, things got worse and I became the girl who was ALWAYS stressed out about something. Now, stress is normal to a degree, especially in adolescence. My my stress was different. My stress kept me from fully enjoying time with my friends. I can’t go tick or treating…I have to study. My stress kept me awake at night. I was consistently worried…and sometimes, I didn’t even know what I was worried about!
By 10th grade, I had developed a heart murmur and was put on a heart monitor. Actually, the monitor was put on ME – and it was big and bulky and embarrassing. People wondered what the hell was going on. Amanda, what are those wires for? Damn, I tried so hard to hide those under my Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt!
In college, my anxiety rapidly led to feelings of depression. I was falling down a black hole. I was emotional and often, unreasonable and inconsolable. I used to lock the door to my dorm room and quietly cry. Over what? Sometimes the cause was clear. I missed my family. I missed my on again, off again boyfriend. I wished I was prettier. I hated change. I needed to do better – to BE better. Other times, I had no idea what brought about these floods of emotion and I think a part of me was afraid to find out. I had anxiety, and depression, but I was too ashamed to admit it – or to seek help for that matter. Amanda, there is free counseling on campus – you should give it a try. Me? Counseling? I must be crazy. I didn’t need medicine or a shrink. Right? Wrong.
So how did I cope? Like many young, insecure women my age I used food, alcohol and sex as a tool for temporary relief. Ben and Jerry were just 2 of the men I took to bed with me at night. I slept with 2 guys who were in committed relationships. One time, I was taken advantage of – and I let it happen because I was afraid of what he would think of me if I ran out of the room crying. I vented to friends, and depended on others to make me feel good about myself. I thought about transferring to a community college closer to home. I didn’t DEAL with it – I let it happen.
After college when I got my first job, my anxiety was at its peak. At that point, I had lost several friends. They didn’t know who I was anymore, and neither did I. I cried on my way to work…then when I got to work…then when I arrived home after work. I was angry and frustrated with myself. I thank the universe every day for sending me my wonderful, supportive husband who stood by me through it all. Without him, I’m not sure what I would have done.
Ultimately, my stress was too much to handle and I quit my job. I became unreliable and unraveled. My anxiety then branched out into separation anxiety. I did NOT want to leave Harry’s side. Going to work was too much. What if he left me? What if I came home one day and he wasn’t there? Because I was too much to handle. What if he got in a car accident on his way to work? What if he died? I couldn’t go on. I had these thoughts every day. I realized how bad things had gotten when one day, as I was driving, I began to imagine what it would be like if I swerved into oncoming traffic. That vision was real – and it terrified me.
The pimple wouldn’t go away. I was so ashamed of it. I had decided that the pimple (aka anxiety) made me ugly and less than. What a CROCK of BS. Instead of picking at it and trying desperately to cover it up, in 2014 I decided it was time to DO something about it. I got help, and ya know what? I didn’t feel ashamed for it – I felt EMPOWERED. I was forced to invest in my well-being and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I had to face my feelings head on. I had to look at my fears in the eyes. I had to re-train my brain. I had to tell my family and friends about what was really going on for all of those years. I had to let some people go. I had to forgive my bullies and my shadows and move on with my life. I had to shift my mindset. I had to try new things, like meditation and yoga. I had to be honest with myself about what was true (I’m NOT ugly. I AM worthy. I’m NOT a failure. I AM powerful. I CAN change my life and, in turn, the lives of others). I had to take risks and invest in coaches and share my story and quit my job and accept myself.
Jen Sincero wrote in her book You Are A Badass that it takes just as much time and energy to invest into believing that we are worthless and our lives are too hard and too shitty, as it does to invest into believing that we are awesome and our lives are beautiful and abundant. So where are you going to direct your energy? By making this shift, I went from victim to victorious / from powerless to powerful / from anxious to fearless. The choice is yours.