When I was a kid, I would get terrible stomach aches as soon as I was dropped off for school. My stomach would knot up so much I would feel sick with dread.
I had no concept of it then, but this was my first memory of my lifelong struggle with anxiety. I cannot tell you exactly why it started. There are things that happened, of course, but why I was so terribly afraid to the degree I was, I cannot really say. I can only say I cannot remember a time when I did not feel vulnerable and unsure of myself.
As I got older, I became chronically depressed, which was one of many effects of my untreated fear and low self-esteem. My anxiety spiraled so far out of control I was a nervous wreck at all social events. By my twenties, I didn't go out unless I'd calmed myself with weed or alcohol or both. I rarely thought about what I could do with my potential. I instead just tried to make it through each day.
When my depression became worse than everything else, I had no choice but to face my darkness. I began therapy, and later, a meditation practice. I was amazed when tools I had learned helped ease and eventually subside my depression. I was in awe of how much I could change the way my mind and body work.
The problem with this was, I felt so much better I was tricked into thinking everything was okay. But it wasn't. My anxiety, the root of it all, was still wreaking havoc. I couldn't understand how I could feel so good one moment and in a complete panic the next.
It wasn't until recently that I had to consider how much longer the anxiety has had to be my default program. It's true that at one point the depression grew bigger, but I hadn't lived with it since I was a child. Anxiety, on the other hand, has had decades upon decades to work into the layers of my being. I have programmed anxiety so deeply into myself that I sometimes feel as if I'm one with it.
I know this isn't true, because over the years it's gotten considerably better. We are slowly untangling ourselves from each other. There are even times when I don't notice it at all. There are times when I go out and I speak as if I've never felt a twinge of fear and self-doubt in my life. There are even times when I think, ha, I did it, I'm FREE!
But then it comes back. It always comes back, like a swift kick in the teeth.
Most recently, it reared its head while I was putting together my "Depression and Anxiety Support Package". The irony, I know. As I was putting together the workbook, I kept thinking about how crippling depression and anxiety have been in my life. I know how overwhelming they feel in the whole system - mind, body, and spirit. And as I kept thinking about that, and how people who are still in the thick of it need a lifeline, I became that little girl, sick with fear that I would disappoint anyone who bought it.
Thankfully, I knew I had the tools to overcome this, and I didn't give in to the fear. I kept working on my package, knowing that the very thing that made me so afraid was the reason I had to do this. I have spent years learning about anxiety and depression and how to work through them, and I want to share everything I've learned.
As I neared completion, I felt a sense of relief. I did it. I'd faced down anxiety once again. And because of that, it's hold on me has gotten a little less powerful. I felt pretty good about this and went out for some celebratory coffee.
When I was in the coffee shop, I saw a guy I sort of know from a yoga class. I don't really know him. But we say hi to each other at class, and because I often avoid people in public (damn you anxiety), I felt I should make an effort and be social. I went up to him and as we talked I began to feel the twinges of dread. Feeling the anxiety coming made me feel like I needed to escape, and this was making me sweaty and nervous, and this was making me feel more sure I had to GO NOW. And then it happened. The kick in the teeth.
He asked what I was up to, and with all my might I wanted to say, "I just finished putting a package together for anxiety and depression. I want to support people in their well-being and I'm really excited about it! It's been years in the making! I can't wait to put the ole spit shine on it and get it in my store."
But this isn't what I did. Instead, I felt put on the spot. I felt terrified of talking about my creative works and my passion. I turned red, looked at the floor and said, "Oh, you know. Grabbin' some coffee."
And then I left. When I got in the car, I did something that took me a long time to learn how to do - I spoke to myself with kindness and compassion. I told myself that it's okay I lost my footing in there. I talked to myself with gentle reassurance 'Everything is okay'. Because it really was. I allowed myself to know that what had happened, it wasn't the end of the world.
In the past, after moments like that, I would berate myself and think, Why did you react like that? That was SO embarrassing! You had no logical reason to turn red! You looked so stupid! SOOOOO STUPID. You are SO hopeless and weird. You had no excuse to shut down and be afraid. What's wrong with you!?!?!?
This kind of self-talk does not help anxiety. It only makes it worse.
Rather, after setting off the fear bomb, there is only one appropriate response: I love you no matter what.
On days like today, I wish my anxiety was healed completely. But I know that progress, no matter how small, is important and must always be celebrated. Today, I was anxious, but I was kind to myself after. This is my progress. This is worth celebrating.
If you'd like to learn more about the depression and anxiety support package I mentioned earlier, go here. It includes guided meditations, visualizations, journal prompts, and more.