I’m twenty-four years old.
The journey to get to this point in my life has been a curiously interesting one. For me, perhaps. Today, one month after my last blog post, I have a story.
Anxiety has been within me for longer than I’ve had a word for it. It causes me to second guess myself, to tap my foot a million times a minute, to back out of social events, and to lock myself in my room for several hours.
If you’ve had struggles with anxiety, I’m sure that several of these things are familiar for you. I’ve also eaten an entire block of chocolate when I found out I had to resubmit an assignment for TAFE, back out on hanging with friends or going to parties, and one time I even sprinted out of a room full of people. Well, sort of.
It is often unhealthy. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I hope some of my dad’s knowledge has rubbed off on me. One can call a condition pathological when it starts to control a person’s behaviour to the point of negatively impacting their life. For example, one could have a slight addiction to alcohol, but it may not affect them negatively. If they drink to the exclusion of most other activities and to their significant detriment, that’s a problem.
For me, my anxiety has caused me to forego some of the things I’ve loved, or back out of things that I should have done. It has caused me further stress and sadness beyond mere worry.
But I’ve lived with it for a long time. Like with any old friend, you learn to adapt to any of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Anxiety does not define me, but rather is a part of me that I have come to learn to live with.
Now an important disclaimer to add here is that my anxiety is hardly a severe case. If you ever feel that you need help, you should always speak to a medical professional – I am not a doctor. What works for me may not work for you. This is only my experience.
In time, I’ve come to learn every jagged edge and sharpened point of my anxiety, just as I’ve come to learn the softer, more flexible portions. There are some things which I come to accept I cannot do often, while there are others I merely need a little mental preparation for.
I’ve learnt to carefully pick my battles. From experience, I can often judge how much or how little I’ll like a social engagement, and weigh that with the anxiety I feel before I head out. Make no mistake, I’m anxious whenever I leave the house. Before I have to go somewhere, I second guess myself and wonder what it would be like if I didn’t have to.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt in relation to my anxiety is that it’s okay to say no. I have felt compelled to go to many different events in my life. Some have turned out to be okay. Some have been just as stressful and difficult as I anticipated them to be. That’s okay, I’ve got great coping mechanisms now, and solid personal control. But I never have to go anywhere.
It’s okay to decide that you don’t want to go out with friends. It’s okay to take a day to yourself occasionally. As with all things in life, though, there’s a balance. There may come a time when you find yourself saying no more often than not. You can say no to the world, but sometimes you also need to say no to your anxiety.
I’ve started entering writing competitions, for example. Haven’t won any yet, but in the past few months I’ve entered into three. Horridly anxiety-inducing. Who knows if I’m going to win or if my work is going to get anywhere?! But I had to say no to my anxiety. If you want to take control of your life, you need to say no to fear.
Most importantly, listen to yourself. I’ve found that meditation has helped me immensely. It may not help all people, but even someone who taps and twitches and hums to themselves as much as I do can do it, so it’s worth a shot. Try mindfulness meditation, as an example. The hardest and yet most important questions you can ask yourself are these:
When was the last time that I said no to doing something important in life?
What do I need to help me fight my anxiety today?
Listen to yourself, build a plan, then adapt. You don’t always need to kill your anxiety. You can outmanoeuvre it.