One of the first things a therapist will tell you about your anxiety, is that you need to work on changing your relationship with anxiety. You don’t just pop in to therapy a few times and stop feeling anxious, though that would be nice, wouldn’t it?
You need to re-wire your brain. To think about your anxiety objectively, to stop being afraid of it, and replace that fear with curiosity. BARF.
I was very resistant to this notion at first. I think most people are. I was obviously curious about my anxiety, as in a ‘why the effffff is this happening to me and when is it going to stop?!?! type of way.’
I had to train my brain to stop saying why TF is this happening to me, and to start saying what is this anxiety trying to show me? (Curiosity. Barf.) If I didn’t change my mindset, anxiety was well on its way to being that kid who yells out, “MOM, watch this!” EVERY TIME they jump in the pool. Which is like 1500 times. Because little kids never, ever, get tired of swimming.
Seriously, if there were no moms and dads around to force those kids to get out of the pool and eat a PB&J, they could straight-up swim for 15 hours non-stop. Anxiety doesn’t need rest either. Sometimes it just needs a PB&J.
So I finally decided to stop being resistant to this and told my anxiety, or M, as I call him, that it was time to dry off and eat lunch.
To this, he replied, “Only if you jump in the pool with me.”
To which I replied, “Hard no, I’ll just watch.”
To which he said with a smirk, “You won’t.”
Cue death glare from me.
Cue his same, stupid, smirky-smirk face.
I threw my arms up and cried, “UGH. Why are you so obsessed with me?!”
And then that jerk pushed me in the pool.
Now, to be clear, I don’t like M. We are not friends. I can’t hear myself think when he’s around, because he Never.Stops.Talking. He also does this gum smacking thing that makes my skin crawl, and his nose is always runny, but, he insists he does not have allergies.
Between the gum smacking, the chit-chatting, and the sniffling, he’s literally my worst nightmare.
But even our worst nightmares can teach us things.
Before M made his over the top debut into my life, I was kind of miserable. Not completely miserable. But like 70% miserable. I’m unfamiliar with the stats on misery, but 70% seems like a bit much.
I had a job that left me feeling completely drained, under-appreciated, bored, and bitter. I wasn’t doing anything that felt authentic to me. I wasn’t living a life that felt like my life. I didn’t even know what I enjoyed anymore.
And it was completely my fault. I chose to keep closing my eyes to possibilities, to stop day-dreaming, to stop thinking I deserved something better. Because that was what I was comfortable with. The comfort of misery feels so much safer than the misery of uncertainty, and I know I’m not alone in that.
Despite knowing, deep down, that I had so much to offer and that I was capable of SO much more than I was giving myself credit for, I chose to stay in that icky, dark, comfortable, miserable place.
So basically, I was living on my own version of Mt. Crumpit like a Millennial lady-grinch.
Why was I continuing to live a life of grinchiness when there was an entire Whoville out there to explore?
Well, because of fear.
I was making choices based in fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and most of all, fear of failure. Fear that I couldn’t do anything else.
So where does this fear come from? Quick segue to human development and all the ways it can come to haunt you as an adult! (Sarah Lanzarotta, MA in EDHD, Class of 2019)
For a huge majority of my life, I had been told, by adults, (who know absolutely everything and are never wrong!) that I had self-esteem issues.
Take the 3rd grade, for example. Every Wednesday, the counselor would pull me out of class for a 45 minute puppet show where a lamb and a frog would give me tips on how to believe in myself. This is not a joke. This actually happened.
First of all, if you’re trying to increase a child’s confidence using animal puppets, maybe use something with a little more pizazz than a lamb….like, gosh, I don’t know, the king of the fucking jungle?!
Second of all, puppet shows are bullshit, and I wasn’t aware that anything was wrong with me until every Wednesday when stupid, foofy Lambchop told me something was wrong with me.
Flash forward to college, where I was dancing 7+ hours a day, working my butt off to gain the approval of my superiors, and getting a lot of, “You would have got cast if you just had more confidence.” Sometimes, their heads would turn into Lambchop heads as they said this to me.
Wanna know the fastest way to destroy a person’s confidence? TELLING THEM THEY NEED TO HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE.
I only bring these two memorable and somewhat traumatizing occasions up because they influenced the way I perceived myself, which influenced the choices I made. I was making choices out of FEAR that I wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t even know I was doing it.
Now I don’t love to say this, because M gets a little cocky, but he is my Cindy Lou-Who. He found me on Mt. Crumpit, trespassed into my home, and said, “Girl! Wake yo ass up because You. Deserve. Better!” (He might be my Cindy Lou-Who, but he sounds like Eddie Murphy in my head.)
M showed up, and kept showing up, and kept showing up, until I FINALLY jumped in that pool and decided to swim with him.
The irony that it took panic attacks, a literal disorder of the body’s fear response center, to wake me up the the fact I was living a life completely based in fear, is not lost on me. I take irony as proof that The Universe has a wild sense of humor.
As much as I hated M, and his annoying habits, I see now that he was protecting me. I do feel like him convincing me I was having a heart attack at 2AM was a touch far, but it did get the point across. He knew that I deserved to live a life full of authenticity, creativity, and playfulness. Things that were innately intertwined into my being that I thought I wasn’t allowed to have. Until he showed up, I didn’t even think a life filled with those things was an option for me. But it was. It IS.
M might be my frenemy, but I listen to him now. Sometimes he’s wrong and completely overreacting, but mostly he’s right and just trying to get me to listen to him. So here I am, remaining, (BARF) curious.
He dragged me off Mt. Crumpet and into Whoville. I still go visit occasionally. It hasn’t changed much.
Everyone has their own version of M. Some M’s convince you that your best friend is mad at you because their ‘energy in their text message was off.’ What.
Some M’s take you down a deep, scary, thought spiral about who would survive if the apocalypse came tonight. Would you even know what to do?! Are you prepared?!
My version of M just wanted me to see that I am allowed to bet on myself. Just because someone says something to you, about you, doesn’t mean you have to believe it.
In the past, if someone had said to me, “You’ll never be able to do that.” I would have agreed with them, thankful to have some validation for why I was remaining stagnant and disappointed.
Now, if someone said to me, “You’ll never be able to that.” I picture myself jumping in that pool for the 1,500th time that day, M cheering in the background, as I yell with my great, big, outside voice, “Hey you! Watch this!”
Suck on that, Lambchop.