We talk about the struggle, but what about the good parts?
I have anxiety.
One of the best things about blogging and the internet these days is that it's increasingly common to see writers sharing their struggles with anxiety.
One of the keys to accepting yourself as you are with anxiety is realizing how totally NOT alone you are. The world is full of anxious people just like you and me, and they are awesome, smart, not-crazy shining stars with a worldview all their own, and a voice that needs to be heard.
Unfortunately, I sometimes think that in talking about the struggles of anxiety, we forget to talk about the parts of it that are actually good — because there are very big benefits to being anxious.
Here's my list of ways anxiety makes me a better person. Writing this list was actually good reminder of how every day is a new opportunity to reconnect with every aspect of yourself, good, bad, and in-between. And that's something those of us with anxiety could really use more of.
1. I'm never late
If you have anxiety, being on time can be an issue. For some folks it takes years to leave the house (do I have my keys? Phone? Shoes? Pet squirrel named Timothy?), for others like me, being late is unthinkable. I'm one of those obnoxious "early is on time, on time is late" people.
I used to beat myself up about rushing to get places and worrying about being the weirdo who got there first. Now I accept my earliness as part of who I am. I don't rush, I have a schedule, and if I get somewhere early it gives me time to look around and savor the moment, something that's really hard for people with an anxiety disorder.
Understand that it wasn't always this way. There are days when my stomach is one giant knot and I want to cancel all my plans and hide.
But life is long and funny and if you love being alive and you love people, you find ways of being that go beyond "coping" and turn into "living happily." For me, therapy and medication has been key.
2. I'm patient with the people around me
If I didn't have anxiety I wouldn't be as nice as I am. I swear this is true. Inside me lurking somewhere is a girl who gets frustrated when someone takes too long to decide what they want to order at a restaurant, a girl who wants to scream when business meetings drag on for no real reason, a girl who would love to lash out at people who seem petty or small minded.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes I do, but most of the time my experiences with anxiety have taught me that no one is entirely who you think they are.
You can be a great judge of character and an understanding person and never ever understand the things they are struggling with daily.
On Monday after work I was supposed to meet my boyfriend for dinner. My anxiety was in overdrive and I found myself unable to pick out new clothes, to put on makeup, or brush my hair. When I finally did and managed to leave the house it felt like such a major victory. Looking at me you'd never have known that twenty minutes earlier I was sobbing on my floor. This impacts the way I interact with people now every day.
I like to think it's made me a better human being and has allowed me to make connections with people I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.
3. I'm not bothered by bad food service
This started off as a joke, but it's totally true! I live in Brooklyn, New York, home of the best bagels in the world (fight me, I dare you). In my neighborhood alone there are at least twenty great bagel places in a three miles radius. Today I tried out a new one, and when the staff was surly and standoffish it didn't bother me at all, because as a person with anxiety I
tend to assume that most of the time people don't like me or want me around. That sounds dark, I know, but it is actually helpful.
I paid for my bagel, I ate it, and that was that. I didn't dwell on their bad attitudes.
The fact that I went into a new bagel place by myself was a feat in and of itself. There was a time not so long ago where the idea of going into a new store where I didn't know how things worked, and I wasn't sure if they took cards instead of cash could send me into a spiral.
Now I manage my anxiety, and that means getting to revel in other parts of myself, like my curious, adventure-loving streak.
4. I see stories everywhere
When you have anxiety you can't shut your brain off. It just isn't possible. Or at least, that's how it can feel. Sometimes I swear I can feel the influx of chemicals inside my brain when it actually happens. For every night that I can't sleep by myself with the lights off, and every day that I worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, or thinking about my inevitable death, there is a day where my overthinking saves me.
When my brain goes into overdrive, I try to redirect it now. Instead of freaking out thinking about how someday I'm going to die or remembering that time in sixth grade a teacher heard me say "fuck", I tell myself stories. I build worlds. I create universes rich with characters. Then, I write them down.
If I weren't anxious, I would never fall into the delicious creative reveries that are such a huge part of who I am.
5. I'm more open
I had my first panic attack when I was 9, but my mom says when I was a baby I had them too. I would lay in bed, totally fine and then go rigid and start screaming. For years growing up I thought I was crazy. I hid my nervousness and my anxiety deep inside for fear my friends or peers would find out about it and think I was crazy, too. When my mom first asked me if I would like to talk to a therapist, I felt so betrayed, like she thought I was crazy too.
But now in my 30s I wear my anxiety on my sleeve. It's something I have, but it isn't all I am. I've got bad eyesight and wear glasses, I've got anxiety and talk to a therapist.
I don't keep anxiety a secret anymore. I'm open about it, which makes me vulnerable, but I'm confident in who I am and it is being that way that was enabled me to make strong, long-lasting friendships. It's also enabled me to have professional success, and most importantly of all, it's helped me connect with other people all over the world who read what I write about anxiety and go "me too, me too". You have to be open, once you start being open is when you realize how so not all alone you are.
6. I can listen to my body well
In America, burn-out is very much a thing. Working moms push themselves to the breaking point, men and women both put in way too many hours at the office. It's normal to go and go and go until you physically collapse. It's how we're wired in the States.
My friends joke that I've got a "European disposition" because I refuse to do that to myself.
Because of my anxiety I have to listen to what my body needs. If I push too hard, I'll collapse and I know it. So I get the right amount of sleep, I eat fruits and vegetables, I get up and move around, I call in sick when I am sick, because I'm anxious enough without letting a ridiculous idea of a "real work ethic" send me over the edge.
7. I know how to take time for myself
It's easy to get overwhelmed with social engagements, especially if you love people like I do. There was once a time when I would be out every night of the week with another friend, or a work colleague, or at an event. But as much as I loved connecting with people I would end the week feeling ragged and depleted.
Now I know how to take time for myself. As much as I love the people in my life, I know I have to nurture myself if I want to keep my anxiety at bay. My boyfriend knows this, and what's even better is that he respects it! He's the least anxious most gregarious person I know, but when I say, "I can't go out tomorrow, I need to be myself" he knows it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with managing my anxiety. Having anxiety has taught me never to be afraid to ask for what I need.
8. I love fiercely
The hardest part of anxiety for me is the creeping fear that something bad is going to happen to the people I love. On the train into work, on a flight for vacation, even entering a new and uncertain romantic relationship, life can seem full of peril when you've got so many people you love living it.
Managing my anxiety means carefully dismantling the irrational fears I have for the people I love. Once I separate those fears from my feelings for those people I'm left with the intensity of my love. I'm a loyal, passionate, dedicated friend and if it weren't for my anxiety I might not have ever known this about myself.