Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
The crux of my anxiety was always a need to make sudden changes or impulsive decisions whenever I felt depressed or at a wall in my life. When I was younger, it would come in the form of “leaving.” I would remove myself from situations where I felt uncomfortable or anxious, often to the bewilderment of others. I was always found on the sign-up sheets for organized sports or intramural clubs, but never attended past the first meeting. My life was a series of small attempts, and never one of strong achievements. Each time I tried something new, raised my hand to answer questions, or approached a foreign opportunity, my guts would twirl into knots and tell me to get as far away as possible from anything that provoked my anxiety.
When I was younger, it took the form of immeasurable self-doubt whenever I found myself exiting my comfort zone. I didn’t understand that every time I quit, the part of my personality that pardoned failure grew stronger. I continuously felt depressed because I never gave myself the opportunity to surpass my expectations in any discipline.
In an attempt to divert from the “seven deadly sins,” I’m going to advise those suffering from anxiety to find the pride within them. Delve into that which sets you apart from others, and give it your passion as well as your utmost effort. The sensation of anxiety that enveloped my childhood was trying to tell me to keep going, but instead, I took it as a message to get as far away from anything that was exciting or unknown to me.
Throughout university, I began to develop a series of bad habits. One of the most irresponsible ones was a need to consume alcohol as a means of decreasing my social anxiety. Always a member of a tight-knit group of friends, I felt incapable of supporting myself on my own. I was comfortable saying anything and everything within my group, and was known for being a loudmouth or class-clown. When I left the company of anyone with whom I was at ease speaking my mind, however, I began to depend on ways of easing my speech and social skills. One of these is infamous amongst university students, and is none other than lady liquor herself.
When I began drinking as a means to cope with social anxiety, the line between acceptable drinking habits and functional alcoholism was substantially blurred. I needed to pull back and allow myself the exposure to learn sober social skills. The fact is there is nothing wrong with being quiet if you are actively attempting to be a social person. For a few years, it was difficult to speak my mind gracefully in a new group of people without a drink in my hand, but it becomes second nature if you continuously push yourself to socialize regularly outside of your immediate realm of comfort.
I’ve found that anxiety breeds on the absence of productivity. When you seclude yourself, let goals pile up, or avoid pursuing anything of personal value, you slowly carve footholds for anxiety to cling to. That critical side of your mind that comes kicking at the back of your seat when you’re depressed gives you endless reasons to be unsatisfied with yourself. However, I have found that within productivity and personal achievement lies a strong treatment for anxiety that has helped me through many of my recent panic attacks.
Secondly, I believe that there is catharsis in artistic expression as well as through open conversation. Talking about my issues was one of the most straightforward ways I had found to protect myself from the damaging effects of anxiety. When I surrounded myself with people that were familiar with how my mind worked, I found there was less pressure to exceed my social abilities. In telling close friends about my anxiety, I avoided having to hide why I may not be feeling well enough to socialize or push myself any given night. I found that there is no reason to trudge unaccompanied through the depths of your own anxiety.
The more fragile an object is, and the more volatile it is to handle, the less excusable it is to try to bear it alone. There is no thing more fragile than your mental health, and there is no shame in requiring someone else to help you through an anxiety attack, depressive episode, or mental breakdown. Just over a year ago, I had a moment of clarity where I began to take inventory of all of the things that anxiety has taken from me throughout the span of my short life.
After a large dip into depression spanning some six months, I allowed myself to get out of shape, drink excessively, and avoid interacting with those I cared about whenever I ran into them. I received mediocre grades through minimal effort and took zero pride in what I was doing. Writing came easily to me, so there was no point in trying anything new or challenging in my schoolwork. The majority of my relationships and goals were approached pessimistically, and I was content with leaving projects unfinished or unfulfilled. I became a reflection of my childlike self: constantly avoiding foreign or tasking experiences, and was too depressed to see how much I was restricting myself.
I learned at the base of my depression that life is short. While that may be a sickening cliché, it has earned its place in common expression for a reason. You are not bound to the person you used to be, and can change your life if you choose to. While at the bottom, I realized that I was good at something: I enjoyed writing, I enjoyed speaking, and I enjoyed helping others.
I began writing and performing spoken word poetry a year ago. It started with sitting on a couch, piling rhymes together, and reading them to a webcam. What I found was not only did it allow me to discuss what was troubling me at the time; it allowed me to demonstrate a talent I didn’t know that I possessed. Writing without trying to be overly romanticized, melodramatic, or flippant allowed me the ability to speak directly to those that I cared for about issues that I would otherwise not feel confident enough to address.
From that first video came a feeling of ambition and pride in my work. I ventured to local open mics and sought to tackle my fear of public speaking by sheer exposure, and after several attempts, I found comfort in my voice and a staggering power to speak openly.
I am at the brink of a personal revelation of how to unburden myself of the things that have held me down for the bulk of my life. There is no limit to what you can do to surprise yourself, and there is always a way to silence the voice that prods and mutters discouragement when you’re at your most anxious. Everyone experiences anxiety differently, and in no way do I hope to discourage those who have found it to be harder to beat. You must continue to search for the remedy that works best for you.
If you find yourself at a wall, feeling powerless against the mental barricades that keep you from feeling “normal”, allow yourself the necessary time to recover and ground yourself. From this point, you may be able to move slowly towards passion and positivity, which can lead you into progress.
I will have anxiety for the rest of my life. The only thing that has changed is my willingness to talk about it, and my persistence to prove myself wrong when I succumb to it.
This is my story. Tell yours.
More people will listen than you think.
Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.