Anxiety and self-preservation don’t always come with a blinking neon sign of obviousness. Sometimes they present themselves in ways less apparent to the person experiencing them, and the people around them.
I went through a hell of a 2018. One that left me finding a phenomenal therapist and being told I have PTSD to couple with the anxiety I have had since I can remember. Honestly I think the anxiety started when I got lost in the Salem Center mall at the age of four and have had impending doom ever since. (Dramatic, I get it. Or maybe it was all of the other fucked up things that seemed normal at the time. But who knows.) The worst part was, I was so happy with my life when all this started happening. I had made a very positive life decision and left no question with myself if I did the right thing. Zero desire to ever turn back, yet the emotional scars were FUCKING UP MY CURRENT AMAZING LIFE.
My anxiety and triggers came more often, more intensely, and without warning. I was so frustrated with myself that I could no longer ease or control them with a quick run, talking to a friend, or drinking a glass of wine. They were crippling. My panic attacks left me feeling like I was having an out of body experience for days on end. The anger and self-ridicule or just wanting to be my normal “boss bitch” self again just exacerbated the anxiety, and left me feeling powerless and zombie walking through life. If zombies had an increased rapid heart rate and inability to focus on anything. I felt guilty for taking for granted all of the amazing things and people in my life.
It presented itself in ways that were really hard to explain. Most of which made me seem like a flaky, selfish, irresponsible human. That’s at least how I saw myself. Mornings when I used to wake up and take my laptop to a coffee shop for a chai latte and answering client check-ins turned into mornings of laying completely immobilized in bed after a sleepless night. The idea of opening my emails or sending out client programming led me to a racing heart and a “to-do” list filled with asinine tasks that I just “had to get done and then could get to emails”. I lost clients and didn’t have the energy to want new ones. I stopped blogging and podcasting. Any additional task beyond keeping my head above water was just not happening.
Sometimes it was over-filling my schedule with social events and friend dates to distract myself. A lot of the time it was ignoring texts and messages that had anything to do with any obligation — be it fun or responsible. I was cancelling entire days of clients to drive to the coast and turning my phone on airplane mode so that I didn’t have to panic every time my phone made a noise. Most nights it was drinking wine alone, or smoking a joint while listening to my record player and trying to sit still long enough to listen to a whole vinyl. It was re-watching The Office yet again, because even Friends or Sex and the City was too triggering to my loneliness and hot mess of an emotional state.
I could post all of the fun (legitimately so) and “typical Echo” things to social media but could barely respond to a family member or client text.
I saved hundreds of motivational or relatable quotes. I drunkenly cried into my pillow and audibly told my dog “I’m not having fun anymore bud”. I went for drives just to sing along to music I knew all the words to. I went for drives to make myself cry listening to Death Cab for Cutie or Band of Horses. I read book after book after book…. But sometimes I didn’t absorb a single word. The battle in my head was only exacerbating everything because at the root of it I was SO happy with everything. I had all the fun. I had all the good people. I loved my body, my brain, my heart. So whyyyyyyy could I not control these asshole emotions making me feel like I was spending my entire life out of my own body and never fully present?
Then I started therapy (again). The mess in my head started to unravel into understandable pieces of myself. I went from a constant fight in my mind, to giving each piece of me it’s own space. Instead of chastising myself for being weak, I learned how to self soothe. I could sit with myself, and let myself “have a moment” knowing that it would end, but it was okay that it was happening. The realization that if something sounded like what I wanted to do to make my heart happy, I should just do that thing. Regardless of others approval. Excusing myself from guilt of truly living my best life while also still in repair. Allowing both of those things to co-exist. How self-care is not selfish or depressing. If I wanted to sit in bed with a face mask on, glass (bottle) of wine, and an entire pizza… then I could just fucking do that. It wasn’t sad or pathetic, it was what I coherently felt I needed in that moment.
You can be living your best life, and also be growing and healing. They are not mutually exclusive.
Things you can do, and still be healing and working through anxiety:
I learned how to not only set boundaries, but put them in place in my interpersonal relationships. Relearning that saying what I need and want for my mental health doesn’t make me a mean or bad person, but showing others how to care for me and respect me. I felt my power and clarity start to come back.
I stopped depending as much on validation or attention from friends as a coping mechanism. Learning the tools and visualizing being enough for myself. Also learning that having human connection and being “co-dependent” isn’t a negative thing either. Finding a balance between being independent, and being able to share “hey, I am having a rough day with my anxiety, it would help if _____”. This part I can’t take full credit for, of course. I have a best friend who is also a therapist, an unconditional loving family who would do anything for me, and believe it or not… found a nice guy to date who doesn’t try to fix me, but is patient and soothing to my anxiety. All of those people give me space to be weak when I need to, but support in being strong when they know I can do it.
Above all what I can tell you about being a person with anxiety and PTSD or supporting someone with struggles, is offer grace. To yourself, or to them. It won’t be fixed in a day (or month, or year) but the growth you receive from healing yourself will be worth every moment and penny… and sleepless nights crying to when Jim tells Pam “Not enough for me? You are everything.” We get it, you guys are goals.
Understand that self-care and self-preservation are as unique as the person. Sometimes they won’t make sense, but it’s not the point for it to. The anxiety reactions may seem silly or irrational to you or others, but trust me… us anxious people are well aware. I often have anxiety ABOUT my anxiety. We are already worrying if it’s annoying you – don’t worry. I learned to make agreements with those I am closest to so that I believe it when they say they are here for me, but that they also feel comfortable telling me if it ever impedes their happiness. The ability to communicate this, and this level of connection and trust is one of the greatest things I have earned through this.
Find the people that will have your back – but know that YOU are enough to have your own back as well. Find what you need to feel in your power again, and might I recommend starting with a GREAT therapist. And if that’s too scary right now… a phenomenal face mask and good bottle of wine.
If you need help finding a therapist or someone to talk to visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
or my dear friend at:
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