Looking back on my post about anxiety, I wonder if I can look at anxiety differently. Instead of denouncing it, hating it, trying to get rid of it—can I talk with it? Might it have gifts for me?
I’ve blamed anxiety for controlling my life decisions, but where would I be without the anxiety? Would I be a German-speaking track star? A make-up wearing psychologist with prize-winning books of poetry? A calculus professor/pianist/ballet dancer?
The thing is, I (don’t think) I’m sorry that I’m not those things. I’m grateful and happy for where life has led me, and I don’t think I’m just saying that because I can’t bear the thought of it not being true. I don’t think I’m in denial. I do think I’ve let myself wither a bit under a cloudy, “nothing really matters” attitude, an attitude I’ve used to soothe the anxiety that arises with any decision to make something matter.
I do think I’ve misinterpreted spirituality to tell myself that all that matters is not being anxious, and if not being anxious requires that I do nothing, then nothing I will do. If I have to spend all day placating myself instead of actively pursuing my interests, then placate I will do—and feel more spiritual because of it.
Well, no more. Maybe all this anxiety I’ve been trying to dampen through non-action has been trying to send me a message. Maybe the anxiety is saying, “Ignore me! DO something! Live your life!”
All the anxiety I feel about sleeping? Because I’m afraid I’ll be too tired to get up early enough to fit everything in? Maybe a piece of that anxiety is saying, “Get up! You need time!” And maybe that’s not a bad thing. All the anxiety and anger I feel about cleaning up after my family, about keeping the house nice for them? Maybe I should listen to that anxiety. Maybe it’s telling me to set some boundaries.
Of course, the trick of taking your anxiety seriously is knowing when to listen and when to ignore. It’s still true that anxiety wants to perpetuate itself. It’s still true that no matter what decision I make, I’ll be anxious about it. Anxiety about getting all the housework done feels the same as the anxiety about what will happen if I don’t do it, which feels the same as the anxiety I feel about asking for help.
Ideally, my anxiety would fade away and no longer hold such sway over me. Ideally, I’d be “normal.”
I have this hope, though, that if I focus on tasks other than keeping my anxiety at bay—if I, essentially, let anxiety drive me to the tasks themselves instead of to fixing the anxiety—maybe, eventually, the anxiety won’t be so powerful. Maybe in a weird way it will learn to trust me, to trust that I’ll do what I have committed myself to do. Or maybe I’ll learn to let anxiety scamper around my brain while I lightly observe and detach from it. Maybe I’ll learn to not think about everything before I do it.