Battling anxiety: facing fears

back in the day when I wasn’t afraid of anything

“Let Life race you out beyond your own boundaries over and over again until you are comfortable with watching the map of normal’s edge disappear behind you.
Let Life show you that it is safe to exceed your own expectations and reputation and prove that the only danger in following her into the wilderness is a loss of your own fear.
This is when we gain the warrior’s heart, the master’s eye, and the student’s mind. After that, Life holds our hand in every adventure and shows us things not possible before.”
– Jacob Nordby

The first time I talked to a therapist she basically told me I needed to confront my anxiety or it would continue to get worse. I thought she was crazy and had no idea what she was talking about. I wasn’t there to be challenged, all I wanted in that moment was to be told that I was important and my problems were valid. I wanted her to give me an answer for why I was struggling so much. Her suggestion seemed offensively simple, and impossible at the same time. I believed that instead what I needed was a diagnoses, maybe some medication, and a lot of solitude. I continued to opt out of social events, maintain minimal communication with those I lived with, and went on living life according to the roller coaster of my emotions. I let a negative voice boss me around, telling me that even eye contact with a stranger on the street was not something I could do. I convinced myself that I had just become someone who needed to be alone a lot, that my environment was toxic, it wasn’t what I wanted, it was all wrong. I let myself believe that when I didn’t hear from someone for a while, it must mean they weren’t interested in our friendship anymore. Bumping into familiar faces meant I would shuffle through small talk like it was a four-piece puzzle. Ask about school, midterms, offer some light compliments and depart.

I am aware that everyone sees anxiety a little differently, and each of our experience is unique. If it is causing significant distress in your life, please seek out professional help. In no way do I assume that my experience will look like yours.

I hate to say it, but I think she was right. Maybe she could have waited until a little later to say but it was true. I needed to face my fears. I just didn’t want to hear that yet. Because it wasn’t the fears that were the problem, I believed that I was unable to face them. I needed to challenge the negative, and question its validity. Was it providing support, or simply sorrow? Was it enlightening me, or just preventing me from trying? I can see a pattern that my mind follows, one that has led me down dangerously lonely paths. I enter without hope of a light at the end.

1. I get invited to an event, to a party, or I think of someone who I really want to see. A quiet voice states the possibilities, the opportunities within the invitation. But a louder, more familiar voice says “no”… it always says that. It grabs hold of each positive thought and twists them until all I can think of are excuses for why I can’t go. So I decline from attending with some sort of justifcaiton, or I refrain from even responding, shutting out the opportunity at the source.
2. I affirm the belief that I’m unable to go out, by not going out. By not making the first step, by hesitating. The hesitation only builds with more thought, more reasons why I was justified in saying no.
3. Anything that creates discomfort is met with agreement, and arrangements are met so those discomforts are dealt with in solitude. In an attempt to stay safe, I also manage to avoid connection.

This path is a familiar one, but I am realizing it’s never too late to change it. You can always stop, get off, and have a look around. Maybe analyze the scene a little more, maybe begin to look for something different. Maybe decide that you are worth the effort and discomfort that comes with risk.

So this is a new pattern, something that I challenge myself with almost everyday. It can be exhausting, and there are many days when I don’t have it in me. But more often then not, I am met with a reality that doesn’t match the anxiety story in my mind.

1. I think to myself, I’d really like to get to know people in my classes.
2. As I sit down next to a stranger, I’m met with familiar discomfort, an inner critic saying “don’t say anything, it will be awkward”. But this time I don’t listen, and before I have the time to build up an imaginary scenario in my mind, I start with something simple, small talk, “How’s it going?”
3. The conversation usually progresses just fine, names exchanged, and sometimes small connections are made with interests, other classes, or shoe brands, who knows.
4. The fear of introduction is no longer present, because I acted on it and demonstrated that it was not enough to stop me from living my life. It has no place anymore, it has been conquered, even if just for that single moment.
5. The next time it arises, I have a past experience to draw from, knowing that in reality I am in no danger, and I will most likely be just fine. Once again I take power away from the voice that wants me to be safe, and not to take any risks.

I never wanted to believe that the way to conquer my fears was to actually conquer them. There must be another way. Maybe I’m just not meant to be social, or to achieve the things I thought I wanted. Maybe I need to look for other options. I wanted a way out, but I didn’t want to think that the way out was the way in. That everything I have told myself I couldn’t do was only doable when I… did it. It still seems too simple sometimes, too obvious to be a real solution. But as I say yes to opportunities, as I engage with people and lean in to the discomfort, I can see a difference. Instead of trusting in the fear instinct, I trust in the one that wants more. I begin to see that I have a choice in every situation, not of my circumstances, but of my perspective. I can choose to see the possible catastrophes, or I can choose to believe in success. I can choose to believe that I am capable of whatever I want. I can choose to focus on other people, rather than fearing their perception of me. I can do what I want, and not be filled with “what-ifs”.

It’s exhausting sometimes… okay lots of the time. But as long as I remember how exhausting it is to see the world as a terrifying unpredictable place, being exhausted from taking risks is a better option.

I recognize that this has been my experience, and your story looks different. But we all have fears, and sometimes they are what hinder us the most. And the worst thing we can do is simply dwell on how much we fear them. So maybe we can begin to face them, one thought at a time.

“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” – Henry Cloud

Everyone feels that way & you are not alone… the same, but different

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There are two reasons we trivialize our problems and personal value. First, we think we are alone. What we are going through is different than what anyone else has experienced. They will not understand, they will think we are weird, they just won’t get it. Or it is the complete opposite. The fear of being told that everyone else feels that way. Ugh, it is like a punch in the gut, when you are forced to believe that you should be just fine because everyone else has it the same way. You are not fine, but if other people can figure it out what is your problem? How can you be the ONLY one who cannot make sense of it? Something must be wrong with you, maybe there is something different… maybe you are alone!

Enter mental breakdown.

I think I would rather be totally isolated than believe I am the exact same as everyone else. Though it feels like it has to be, you do not have to fit either criteria. Believing that you do is what will drive you infinitely far from any possibility of improvement. Let’s start with the first one: You are not alone.

Sometimes that is what we need to hear. Sometimes you need to watch a video, read a book, or just talk with a friend who gets it. Someone who can honestly relate to your story with no judgment or shock, instead with genuine empathy because they have been there. Everyone has experienced this at some point. That moment in a movie where you feel like the character is living your life, and you gain even just the tiniest bit of perspective. I believe loneliness is the ultimate fear of every person, because it cuts you off from all of the best parts of being human. Loneliness makes you feel different, unlovable and unimportant. So when you feel something that you think only you have felt, the fear of no one understanding makes it much worse. If no one else will understand then what would be the point in talking about it?

Then you hear the words “You are not alone” and for a moment you realize that other people have felt your pain, other people have felt isolated, other people have felt like a failure. The list is endless. For some people, this is enough to start the change. It can be enough to reach out to someone, join a group or quit a job. Knowing that you are not alone can give you the power and motivation to be who you are because it is okay to do just that.

I have needed to hear those words before. I have been so confused that I convinced myself I was the only one. That no one else understood. But when everyone thinks like that, we all suffer together, all the while so terribly isolated. Those words have incredible power, and I think everyone needs to know that they are not alone, because you never are. No matter what. Someone understands, I can say that with absolute confidence.

BUT, sometimes those words can do the exact opposite of what they intend to. “You are not alone” turns into “Everyone feels that way” and all of a sudden you are back at square one, trying to figure out why you feel so screwed up if everyone else feels the same. There must be something you are missing, some secret that other people are aware of. You might as well just continue on alone, because if everyone struggles, you are not any different. Minimizing the problem in order to make sense of it can make everything that much more confusing.

This happens all the time. Not because people want to trivialize another person’s life, but because it is so natural for us to simplify in order to identify. If we can say that everyone feels that way, we can identify what it is that they feel, and go on from there. If 7 out of 10 people experience this, there must be some sort of explanation.

It is a terrifying feeling, thinking everyone else feels the same way you do. Why am I the one who is so distressed? Why can’t I deal with it like any “normal” human being would? This leads to just as much loneliness as it would to believe you were truly alone.

There must be a balance, some kind of middle ground that we can meet at. Here’s what I propose.

It is true. You are NOT alone. What you feel, what confuses you, what you struggle with, you are not the only one. Other people are scared, lonely and searching for something more. Other people have been hurt, betrayed and taken for granted. We are all real people with real stories, even though the false ones often become the most popular. We all need love, acceptance and purpose. I truly believe that people understand and can identify with virtually anything that makes you feel alone or different.

But that doesn’t mean you are not important. Just because someone else is also insecure about their body image does not mean that it is easy to move on from your own insecurities. Another person may share your fear, anxiety, jealousy or pain. But it is still yours, and yours alone. Not yours to hold, but yours to be a part of who you are. The understanding of not being alone may allow you to really see others, but knowing your story is your own is equally important.

Someone else may share your fear, but that does not mean fear is good, and it does not mean you instantly no longer have any reason to be afraid. Although it is true that when you bring darkness into the light it will be diminished, any darkness that emerges is not to be joined into a black hole of humanity, you deserve the right to own your part, as hard as it may be.

There is dignity and pride that comes with owning something. So no matter your story, know that no, you are not alone. There are people who understand and have experienced similar trials. There are people who can help, and people who care. You are not crazy, and you are not alone. You are not a failure or disappointment.

At the same time, you are not the same as everyone else. Where you are at is unique to you, and you need to know that is important and worthy of sharing with others. Though someone else may understand, only you know your own story. So do not trivialize your life because someone else feels that way, and do not for a second believe that you are alone.

 Have ideas for posts? Things I should write about? Want to chat about life? email me! info@be-loved.net