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

Hey you. You’ll be alright

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Life.

It’s pretty intense sometimes hey? That may be a severe understatement for you. Yeah I get it. Sometimes it knocks me down too. Sometimes it feels like everything we are thinking makes up the totality of our existence.

You ever feel the same?

Cool. That’s just one thing we have in common then, I bet there’s more.

See, the biggest battle is the one fought against ourself. How we respond to what we’ve been given, how we treat ourselves based on how valuable we think we are.

Forget the things you have to get done. Forget any expectations you have at this moment. Forget relationships, family, school, jobs, just forget it all for a second. Okay, maybe that’s not so easy, but for just a moment, try.

This is about you.

YOU. The real you. The one behind all of that other stuff. The one that longs for freedom, love, truth and joy. The you that grew up from being an innocent little kid and is now faced with a world that asks for too much.

You’ll be alright.

How do I know that? Because you’re not alone. We all feel that way. We all fail, we all don’t measure up, we all struggle, and we all give up. Don’t think I’m saying that makes you any less important. Because it doesn’t, it just makes you real. It makes you a part of this crazy thing we call “being human”. It’s the human condition. You were destined to think, feel, hurt, laugh and cry. Without these things nothing would have any substance. If you could only laugh, it wouldn’t differ from tears.
If you couldn’t hate, love would cease to exist. You can’t choose truth unless there is are also lies.

So what do you do?

Well, sometimes there is nothing you can do. Sometimes the things that will change your situation lie beyond your control. That’s a scary thought. But it also can be relief to know it’s not all on you. And it’s not. It never has been.

So just know that you’re doing okay. Right where you’re at. Whether you are in the midst of achieving your dreams, or whether you feel like they are permanently out of reach. If you don’t even know what they are, or if you are just used to telling yourself that you can’t do it. You’ll be alright.

Because somehow life goes on. It goes on for the people feeling joy, and it goes on for the ones in pain. It gets better right away for some, it takes longer for others. For some, laughter is the stranger and loneliness is all too familiar.

The faster you realize your life is never going to be perfect, the faster you can stop striving for it. I hate to tell you but you’re never going to have it all figured out, if you did you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

The crazy thing is, we’re all in this together. Though I may never have met you, I share your pain. I share your hurt and I share your joy. I’ve felt that happiness, and I felt the sting of those tears. We all have. If we could just admit to each other how similar we are, maybe compassion wouldn’t need to be learned and practiced because it would be second-nature to our existence.

Your life is unique, you are important and your story is one that no one else can tell. Yet at the same time you share the story of humanity, one that longs for good, for love and for belonging. None of us have it figured out, yet still we keep going.

You’ll be alright. Keep fighting because you’re part of a bigger story. No matter what your story, you are a living example of rising above adversity, no matter the kind.

Take in the joy, and savour the laughter. Love with everything you have and don’t hesitate to receive the love that is given to you. Let yourself fail, because it’s all a part of life, and being imperfect is what makes you alive. It’s what brings meaning to the joy.

You’ll be alright. Because we’re all in this together. And it’s not over yet.

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Blog Photo Attribution: Hazlan Hamzah

End Photo Attribution: Live Life Happy