I haven’t always known anxiety. I was nearly thirty when I started developing my own anxieties, and they came on slowly as if I were unfolding them, each pleat that was spread left another coat of anxiety for me, and each coat was thicker than the last. When I was younger, I had an inherent, although consciously ambiguous sense of confidence—I didn’t know that there were different patterns of confidence inasmuch as there are different patterns of intelligence, and now I do. I was a happy kid; I made the best of life, with little enduring knowledge of what one might have meant, or what might be intrinsically understood by the corporeal meaning of the word, “made,” or “best,” or, and especially, “it.”
It’s more cursory, um, it is truer for me to say that my anxiety at the start was a symptom of an abusive relationship that I felt trapped in, and that I stayed in for years. I was in a very dark place mentally and emotionally. I tried for a time to live in my head, to separate one reality from another, one reality that I created, but she was there in my head following me and torturing me. While I was still in the relationship, I was experiencing a cocktail of emotional and mental affairs the return of which left my anxiety obscured, not necessarily “in-check,” but there were so many other, ‘things,’ that I was dealing with that I didn’t become aware of my anxiety until after I escaped that relationship. Once it did though, once my anxiety presented itself to me, it was harsh and relentless, especially at first.
I rarely went out while she and I were together, I worked, however, outside of that if I went out she was with me. She made me—in a very calculating, and even brilliant way—dissolve the friendships that I had; I was allowed to speak with only those that she approved of. I kept a packed suitcase hidden in our hall closet and a day came when I finally grabbed it and walked away. I felt a sort of freedom for a few days, living alone in a small apartment, but with the exception of going to work and back I didn’t go out. The relationship was over but I still had a subconscious need for her permission and I felt guilty for doing anything without it. It’s been years since I left and I still feel that guilt, as if I were doing something wrong, that’s how authoritative and effective an abuser can be.
The first time that I went out was more than a week after I left. I went to a coffeehouse, ordered a coffee and sat at a table with my computer hoping to write. I was sitting there forcing myself to type every thought that I had worked its way onto the digital paper and the longer that I sat there the warmer I was beginning to feel, and not in a pleasant way. It felt as if there was something at my core that was shaking, and the friction grew. I began to tense up, and to sweat lightly, and I felt exposed by the noise of the coffeehouse. I wanted to be invisible but to be surrounded by others, I wanted to feel comfortable around people again. I knew then that it was going to take some time.
That was my strategy for the next several years, just to feel comfortable being around people. As the years passed, I put myself in situations that might allow for friendships to develop, although that was a step that I was never really sure how to take. I didn’t know how else to work through it. I wasn’t ready for the first relationship that I had since the last, still I attempted one; there was a great deal of insecurity and guilt and uncertainty in that relationship.
I grew up being an empathic person, I had an innate ability to feel a persons’ feeling and in many cases a persons’ thoughts—I don’t mean to imply that I could know a persons’ thoughts simply that I could feel a persons’ intent, and I made a real effort to develop that. I came to learn that anxiety does not pair well with empathy. Anxiety muddles with empathy. And that confused me for a long time, I had learned to rely on my empathic feelings. My feelings of empathy have guarded me throughout my life, and when I couldn’t rely entirely on feelings that I spent a lifetime learning how to resource that frustrated and scared me. However, it was that symptom that helped me to eventually realize that the work that I needed to do was internal and that I needed to learn how to explore and rewire my psyche, my innermost self. I had to learn to recognize that I wasn’t my anxiety otherwise anxiety manipulates the story that you tell yourself. We all tell ourselves stories that shape the meaning of our experiences. Say, for example, if someone looks at us a certain way we start to shape reasons for it and those reasons will begin to affect how we act and react toward that person, for little reason other than how we perceived a glance, which, likely, meant absolutely nothing. We allow that false narrative to steer and change our lives. Anxiety changes the story because it changes our mindset, unlike fear, anger, confidence, love, and familiarity.
When we are consistently reaffirming our anxiety, we are only strengthening our own dependence on our anxieties, as well as the false perspective of our world. Through prayer and meditation and intentional living I began to recognize that, and to work through a lot of the residual issues that simply putting myself in social situations could never actually do. The two issues with the greatest hold on me that, for whatever reason, continue to threaten me are my guilt for doing anything, working on getting past my need for permission has been a difficult one. And feeling safe; feeling secure in my life. The last two years, and especially the last eight months, I have been working, with great enthusiasm and intention and effort, on figuring this, and a great deal of other things out. I have been my principle focus in order to rebuild who I want to be and what I want to do.
I can’t even recognize the person I was last July in comparison to who I am now, it’s remarkable. My anxieties, depression, fears, frustrations used to manipulate my perspective, and now when I feel any one of them I am able to pause and tell myself, “I’m feeling anxious…” and I separate myself from that anxiety, and that step alone has mattered a great deal. The abuse that she inflicted has affected me both consciously and unconsciously for nearly a decade but because of it I’ve been able to make the changes in myself and in my life, using techniques that will continue to benefit me, that have allowed me to be better than I would have been.
*Blog title credit belongs to Green Day, and the song, Basket Case.