I felt a knot in my throat.
I had tightness in my stomach. My head spun as it felt light. I was filled with antsiness, looming irritation and a sense of overwhelming exhaustion. Then a sudden desire to drop everything, draw the blinds, and just hide in the dark, tossing and turning in a bed that becomes sleepless as soon as my knackered self pulls the duvet over my head.
These feelings were all too familiar, and yet they seemed to have crept up on me and caught me unawares, until they gained enough momentum to start wreaking havoc and threaten an “all systems shutdown.”
That was until a couple of years ago. When I came across this book, boldly called Fear-Less Now by Dr. Ingrid Bacci, a revelation hit me like a metaphorical brick on the head: I had been walking arm in arm with this strange companion for as long as I can remember. It was my life long invisible “frenemy,” whose presence I did not acknowledge and whose name I dared not speak.
The realisation came as a surprise and a relief at the same time: I had finally identified that mysterious clasp grasping at my chest. I finally had a name for my anxiety.
On further consideration, this isn’t all that surprising. I’ve only recently done the Myers-Briggs test, which revealed my true self as an empathetic introvert. I also tick many of the boxes for highly sensitive people.
What surprises me though, is how long I managed to go through life completely oblivious to these traits.
The one person in my youth who seemed to see through the façade was my high-school maths teacher, who promptly characterised me as a mimosa:
I guess it takes one to know one.
The good news is, the truth did set me free—well, eventually. It turns out that the “icky feeling” of not really belonging in my own skin was a signal from my inner mimosa that she was overwhelmed and wanted to be heard and taken care of.
It took a while to understand her language—the better part of a year, fuelled with copious amounts of Rescue Remedy, and possibly higher than recommended quantities of red wine, along with yoga, meditation, dancing, lots of reading and introspection.
And just when I thought we had reached a truce, she throws another tantrum, turning me into an emotional hedgehog.
I take that as a sign that there were a few more things I needed to learn:
- Do not Panic: I’ve come to recognise and accept the fact that anxiety isn’t “vanquished for good”—well, at least not in my case. It waxes and wanes, and still lurks there in the shadows, watching out, ready to make some waves. And that’s okay! Because when it comes to visit I can say “this too shall pass,” rather than freak out. Which leads me to:
- Anxiety is Not the Enemy: Just as in the past that “icky feeling” signalled that I wasn’t recognising and caring for an essential part of me, this latest visit made me stop in my tracks and examine the ways in which I was driving myself into a wall. I actually realised that far from being the enemy to be vanquished, anxiety was trying to be my (admittedly awkward) friend, and was only trying to warn/help/protect me.
- Just go with it: I used to spend so much energy fighting anxiety, feeling anxious about feeling anxious, and generally adding a whole new truckload of baggage on top of it. The more I struggled against it, the more it struggled against me. Once I just let go of that additional baggage, of the judgement in my head and of the effort to push it away, and I just rest with anxiety herself, then it gets a whole lot easier—and in that silence I can actually listen to what Anxiety is here to tell me.
- Talk to her: My anxiety is as much of a control freak as yours truly. She wants things done “her way,” she wants to stop me in my tracks until I listen to her. This time, I tried negotiating: Okay, I will listen, I just need to do this one thing first, and then I’ll be right back with you. Once I acknowledged her, bowed to her and promised to listen, I could go back to what I had to do with more awareness. No, it didn’t change my mood instantly, but this time I didn’t allow my mood to be the boss of me.
I will not pretend that this is easy. It is not the end of the story nor the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I’m just saying that I’m trying to let go of the struggle—and rather treat my anxiety as a life companion, from whom I shall always have things to learn.
Just as I was finalising this, I watched Glennon Doyle Melton’s Ted Talk:
So, I would like to conclude with her remark: Life is beautiful…and life is brutal. Life is brutaful!
Don’t Panic, just show up.
Author: Hermina Popa
Apprentice Editor: Rohana Dewfall/Editor: Travis May