My anxiety rules my life and has since I was a child. I have always worried about every little thing. My pediatrician once said, “Don’t worry about anything a 6-year-old can’t change,” and that was useless advice because I couldn’t help it. At 23, I still can’t.
I worry deeply about what others think of me. I worry about how other people feel, even when it is to my detriment. I overapologize. I worry about hypothetical situations. I worry about real situations to an extreme extent. I worry about things that happened in the past that probably hold no value to anyone else anymore. I’m far too forgiving and quick to allow myself to take the blame for others to spare their feelings. I feel the need to overexplain out of fear I’ll be misunderstood or I’ll risk conflict. I worry I’m not doing a good enough job at things and overexert myself. Anxiety is exhausting and makes life a lot harder than it needs to be.
I have struggled over the last few months with feeling overburdened by my anxiety. Two months ago, I decided to leave my abusive boyfriend, which required me to quit a job I loved and move out of the state to live with my mother until I could get back on my feet again. The fear of the unknown and not seeing results as quickly as I would like in regard to finding new employment has triggered my anxiety like a hoard of insects gnawing at my insides. It is horribly consuming, generating a slew of additional symptoms like nausea and vomiting, irritable bowels, shakes and tremors, cold sweats, shortness of breath and panic attacks.
My anxiety has been a strength in a lot of ways too, though. It has made me incredibly empathetic toward others. It has made me kind and considerate. It has made me want to always do the right thing. It has made me observant and analytical. It has driven me to follow instructions well. It has made me a conscientious, hands-on mother. It has made me a dedicated and hardworking employee and student, which will benefit me when I do find another job. It has pushed me to be the best I can be at everything I do. It is the reason I’ve been successful and have taken care of my responsibilities in a timely and efficient manner.
Research shows having a fixed mindset — or believing personal traits are unchangeable — affects internalizing symptoms such as hopelessness and anxiety. By adopting a growth mindset and believing we can benefit from these parts of ourselves, we can reframe our mental health struggles as positive aspects of our character and consequently promote healing and instill confidence in ourselves. Mental illnesses often feel burdensome to bear, but they make us who we are and even make us better people for having borne them. Our anxieties or mental health struggles are not weaknesses, but rather a part of our identities that perhaps make us stronger at the end of the day for having them.
Let’s stop stigmatizing ourselves and others for having these struggles and recognize that we are all built uniquely and wonderfully, OK? OK.
You can follow my journey on Brontë Pearson.