“Anxiety should never be viewed as an inherent weakness but rather an out-of-control strength. It takes tremendous strength to never act out rage; to take that energy, to repress it inwardly where it becomes anxiety – so as to not harm anyone else.”
~ Steve Ray Ozanich
For the longest time I suffered in silence with intense anxiety. I hid this experience from everyone but close family. Of my friends and work colleagues through my teens and twenties, nobody was aware that I had this secret. I was always conscious that when meeting new people, my nervous speech, or what I termed ‘rabbit in headlight’ eyes when faced with questions, was highly visible and that people just thought that I was strange or a freak in how I communicated.
Because of anxiety I would always initiate conversations to stop people surprising me with questions I could feel embarrassed by. If I saw someone I knew, but not that well, I would either avoid them or force myself to go up to them with my questions so as not to be surprised.
At college, I dropped out of my sociology course because on the first day we had to talk. In later years I thought I would train to be a therapist, but I dropped out after the first class when they made us practice counselling in front of the whole class. The terror of fear put a stop to me doing many things. This continued through University where I ended up doing my presentations one-on-one with the tutor instead of in front of the university year like everyone else. In essence I allowed anxiety to rule my life.
So What Changed?
I took a scary life choice and went travelling around Australia on my own, and while it was scary it gave me time out to discover who I was and gave me a new way of looking at the suffering called anxiety. Spending time alone made me realise how much fear was there.
Upon returning from Oz I took the leap of doing some mind,body,spirit courses and I shared my ‘secret’ vulnerability with groups of people who were all wanting emotional balance and a greater sense of peace. What I discovered was that saying to a large group of people: ‘I’m really scared’, was quite liberating. I was owning the fear.
I found that by sharing my vulnerability, that there were many more in the groups I attended who felt exactly the same way and it brought a greater relaxed relief to the group as a whole. It gave others permission to be vulnerable, and to know it was okay to be afraid.
It’s amazing once you open up to strangers about this. The sense of not only the loving compassion that comes your way, but also a shared relatedness to being human unfolds.
The next stage of recovering began in 2013 where I began a practice of mindfulness, and if you are reading this and you suffer from anxiety or depression, I seriously recommend you looking into this if you want to recover.
Mindfulness was a key to me. I had began to allow myself to feel my feelings some years before, but I had never allowed myself to stay with the feeling. In the past I would find something to distract me with, so I never fully felt the benefit of this simple yet valuable approach.
Mindfulness encourages being mindful day-to-day, moment-by-moment. You become more and more mindful of your surroundings, the sounds, the sensations and you become more aware of your emotions. You begin to be mindful of your thoughts, not with the intention of avoiding or ridding yourself of them, but to simply bring a mindful presence to what is taking place. You observe your mental landscape, much like watching a movie on the big screen; your thoughts being the movie, the screen being the mind and you being the audience.
This practice brings a tenderness to your day. Whereas before I inwardly judged and beat myself up for being anxious, I discovered that my anxiety was just an emotional reaction to thoughts that were just passing through, and that I was not the thoughts, I was not the anxiety. It was simply like the weather, always changing.
Anxiety is something that can change, but only if you are prepared to change your behaviour and attitude to it. No more avoiding situations but facing them so you can feel the anxiety fully. Is it easy? Hell no! But it’s turning out to be so worthwhile.
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