As someone who suffers from anxiety on a regular basis, I’ve noticed there are three things that have been consistently true about this mental illness: each anxiety journey is personal, it changes over time, and talking about it helps.
When I shared my personal anxiety journey with you in a post on Bell Let’s Talk Day, I mentioned that I would post more on living with anxiety. I have a lot to share.
Anxiety is a personal journey
The first point I’ve noticed about anxiety is that it’s a personal journey.
As the stigma around mental illness is slowly being lifted, more and more people are talking about having anxiety, and no two stories are alike. This was a big a-ha moment for me, because when people would open up to me, I wanted to help. I know what it is to suffer, and I want to share my experience. But, you can’t really give advice to someone else because of the nuanced thoughts and behaviors around each person’s experience.
Each anxiety journey is unique. I took two Cognitive Behavior Therapy classes, which worked really well for me, and it was in the second one that the mental health professional would specifically remind us not to say ‘you should do x, y, or z’ to anyone. We had to use words like ‘for me, this worked’ or ‘I found this helpful in this situation’. At first that bothered me because I had to check myself a lot, but I soon understood. Each person’s story was completely different.
I have social anxiety, despite the fact that I love people, will not hesitate to go to an event alone, and don’t mind public speaking. But, sometimes, I sweat when I’m with people I know very well! I think it happens around people I know because I feel they may judge me more than strangers would. Someone else who has social anxiety may have a hard time with things that I’m comfortable with, and yet feels most at ease around close friends. When I understood how everyone’s similarly categorized anxiety is different, it actually was a relief because then I wasn’t ‘responsible’ for helping everyone. What I know well is MY journey, and I can talk comfortably about my issues, with the hope of inspiring someone to find their own way.
Anxiety changes over time
The second truth I know about anxiety is that the course of the journey changes over time. What used to bother me ten years ago doesn’t necessarily bother me today. For example, riding on a plane is hard but it has gotten easier with time. I still fret about it, but for less time. I try to dig deep into my experience bank and tell myself that I made it last time, despite the anxiety, and that I will make it again. I still need help, but it’s gotten a lot easier. Conversely, some things have gotten worse, like some OCD habits. It’s all part of the anxiety journey, and the key word here is journey – things are unfolding over time.
My understanding of how my anxiety works has also changed over time. A lot of this has to do with the ability to talk more freely about it with lots of anxiety sufferers. More and more people are sharing their stories and, in some ways, this allows me to look back on my own story and recognize that I look at anxiety differently. This gives me hope. For example, I see quotes on social media all the time about anxiety. Some of them seem so basic to me because they applied to how I looked at anxiety years ago. Others are impactful and make me think, like this one:
‘Anxiety is nothing…but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.’ – Seth Godin
Seeing the phrase ‘what a waste’ resonates with me and allows me to add to the anxiety lens I have when looking at my journey. The fact is, we mature and our understanding of anxiety matures. I can forgive myself more these days and try to keep in mind that others are on their own journey and are in different phases of meta-cognition around their mental health.
Talking about anxiety helps
The last truth I know about anxiety is that talking helps. Just writing this blog post, I feel better. In organizing my thoughts, I have taken stock of my journey and how I’ve evolved. Journaling is talking. Writing an email to a friend is talking. Listening to someone else’s story is talking. This could be in a group therapy setting, or attending a talk where someone shares his or her story. And, talking to a professional helps.
I know sometimes people are embarrassed to say they need help or they’re embarrassed to say that they see a therapist. It can take a while to find a therapist that you click with, or it can take no time. I’ve heard many people share their stories and most have been through individual or group therapy, the latter of which helps you feel that you’re not alone.
Because I don’t see a therapist on a regular basis, I often have to be patient in finding a time slot when I need to go. Sometimes I have to go to someone totally new. I’m always impressed by how quickly a therapist can zero in on my issues and help me walk away with tips and new tools for my anxiety toolkit. Look for upcoming blog post where I will share the many helpful tips I’ve learned.
Thank you for letting me share part of my anxiety journey with you.Email This Post