On growing up with anxiety...
To be honest I’m not completely comfortable with writing this post. I guess it’s probably because I’m sharing something about myself that I’m not entirely proud of… sort of like a secret, personal weakness that I’m exposing to the reader. I’ve long been able to cope and even overcome, if I daresay, most of these issues but there is this mysterious mental health stigma that pervades society and is definitely affecting me as I write this. However, I’m quite sure that many people can relate to at least some of my experiences and I hope that by sharing my anxiety story, I can somehow, in some way, help those that are still silently struggling against their inner beast.
My story begins in my adolescent years… sometime during middle school when I had a terrible bout of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Like most cases of OCD, it starts out with really minor things like having a tendency to set the audio volume to certain numbers and [ …some other trivial example. I added the “and” for sentence flow and I can’t think of any examples right now]. Most people are like this right? Perfectly normal unless you have a particular sensitivity towards OCD. Unfortunately I did and the symptoms became more and more severe. At the worst stages, I exhibited most of the textbook symptoms of OCD like having elaborate, stressful, and terribly time consuming rituals that involved things like obsessive handwashing and ordering objects in my room (ordering as in making sure everything is in the perfect place, any object that’s even a tad bit off angle MUST be corrected at all costs).
So why did I act out all these “rituals”? At the core of the problem was anxiety. Most of the time I acted because I was scared that if I didn’t, something bad would happen. Maybe this is why there’s this stigma around mental health. It’s just weird, silly, hard to explain, and incredibly embarrassing. In any case, it’s embarrassing at my expense so please keep reading ;)
Also, as a side note, this is why these OCD rituals are so time consuming. If I didn’t do one correctly, I had a primal desire to restart. And restart I did. Many, many times.
One of the ABSOLUTE WORST things about having OCD as a child, at least for me, was that I didn’t understand this and I was scared and embarrassed to talk about it to anyone around me. It wasn’t my OCD symptoms that made it hard for me to share though, it was all the fears, the worrying thoughts that were driving me to act out on them. These thoughts were horrible and often times weird and irrational. So irrational that I don’t even want to talk about them now. Fortunately, I was able to grow out of OCD but I couldn’t free myself of these thoughts.
It is my understanding today that all these negative thoughts were the manifestation of my anxiety. This struggle with OCD was just a small battle in my overarching war against it.
Come high school, I was rid of OCD but anxiety was a monster that clung to me and struck time and time again. I’ve always thought of myself as a little slower to mature emotionally compared to my peers and this, combined with all the negative emotions from anxiety, made a potent combination that, at times, overwhelmed me. Needless to say, high school wasn’t easy.
Again, I kept everything to myself. It was the same story, anxiety created worries and fears that were too weird and embarrassing to share. If I couldn’t share the root cause of my frustration and depression, how could anyone else help?
So I soldiered on and come university, things turned for the better as I became more emotionally mature and as they say, “grew into myself”. But I still had anxiety and I still had these thoughts. They were not necessarily the same as the thoughts a year ago or even a couple months ago but they were just as embarrasing, just as irrational. Anxiety “attacks” were less frequent but not any bit less potent. At the height of any one attack, rational thought is completely and utterly overwhelmed by negative emotions. It sucks.
In any case, this is a HAPPY story and I did eventually overcome anxiety in a spectacular fashion. Word choice is important here, because I never really got rid of anxiety. It’s still a beast that continues today to affect me, albeit in a much more limited and tolerable fashion. I realised sometime around the start of my last school term that I’ve always tackled anxiety the wrong way. I alienated it, fought it, rejected it as a part of who I am. In other words, I couldn’t accept anxiety as being a part of me. But anxiety really is a part of me, and it is one of the many things that define who I am. This one thought, this one realization that I will never get rid of anxiety because it is a part of me made a profound change. Whenever I started obsessing over some stupid anxiety-driven thought, instead of fighting it, I accepted it. I embraced anxiety and stopped trying to control it. In return, my anxiety stopped controlling me. Magically, through acceptance, I stopped worrying.
I embraced anxiety and stopped trying to control it. In return, my anxiety stopped controlling me. Magically, through acceptance, I stopped worrying.
A final note…
I didn’t mention this before but a lot of my anxiety-driven fears have another common theme besides being weird and embarrassing, they were always about LOSS. Somehow, deep within me, there is a strong, primal fear for loss. And this is how acceptance really helped. Instead of fearing loss, I mentally accepted loss. This is really hard to put into words but basically, if I was going to lose something and was powerless to stop it, I will lose it and then this loss becomes a part of who I am. This whole time the one thing that is constant, the one solid thing that I can rely on, is that I am me and that will never change :)