A reminder to those who are struggling

A quick but important note to any readers: I found this hidden in my drafts folder from well over a year ago. In a way, it feels like I’m reading someone else’s diary. I know that anxiety is a challenge that comes and goes, and I’ll likely feel exactly like this at one point in the near future, but it makes me sad remembering how much this took hold of me around then.

Fortunately, I’ve been getting better at accepting (not necessarily embracing) the anxiety that can visit from time to time. I know that’s a large part of why I’m faring better than I was when I wrote this entry last year.

There’s no shame in admitting that anxiety can take hold of you occasionally—so I thought I’d try to practice what I preach and share this entry from when I was in the thick of it. For those of you who are in it right now, here’s a reminder from one human to another that it won’t last forever. I promise. And if it feels like it is, please call someone or talk to your doctor. They’re here for you.

An old friend’s been sitting on my chest again.

Rather rude, I know. But he’s back. And I don’t know for how long.

This friend is Anxiety. He waved hello on the heels of a stressful day at work, taking his cue after a couple of packed weeks of social excursions that had already drained me dry from the resilience I most needed.

Anxiety is my least favourite houseguest. He likes to wedge his way into my chest, just below the central dip of my collarbone. He camps out here for hours at a time. I’ve heard that others feel Anxiety in their stomachs, or behind their eyes. I don’t think there’s any comfortable place he can hang out, really. For me, when I try to take a breath in, he pushes my chest inwards. When I breathe out, the small space between the end of my exhale and the beginning of my next inhale feels like a risk I wasn’t prepared to take. I picture Anxiety taking out a rusty key and preparing to lock my chest up—closing it up for good—and so I hurry onto my next breath inwards. And the cycle repeats.

That’s at its worst.

When this happens, I seek out complete and total solitude. If I can’t find such solitude, it can be excruciatingly hard to appear “normal”.

I’ll be sitting at my desk, but it’s as though I’m hanging from a tree branch upside down. If someone comes up to talk to me, every word feels as though it requires a separate breath in. My fingertips start to tingle and perspire. My body, quite simply, will refuse to pretend like everything’s okay.

The single biggest piece of existential dread I have right now is related to my career path, and I have a hunch that this is what’s causing these intense physical symptoms of anxiety. I have no idea where my career is taking me, but as someone who grew up fiercely determined to “find my calling”, that’s more than a little challenging to sit with.

Every last drop of my being wants to just figure it all out. But, I need to remember that “it” doesn’t exist. There is no final destination when it comes to “it”.

The more firmly I take hold of the realization that I am always learning, always taking new side streets down my mental landscapes, the quieter and more peaceful my inner world becomes. For a little while, I can just be me without worrying about what I need to do.

Believing that there is no one place you could end up is liberating. If you’re focusing so hard on feeling one way or being in one place, you might not see the alternative path that feels more right to you, anyway. And that’s robbing you one of the most important gifts out there.

And this is where the entry ended, way back in June of 2020.

I wish I kept writing, but I must have gotten to a point that felt helpful enough for me at that time. I will never underestimate the power of journaling to get to a realization I didn’t know I needed.

And you know what’s cool? A few months after writing this, a friend passed along a job posting to me that felt exactly like the alternative path I was wondering about. After I got it, Anxiety doesn’t seem to want to visit me as often. And I think that’s pretty telling about the power your body has in telling you whether you’re on the right path or not. Have you ever felt something similar?

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