I’ve actively called the elephant on my chest and the ants that crawl up my arms and make me feel jittery, anxiety, for about four years now. Anxiety is also a good name for the thoughts that race in my mind like it’s the Indy 500 and the way my heart feels like it’s being sat on from time to time.
I’ve been in therapy for as long as I’ve been calling the symptoms anxiety and while it helps that I have a teacher to help me learn my mind, it doesn’t mean that I have a vaccine that will make me stop getting them. Which, I’m learning, is okay. The world wasn’t meant to be perfect and my mind wasn’t meant to be a place rid of negative thoughts. All I am responsible for is for acquiring the tools that help me get from obsessive, negative thoughts to a mind I feel safe in again.
Part of learning how to get back to safety has included learning when a problem is interpersonal or intrapersonal. Which really just means, who should I be having the conversation that’s playing on loop in my head with — is it one that I need to have with myself or is it one that needs to be had with someone else.
More often than not it needs to start with me. I need to be able to nail down why I’m feeling what I’m feeling and then figure out how to translate that into English.
I’ve spent the better part of this year learning how to give myself a moment before I act on my feelings. It’s been a hard experience for me because I’m so in touch with my emotions, which is really just a Catch-22 — that I know what I feel does not automatically mean that I know why I feel it. I’ve gotten myself into less trouble the more I’m able to give myself time and space to figure out why I feel things. Now, I take a bath, I take a moment, I take a walk. I do the hard work of figuring out why I feel a certain why and then I put it into words that help me communicate with myself or with others.
Because I know what it looks like to project and projection usually happens when I haven’t spent enough time figuring out why I feel the way I feel. Anxiety makes you want to point fingers at the first moving target and I’m trying my best to strip it of its power to hurt those I love.
But, figuring out how to manage anxiety is hard and in some ways pretty humbling. It’s not easy to accept that you need a buffer between you and yourself. There’s something about the act of having to decode myself that makes me feel inadequate, like I should know myself better than this. And at certain points in my life that simple truth would have made me run because feeling like a stranger you need to get to know every time anxiety hits is unnerving. But then I realized that the more you avoid being curious about the why behind your feelings, the longer your anxiety hangs around and the more removed you feel from yourself.