How I Came to Suffer with Anxiety
Many of you might be thinking, “How is his story of battling with anxiety going to raise me up from the despair of a most incapacitating condition which has cut into the very core of my mundane existence.”
To those skeptics out there, I want you to know that I understand what many of you are going through, just trying to get a handle on your racing and/or obsessive thoughts that have led you to a very dark and seemingly hopeless place in your life. Having said this, my hope is that you will read about my own battles with anxiety and how I’ve come out the other end.
An examination into my own upbringing, transitioning into a teenager and, finally, becoming a young adult, I think it’s fair to say that I was an anxious and fearful person. Looking back, it might be a fair to assume that I was genetically coded to feel anxious and fearful. Although that’s a hard thing to prove, I think that I was hardwired to feel anxious and fearful. Regardless of whether you or I buy into this theory, I do recall early events in my life that came to shape my thoughts, feelings and actions (behaviors) that, for me, paved the way for a vicious, debilitating and seemingly hopeless pattern of anxiety and fear.
Never really feeling a sense of inner peace, I felt like I was riding an emotional roller coaster from which I could not gain any sense of relief. I became a hostage to my inner world of fear which reflected in a constant struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin and, in turn, led me to avoid opportunities for personal, professional and social growth. With this feeling of lack of ease came a perpetual self-monitoring, along with a need for validation and a fear of coming up with the right words that would spare me the embarrassment of negative comments or evaluation from others.
Operating in a constant state of worry (what if’s and worst-case scenarios) became a way of life, and although I managed to find moments of joy and solace, it was a temporary nature. Most of my time was consumed, wasted, in fear-based thoughts and emotions.
Now, some of you may be wondering about the connection between your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. As I began to examine my relationship with these three components (side note: they form the basis of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which I first explored on my own, with minimal success, only later to seek the guidance of a mental health professional (trained in anxiety) who supportively guided and challenged me to better understand my relationship with anxiety (sometimes referred to as “worry”) and fear.
Like peeling off the layers off an onion, my understanding of my inner-core (therapists such a myself call it “insight”) represented the beginning of my path to freedom from anxiety; and in doing so, I developed a “new framework” for understanding my relationship to other seemingly negative or discomforting emotions where, eventually, I was able to see all emotions as neither negative or positive but as a “gateway” for information rather than things to avoid.
In allowing myself of feel what I needed to feel, to understand my relationship with these feelings and how they were connected with not only past experiences but non-productive thoughts and obsessions, I eventually came to understand what my emotions, including anxiety and fear, were communicating and, with the help of my therapist, learned to move from avoidance of unpleasant emotions towards challenging them to move forward as my coping skills increased (think of a “tool belt” for dealing with anxiety, depression and other unpleasant emotions) leading to new, more productive behavioral (action) responses.