Anxiety is a troublesome bedfellow. I imagine it to be a meddling little elf, whispering cautionary tales in my ear, trying to protect me from harm — much like Dobby from Harry Potter. The problem is, of course, that although these warnings all stem from rational thoughts, they very quickly spiral out of control — and although the intent may be good, the results end up causing a lot more harm. The elf moves from being a helpful sidekick in the passenger seat to driving the vehicle, and that’s when things get really bad.
I’ve always been an anxious person, but for the last couple of years, my anxiety began to dictate the way in which I made decisions. The idea of traveling abroad was quickly nixed, as I had gotten seriously ill on my last trip* and couldn’t stomach (ha) the idea of getting sick abroad again. I was scared to dye my hair a crazy color because I was terrified of how it would change people’s perception of me. Driving on the freeway was minimized, lest I have another accident — not that the one I had was all that bad, considering, but it was enough to cause me to be anxious every time I got to the on-ramp. Exercise became the enemy, as a killer case of plantar fasciitis prevented me from being able to walk around the block.
In many ways, I felt trapped by my own sense of self-preservation. I was trying to protect myself from harm, but it was preventing me from doing anything at all.
I can’t say what snapped, or why, but all of a sudden, I felt determined to not let it rule my life. I was tired of being scared all the time. Of being nervous. Of panicking. Of worrying. Cautionary tales and consequences be damned, I wanted to feel free to live again. I wanted to be the one in the driver’s seat.
And so I stopped worrying about food and started to change my diet. I dyed my hair pink. I went on a solo road trip to San Diego. I did several sessions with a private massage therapist to help with my plantar fasciitis and then I joined a gym. And you know what happened?
Everything was okay!
I started changing my diet, and I felt better**. And knowing that I’m working on being able to eat more things makes me feel less anxious about traveling. In fact, I went to Mexico earlier this year and was totally, absolutely fine. I dyed my hair pink and felt more like myself than I had in years, forgetting about people’s perceptions of me completely. I drove to San Diego and back and I was fine! My massage therapist was expensive — an investment, I like to tell myself — but for the first time, I could feel a difference in my calves and my feet, something no podiatrist or physical therapist had ever achieved. After a few weeks, I was able to go for a walk again, and this past weekend, I was able to walk for five miles, no problem. Going to the gym has quickly become one of the highlights of my week, where I am learning how to both push and take care of myself. Though I am by far one of the least experienced folks, I found a place that is welcoming and encouraging, which motivates me beyond belief. Right now, I feel better about my health, my body, and my sense of self than I have in years.
For far too long, I had lost myself, and I am finally starting to feel found.
Anxiety is not an easy thing to deal with. It is all-consuming and stressful and awful. It is illogical and irrational and many (if not most) of us who deal with it are aware of how little sense it makes for our brains to go where they do. Do you know how frustrating it is to be aware of the fact that you’re being irrational and not be able to change it?! There are a lot of folks who need to work with specialists and medication to temper it, because it’s just Too Much. I absolutely get that; these changes were my last ditch effort before attempting that route. I was at a point where something needed to give, and willing to do whatever it took to not let anxiety rule my life anymore. There is no shame in finding help from the outside. And to be honest with you, I’m kind of in shock that my head-on approach has worked as well as it has. That’s not to say my anxiety has gone away completely, but it’s becoming more and more manageable every day. I’m also lucky to have an amazing support system of family and friends who understand and have made themselves available to me freaking out, whether it be in person or via text. It’s a work in progress, but that’s par for the course.
Anxiety will be something I’ll carry for the rest of my life, but as long as I’m the one in the driver’s seat, I think I’ll be okay.
A disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m talking about my personal experiences and what has worked for me, which may or may not work for you. When dealing with issues of health, physical fitness, and/or anxiety, it’s probably best to get off the internet and talk to your doctor about it, or perhaps call one of these stress + anxiety hotlines.
*I’ve been a vegetarian for six years, and there was a combination of eating food that wasn’t totally vegetarian (though I was told it was) as well as a pizza full of mushrooms, which I have now learned make me puke. A LOT. Like, puke-for-a-week-and-a-half-across-Europe-and-a-fourteen-hour-flight-home-to-the-point-where-I-can’t-keep-water-down-and-go-straight-to-urgent-care-and-get-an-IV-A LOT.
**That’s right folks — slowly transitioning away from a plant-based diet! And also eating bananas, and yogurts, and other things that bothered me. Still avoiding mushrooms though, because they’re terrible. See previous note about the puking. Not cute.