By Sean Clarke
I have suffered from generalised anxiety disorder for most of my life. I am now twenty-eight and it hasn’t been until recent years that I’ve re-looked at how I see my worries and fears. For a long time I worried about almost everything, it was difficult to even go to school, college was worse, and trying to get a job with people I didn’t know was terrifying. It felt like anxiety would control every aspect of my daily life forever.
And so I fought for years with the worry, fantasizing about one day being some kind of terminator that felt no emotion, fear or depression. Whilst I worked my body to become like Schwarzenegger, my mind stayed wobbly, and the fear never really went away. In fact from seven years old, I was shy, nervous, and seemed to be in a constant state of confusion and mind fog. However, I knew that once I’d grown up, I’d be a totally different person. I’d be confident, be able to keep a conversation, and would set my life up so that I had few things to worry about. I’d be more strong.
Fast forward to 2018 and my mind hasn’t really changed at all. I still get anxious thoughts, I still have to force myself to talk to people sometimes, and my life isn’t set up in some kind of perfect way that doesn’t make me worry. I still worry. The only thing that has changed is my perspective, and that’s why I now believe it’s so important to work on your outlook.
Sometimes we think there will come a time when we’re finally immune from anxiety and worry. Maybe we have watched too many fairy tales, after all, Cinderella lived happily ever after didn’t she? Or so we’re lead to believe.
However I would argue she didn’t…
I would argue that after the credits rolled up she fell pregnant, suffered from postnatal depression, she argued from time to time with Prince Charming, she struggled with her post-baby body image and sometimes became anxious about where her life was going.
Okay, maybe not in that exact order, but you get my point. After almost twenty years of anxiety and depression, I realised that there is no end goal where suddenly everything falls into place like we sometimes fantasize about. Like Cinderella, I was chasing an ending that never even existed. I suppose what I’m trying to say is – life is a journey that is peppered with happiness and worries for its complete duration, and I’m starting to feel more and more okay with that.
Understanding this has been key for me when it comes to living with anxiety. I had to step away from the lifelong fantasizes about ‘the perfect end’, and arm myself with a healthier, more realistic outlook. So whilst you may think that this sounds a bit gloomy (and that I’m bashing Cinderella) I’d like to explain how this realisation has transformed my anxiety and mood as a whole.
Firstly, accepting that anxiety will always come and go in some capacity has stopped me from focusing on it and making it a bigger deal than it needs to be. It made me realise that if I was to finally never feel anxiety ever again, I wouldn’t be a human being. I might even end up walking out into the middle of the road with a big stupid grin on my face! I need anxiety because it can have its uses. The challenge is taking away its power when it isn’t genuinely needed.
Accepting anxiety into your life is like accepting that it might rain when you’re trying to throw a garden party. It can just happen, it’s one emotion that morphs and shrinks like any other emotion. Some days I might wake up anxious, and that’s okay. I know that there will be days when I wake up and I feel confident.
Accepting it into my life has taken away some of its power over me. Instead of fighting with every inch of strength I have, I now try to observe it as it is, a passing emotion that does not define me as a person. I am not a ‘happy person’, nor am I an ‘anxious person’, instead I believe that I am a mixture of emotions that each have their use.
I have come to define being a human being as not just a mammal that stands on two legs, but also as a creature that is capable of feeling a complex array of emotions, which I now see as quite an amazing thing. Sometimes some of the negative ones shine through, but along the journey of life, you can guarantee that sunshine is always only around the corner too.
If I could give advice to someone who is going through what I went through it would be this – be kind to yourself. Reach out to someone you care about, or an organisation like No Panic, and just remind yourself that it’s totally okay not to be okay all of the time.
After spending much of his life living with generalised anxiety disorder, Sean Clarke now writes about his own experiences, and what has personally helped him on his blog: http://projectenergise.com/blog/.
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