Landisa: What we tell ourselves to deal with anxiety is wrong – here's what I now do instead

2019-11-15 07:31
James de Villiers

James de Villiers

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Carry your secrets and insecurities carefully, we are taught. Guard them; guard them like precious Fabergé eggs. 

So that when you leap across the forest of danger, you do not drop them to be devoured by the demons. 

So that when you enter this broken world, you do not allow them to be used against you. 

For most of my life I’ve tried to control these secrets; these pockets of hurt I carry on my chest. 

Because, I was taught, if I dwell on them for too long they will inhibit me. They force us to a standstill, like an idle car waiting at a perpetual red light. 

Perhaps it was my Christian upbringing that taught me to pray it away; to "give it to God" in a ongoing effort to move forward. 

Instead of pondering about my hurt, my dad taught me to "think yourself happy". Instead of being depressed about a lost hockey match, I was taught to see the glass as half full. 

My mom taught me to stop believing the "lies" that it might not work out, and speak truth over myself. Because no one likes a downer; no one likes someone who is depressed – a phrase we hear ever too often.

And the advice worked. For most of my life I’ve been able to "think myself happy", hype myself enough to keep moving forward and only occasionally stand still. It kept me from drowning when I was in high school. 

But the past few weeks as I carried anxiety shallow on my chest, no matter how much I tried to tell myself my "worth" or speak the truth or be positive … nothing worked. Instead, the feeling grew and vibrated through my body, shaking me as I drove to work.

I tried to be positive; I tried to be happy –  but I could simply not pull myself out of my state of dread. 

Finally, on Monday morning, as I clenched my fists out of depression –  the mid-morning sun shining through the window –  I begged my therapist to help me stop overthinking. 

"Allow the feeling," she said. 

Because, she said, we are so indoctrinated to present the best versions of ourselves, that we never allow ourselves space to be. We relegate those feelings to narcissists and the needy. We believe that if we are to be selfless people, emotions should not be entertained. 

On Monday morning I consciously started dropping my precious fragile eggs. When the waves of fear came, instead of talking them away I allowed them to break on the shore. Because we are all human. And we all share fears. 

As the waves of fear crashed, a cycle of shame broke in my own life. No longer do I need to force myself to be superhuman, no longer does my anxiety overwhelm me because I try so hard to move forward. 

Instead, peace overwhelms me, and grace – grace for myself to accept my own humanity – is granted to me. 

Finally, I am able to breathe. 

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Read more on:    self care  |  landisa

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