Going back as far as I can remember, I was always a slave to ever-present anxiety. I lost friends, never made them, avoided events, stayed in bed, flaked, backed out and wasted more time that I can really wrap my mind around on worry. Incessant, gut-grinding, sometimes vomit-inducing anxiety.
It ruled my life. I self-medicated with this and that. Spent three years in therapy. Did two stints on SSRIs, the last prescription of which I genuinely believe saved my life. But, still, most of the time it kicked my ass. The anxiety almost always won. Sometimes I would get a glimpse of the way things were with clarity, without the cloak of worry, and I would see for a second what it could be like. Those fleeting moments pushed me onward. That and a survivor's will.
Sometimes the worry would be about nothing at all. A gnawing nervousness in my belly, my throat closed, my heart beating so quickly I swore it would skip beats sometimes. Other times it would be about something very specific, very real in my life and something I was deathly afraid of. Then there were the times I was scared to leave my house. Or answer the door. Or take a phone call.
I write this in the past tense not because I have completely erased my anxiety, but because I now own it. It doesn't direct the moves of my life anymore. It still rears its nasty, powerful head, but I understand it for the facade it really is, nothing but a creation of a mind that has the power to reverse its very existence.
I just moved in with a good egg named Beth. She allowed me and my two cats to move in to her beuatiful home, and I want very much to cultivate a respectful roommate relationship. This involves making sure that the cats don't shit or piss on anything, claw at precious items or get too much cat hair on anything.
Just a couple of days after I plopped down my things and set out a litter box, my new roomie flew to New York for a trip. It was just a couple of days after that when I noticed a rip in the lovely, fragile curtains that shade the living room. "Oh God," I thought. "One of the cats leapt for a bird on the other side of the pane, got a claw caught in the curtain and tore it. Obviously, this is an heirloom curtain that her great-grandmother sewed just before the birth of her beloved grandfather."
I began down a familiar road. I locked the cats out of the living room, sat down and began to freak out. Two days in and I'd already let the cats ruin something precious. I was such a shit head. What was I going to do? I would buy her new curtains, obviously, but how could I replace the sentimentality now lost to my bad cat parenting?
Then I remembered something that keeps me sane. The thing essential to battling anxiety and worry and fear: Don't be a part of that story.
Our minds are wired for storytelling. We create story lines to make sense of so much scattered and random sensory input that we would go mad without the beginnings, middles and ends that we create. And at any time we can change the story.
What is done is done, there is nothing about the past you can change. I considered how I would rectify the situation and any other narrative like "Those were irreplaceable," or "She's going to hate me and want me to move out," popped up, for sure, but I realized I was the author of those narratives.
I wasn't going to bother Beth with this on her vacation and that I would just have to wait until she came back to handle it. Years ago, this would have eaten me alive. I would have worried, stressed and belly-ached for days on end, perhaps even becoming so tortured that I would have called Beth on her trip to let her know about the rip against my better judgement, knowing that it was unnecessary, but wanting relief from my overwhelming anxiety.
This time, I just kept my mind on the present: folding napkins, washing my hair, reading a book, rather than let my mind become consumed with dread and fear.
There was no grand epiphany or magic drug or breakthrough psychology session that allowed me to own my axiety, but a slow, steady, constant drip of effort to find relief. Over time, with lots of help and a tremendous amount of patience of the part of people I hold dear, I just got better. I believe the SSRIs helped me get where I am today, in control, but they are no longer in my system. My utter owning of my reality, and therefore my anxiety, is something born of years of intense amounts of trying. Eventually, for me, thankfully (and I am so, so thankful), I kicked anxiety's ass.
For the record, Beth got back last night when I broke it to her about the curtains.
"There has always been a rip there," she said, still casually flipping through a week's worth of mail.
There has always been a rip there.
All along there was nothing to worry about.
It feels amazing to know I didn't waste valuable time on something I need not be. It feels amazing to have kicked anxiety's ass. It feels like nothing I've ever felt before to be the author of my own existence.