Me or My Anxiety?
I have glasses. Before I realized I needed them, things got blurrier and blurrier for a while, but at first, I couldn’t tell anything was wrong. I thought no one could read the board from that far away. Eventually I realized there was a problem, but only when I first put on my glasses did I fully understand how much I needed them.
Learning I had anxiety was a lot like that. Looking back, I can see signs of my social anxiety in preschool. I grew up thinking I was shy and since my anxious thought patterns were the only ones I ever knew, I had no idea they weren’t normal. I believed everyone had the same thoughts. I was just bad at conquering them.
It was only after I began medication and therapy that, like when I got glasses, I began to see the full extent of my anxiety.
Because of that, there was a period of time in which I had to figure out who I was all over again. My hobbies, interests, and even the people I hung out with all seemed to trace back, somehow, to my anxiety.
It was a terrifying moment when I realized I actually enjoy doing things with other people. Not large groups, but I wanted to see people outside of school, occasionally go to events, spontaneously make plans. I didn’t even know how to do that last one. Like, you just text someone and ask if they want to do something? Right now? What a concept!
However, my fears and anxiety remained. Every time I made a decision, I’d question it. Was that me or my anxiety? I went over a lot of this in therapy and eventually began to figure it out.
My therapist, her name was Sarah, told me to think of my anxiety as separate from myself. I’d been diagnosed and on medication for about a year at this point, but that had never occurred to me. She helped me learn that I am not my anxiety. It is something that lives in my brain but is not tied to my identity. It’s something I live with, but it is not my life.
As soon as I started to try that, I began to learn which of my thoughts were me and which were my anxiety. It took a long time, but I figured out my anxiety is a lot meaner. If I mentally call myself weak, dumb, a failure, stupid, etc., it’s probably my anxiety. Also, my anxious thoughts are generally in second person. For example, an anxious thought might sound like, “they’ll laugh at you if you trip.” A worried, but normal, thought would be, “they’ll laugh at me if I trip.” (for another example of what this looks like, check out this post)
My anxiety will never go away, not completely. I’m not trying to get rid of the little voice that tells me I’m messing up, because it’s there to stay. However, I can learn to ignore it.
Let’s go back to the glasses metaphor. Now that I’m wearing glasses, I can see everything clearly. But, the lenses and frames are still there, and I can see them all the time, even if I don’t notice them. But, if the lenses have a fingerprint on them, if I look at something outside of the frames, I’ll notice them again.
Just like my anxiety. I have the same thoughts I always have. Every time I turn on my windshield wipers, I wonder if they’re too high and people will think I’m scared of the rain. I ignore that thought the same way I ignore my glasses frames. Some thoughts are bigger and I have to do something about them, like wiping a fingerprint off the lens.
This isn’t a perfect metaphor, because glasses make my life easier, my anxiety does not. But, I hope you can see what I’m getting at. My anxiety is always there, but it’s not part of me. And while I’ve gotten a lot better at identifying it, I still struggle. I’ve been working on this for about four years now and I still have times when I have a thought and wonder. Me or my anxiety?