Updated: May 23
'Worrying is like a rocking horse, it gives you something to do but it doesn't get you very far.'
I am part of the problem of forgetting experiences of anxiety. As if remembering our anxiety made it more likely to be repeated. In fact, as Freud identified, what cannot be remembered is actually more likely to be repeated. So in this blog I will remember some of my struggles with anxiety. Creating new more helpful memories of my anxious experiences. My feelings while writing this blog included anxiety, embarrassment, guilt and shame. Clear signs I need a new memory. I begin this process by remembering my childhood anxiety.
My childhood, and early adulthood, were often dominated by fear. A fear that I or that those I love would come to harm. An overbearing sense of responsibility for my own, and other people's, well being. Dreaming of being crushed by huge uncontrollable objects. So at times I would feel paralysed by anxiety. Paradoxically fearing both joining in, by attaching to other people, and of missing out, by being left alone. Nowhere felt safe enough.
I found myself avoiding difficult conversations, standing up for myself, learning sign language, saying what I needed and protecting others from harm. Not doing the things I knew to be right. Feeling too sacred to do them. This, unsurprisingly, led to feelings of guilt and shame. The beginnings of a depression I have described in another blog.
Anxiety also help me distract from other certainties in life. For example mortality, frustration, loss and incompleteness. Anxiety was a short term solution that when overused actually made these certainties more difficult to accept.
It took me a long time to learn that my avoidance was actually making my anxiety worse. Feeding a sense of helplessness that only reduced when I did what I was actually scared of. In this way I began to place my fears back into my subconscious in a different form. Internalising good enough experiences of dealing with my anxiety. So turning dealing with anxiety into a different set of habits.
Habits that now include preparing myself for the reality that there will always be part of myself I will not be totally proud of. For example identifying and acknowledging my unconscious biases without the need to blame myself for them. Anxiety is now also a prompt for me to manage situations differently.
For example when I am in fear for my physical safety. I say to the other person ‘I am scared of you.’ Letting the other person have the power to influence me but also the responsibility that comes with that power. Remembering not to run away or act out. Instead tempering my anxious emotions and communicating them. A parallel to writing this blog.
Another good habit, for me, has become using my anxiety about financial, and professional, security as a daily motivator for me. To work both hard and consistently. Acting constructively on the prompt from my feelings.
Finally both anxiety, and an awareness of its absence, has also become a useful brake on some of my behaviours. Reminding me, that things do not automatically change because I feel anxious but that they always could, even if I don't feel anxious. For example this means me stopping what I am doing if I get too excited, and not anxious about the consequences, when teasing. Recognising the limitations of our emotions to predict the future.
Both scared and excited
This blog has reminded me of how disabling anxiety has been in my life. It has also reminded me of the ways anxiety has helped me and the number of ways I can manage problematic anxiety in the future. I hope you have found, my brief account, of my experience of problematic anxiety, helpful and I wonder about yours.