Sweaty palms, ragged breathing, an unfocused mind, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, clenched muscles – all of this comes as a result of that annoying little voice in our heads that whispers, worry, worry, worry, over and over. Everyone has anxiety to one degree or another; it’s part of human nature to feel uneasiness, worry, and apprehension. For some, it shows itself through occasional nervousness, a twisted stomach before a first date or a job interview. For others, however, it can become a debilitating and repressing ghost, haunting the simplicities of every day life. That is the type of anxiety I want to talk about today.
But first, here’s a brief summary on how anxiety has affected my life:
When I was in elementary school, I had a lot of social anxiety. I was very self-conscious, and that made me keep to myself and stay quiet around my peers. I also developed irrational fears of small things, like really loud music, riding in the car, thunderstorms and tornadoes – it was rough. I used to get physically sick because of my anxiety, which gradually became a whole new point of anxiety for me as well – I hated feeling that ill.
Thankfully though, this type of anxiousness slowly faded away through middle school. I became much more outgoing, I started playing field hockey, and I had my first boyfriend in eighth grade – things were better. Unreasonable anxiousness over those little things went away. But then, high school rolled around.
I switched from my small, private academy to a public high school. Though I did try out for field hockey going into my freshman year, which helped with making friends somewhat, I reverted back to self-conscious, quiet Kate that hadn’t been present since elementary school. Of course, I felt a ton of social anxiety once again, which moved into a depression of loneliness and insecurity. I just wanted to have friends, to fit in. It was so hard to go from a small school where everyone knew me to a large school, where no one knew me at all.
However, after ninth grade was over and I started to get to know people and feel more comfortable in my skin, high school became better. Sophomore year I joined a small group at church, I made varsity field hockey, and I was much more comfortable with my peers. My internal, emotional state had improved – the anxiousness was still there, absolutely, but it was not nearly as bad as before. I felt like I finally had some sort of hold on it.
However, the worst was still yet to come.
The summer in between my junior and senior year is when it happened. I’m not sure exactly what triggered it, but that summer, I became very aware of the realities of this world – the evil that existed, the threat, the absolutely terrible and horrendous things that humans do to other humans. Everything from terrorism to public shootings to crazy murderers to horror films – all of a sudden, my soul could not handle any of these things, and I became so fragile – like cracked glass that would shatter into a million pieces with the slightest breeze. It was crippling. I remember having an anxiety attack at work one night – I sat in the corner booth in the back of the restaurant and just sobbed. I believed I could not go on in this world. Don’t get me wrong, I was not at all suicidal – but I remember my solution being to never leave my house again. I wanted to live, but not in a world that felt so threatening. I figured that the comfort of my home was the only place I could feel safe and be safe. Obviously, I didn’t actually not leave my house again, but the anxiousness of being in public and worrying that something bad might happen hung around. This continued through the first semester of my senior year. I would drive home from church group or social events, and for some reason, cruising down a quiet road in the dark of the night would make my fears seem extra frightening. It didn’t matter if I had just had a fun night with friends, with people who loved me – in those moments, the world was too horrifying to bear. Of course, driving became another point of anxiousness when I totaled my car at the beginning of senior year as well. I went off the road, over a ditch, and plowed through two signs before hitting a tree. I was fine, but it was still terrifying. Three seconds of flying through the air towards the woods is enough to make you never want to drive again.
Thankfully though, my parents recognized my anxiety, and they made sure that I did not let it hold me back in life. At the end of my senior year, after an unexpectedly treacherous final semester, I ended up going on a mild form of anxiety medication to help soothe my internal inhibitions. I got invited to go on a trip to Florida with a group of girls following our graduation; the plan was to drive down there by ourselves, with no adult supervision. This kind of freaked me out, along with the irrational belief in my head that something terrible was bound to happen. However, my parents basically forced me to go, even though I literally sobbed the morning we were supposed to leave, because they knew that I needed to take this trip to prove to myself that my anxiety could not control me.
So I went, and it was one of the best weeks of my life.
I felt so free, so grown up, and so in-control – everyday life was not as scary as it seemed. This trend continued through the next year as my parents consistently push me to defeat my anxieties by pursuing the desires of my heart – chasing after a career as a singer/songwriter, and releasing my own original music. From playing my first open mic, to recording in a professional studio, to being unafraid of messing up or being honest, all of these experiences have slowly helped melt down the anxiety within me to a livable standard. At first, it was terrifying to jump in and allow myself to pursue something so ambitious, so daunting, but now I’ve learned why it is so important to let your dreams grow bigger than your fears. It’s the difference between simply being alive in this world, and truly living.
There’s a quote from this movie called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It says this:
“Initially, you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side.”
Anxiety is simply a wave. First, it rushes towards you – your body can feel it coming as your fists tighten, your thoughts quicken, and your heart thumps. Then it arrives, and it crests, up and over you, blocking out the light, submerging your rationale in fear, insecurity, and abjection. You gasp for air, kicking as hard you can, but eventually, your muscles go limp, and you have no choice but to let it take over.
But then, you’ll open your eyes. And though you are drenched and dripping, you are okay.
You can try to control it, but sometimes, you just have to let your anxiety wash over you like the wave that it is. The salt might sting your skin and the impact might knock you off your feet – but that doesn’t mean that you’ll drown. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my anxiety follows this pattern almost every time. It rolls in, it rises, and it calms. It can happen in fifteen minutes or stretch over multiple months, but it still always calms. I know it’s so tempting to try everything to fight it, but sometimes, you must be brave enough to swim with it instead, and trust that you are going to come out on the other side. The sun will be shining, you heart will be beating, and your life will go on.
For those of you out there that have experienced this same type of anxiousness, please take all the love and encouragement you can get from this post. My heart is filled with compassion for those of y’all going through what I have gone through, and I wanted to share these words of reassurance in hopes of touching even one person who needed to hear them. You are not alone, and you will be okay.
Much love, friends. Take heart, be brave, and just keep swimming.
© Kate Stedelbauer and AbundantlyKate, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Stedelbauer and AbundantlyKate with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.