Anxiety, My Companion

By Laura Greenstein | Apr. 23, 2018

 

My relationship with Anxiety is like what they say about falling in love: “gradual and then all at once.” She started spending time with me when I was in college—only every once in a while—then, I slowly became more anxious as I started adulthood. With each hardship I faced, Anxiety became a more consistent companion.

Anxiety begged me to seek reassurance and validation for the lack of comfort in my new life. Together, we found it in the wrong place—a toxic relationship. What started off as an exciting fling became soul-sucking attachment. An attachment that I was fortunately able to cut off, but that left me feeling hollow and out of control.

I feared, and therefore, I wanted to appease Anxiety. I would do anything to avoid her visits. So, I started controlling every behavior: precisely how much I ate, how often I exercised, how many hours I slept, how I interacted with others, how much TV I watched, how many hours a day I read, how many drinks I was allowed to have per week, etc. Every behavior had a measurement where I would judge myself if I didn’t hit the correct range.

The results of this behavior weren’t noticeable to others. That is, other than losing weight, which was only positively reinforced by those around me. I built-in excuses for everything. No one really noticed my controlling behavior because I made it seem like I was just focusing on “self-care” and “self-improvement.” And I had convinced myself of the same message. Rather than realizing my need to be in control, I told myself I was an incredibly healthy person and my behavior was perfectly normal.

Even with these extreme efforts to dismiss Anxiety, she still visited me on a daily basis. I was anxious about time, my job, my health and my relationships. I isolated myself because I couldn’t handle the idea of changing my routine. How can I ride the subway to my friend’s apartment on a work night? What if we broke down, and I got home late? I couldn’t handle the idea of losing sleep in order to spend time with people. It was just easier to have less friends. And Anxiety liked that. Who needs friends when you have control instead?

After several months, I admitted I needed help and I started going to therapy. Through conversations with my therapist, I finally started to see and understand what I was doing. That my need for control wasn’t perfectly fine and normal—it wasn’t healthy even if healthy behaviors sprang from it. That my behaviors were rooted in avoiding the discomfort of Anxiety’s company. And that I was masking my negative feelings with exercise, diet and routine.

I’ve been in therapy for six months now. I’m still working on staying up past my bedtime without panicking, eating cupcakes without judging myself and doing things without fixating on the change in routine. But I don’t isolate myself anymore. Anxiety still visits often, but I’m beginning to accept that she is a part of my life.

Now, rather than doing every possible action to avoid Anxiety, I try to embrace activities that make her visit. When there’s something I want to do, and the only reason I don’t want to do it is Anxiety, I do it anyway.

For example, I love camping, but sleeping in a tent tends to call Anxiety to me. Especially because not being able to sleep while camping was her first real visit. Now I camp anyway—whenever I want. She will usually make an appearance right as I’m about to sleep, but I let her linger. I don’t wish her away or try to get rid of her. I accept her presence in the tent with me.

In my attempt to accept our friendship, I don’t let Anxiety stop me from activities that bring joy into my life. I don’t let her control my every behavior. And on some level, I’ve gotten used to her. After all, she is my companion.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI.

Comments
John Raphael Staude
I am grateful for your well-written and heartfelt honest post. Made me reflect on how I deal with anxiety in my life. I find deep breathing and meditation calming and it soothes my upset nerves. Reflecting on God’s love for me and everyone helps, too. And practicing gratefulness regularly helps, too.
5/13/2018 12:18:49 PM

John Raphael Staude
Very well done. I suffer from depressions—have all my life, as my mother and her mother did. I view it as being like a mangy big black dog howling at the back door begging to come in but I keep her out as much as I can. Winston Churchill also suffered from depressions and viewed his illness as a black dog, too. He found that being creative, particularly writing and painting helped him feel better.
I’ve found that engaging in creative activities helps mee, too. I feel anxiety and guilt when I think I’ve done something wrong or when I’m waiting to hear if a request of mine will be answered positively. I also tend to be controlling of others, and act impulsively—particularly over-spending money when I’m in a manic phase
5/13/2018 12:13:26 PM

Gretchen Emond
Thank you for sharing. Beautifully written and so true. The only way to reduce anxiety and be free of it is to live through it!
4/29/2018 11:00:01 AM

Rick
Thanks so much! Like you, I thought my life in anxiety was going much better than it really was. Denial & wishful thinking can blind us!
4/28/2018 11:21:17 PM

Control freak
Well said 👏🏼 I hope one day to be able to embrace her. I'm the biggest control freak I know from my family, house, friends, school, and actual profession. I always tell myself control the situations and ease your anxiety....never true only an illusion with a different level of anxiety. Your experience and outlook on it made me realize the beast I feed. Such an eye opener of perhaps need or time to seek therapy. Thank you.
4/26/2018 4:16:31 PM

Laura
This has come at a time when my young adult son is in exactly the same place. However, he is so obsessed with being healthy we have fights each day because I will not do as he says...i.e. follow his lead. What was once an active guy with lots of friends now worries that they are only pretending to like him. He rarely leaves the house. That you for writing and sharing. I intend to share this with him and get him back into therapy...I hope.
4/26/2018 9:20:41 AM

Patricia
Wonderfully expressed, I too have learned to lean into my anxieties and fears and feel my emotions instead of suppressing ,avoiding or denying them and then let them go...yoga, music , being outdoors with nature and meditation have helped , love and light to you
4/25/2018 11:27:36 PM

Lynda
Thank you! I notice that the more I resist something, the greater it persists! Your blog portrays this sentiment perfectly. I am presently challenged, once again with Anxiety, and your blog reminded me to have acceptance for it. The sooner I find that, then the greater chance I have for embracing it and moving on, as you so eloquently expressed!
4/25/2018 9:31:17 PM

Sandi Lehman
Bravo! What a great article. Naming her and sharing how you deal with anxiety opened my eyes. Wow!! Thank you.
4/25/2018 7:29:16 PM

Sandi Gundersen
Very well written and I love that your embracing anxiety rather than fearing it. I have a story I'd like to voice and wondered how I could do this in NAMI?
4/25/2018 5:15:30 PM

Nancy Scearce
Thank You for sharing You have opened my eyes in how to embrace her "Anxiety" Just by naming her it becomes yours and accepting her for what it is. . I am grateful for you .
4/25/2018 9:47:33 AM

Patrice Massicotte
Great text and so useful. Thanks! We always tend to stiffen ourselves, start to panic and/or push-back when anxiety shows up. Acceptance, tolerance and self-compasion are key to make decision towards a healthier life and move forward.
4/24/2018 9:01:44 AM

Peggy
Well written...thank you for sharing. You are strong.
4/23/2018 9:13:34 PM

Lizanne Corbit
This is so beautiful -- "but I let her linger. I don’t wish her away or try to get rid of her. I accept her presence". When it comes to anxiety one of the easiest things to do can be to want to push away, bury, ignore, run away from.. but that truly only makes the anxiety grow. There is so much to be said for facing our anxiety, acknowledging it, letting it be and then letting it go...
4/23/2018 2:54:21 PM