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I am not my anxiety

Fat Mum Slim /

I am an open book. I am pretty happy to talk about anything with anyone. I like to go deep, rather than fumble around with about small talk. Not everyone is like that, of course, and some people want to talk about the weather and the colour of the sky for a while.

I will tell you how I feel, and I will listen while you tell me how you feel. If I’m feeling oddly anxious about something, I’ll tell you about that too. I will nurture you if you’re not feeling great, and laugh til we cry if you tell me something that’s worth laughing about.

Recently though, being an open book kinda backfired on me. You see, I am pretty connected in with how I feel, and I assume that everyone is the same. I understand my emotions and I also understand my anxiety. It’s generally fleeting, and often arises when I’m doing things that challenge me beyond my comfort zone. Sometimes, like a rare occasion last week, it lingers for a few days and makes things a little bit uncomfortable. Sometimes it pops up when I’m doing something as simple as the grocery shopping. I know that I am not my anxiety.

Someone that I know, assumed that I was my anxiety. She assumed that I was anxious, all the time. It kept coming up in conversations, where she’d bring up my anxiety like it was a constant in my life. Every single time we talked it was about my anxiety, like it was a disability. I shrugged it off as her being caring {she was}, but wondered why she kept bringing it up. Just as someone is brave, or creative, or hardworking, or attentive… it’s not all of who they are. Around 2% of me is anxious. I am so much more than that.

I am not ashamed of my anxiety. Sure, I hate the way it makes me feel as if I can’t breathe and that my heart might pump right out of my chest. I hate that sometimes it won’t let me be still, and has my cleaning out the pantry and reorganising my wardrobe when I have much more important things to be doing. It is part of who I am. Not all of me, just a part of my life.

For a moment there though, I started to wonder if I was my anxiety, because it that was how one person perceived me, perhaps that was who I was. Anxious. Anxiety-ridden. The woman with anxiety. I Face-timed my sister, who happened to be in New York at the time, in a trendy restaurant with friends, “Do you think I’m an anxious person?” I asked, probably inappropriately putting a dampener on the mood.

“You?” she questioned, taking the call outside away from the noise of the restaurant, “No, I don’t think you are.”

“If you were going to describe me to someone, would it be in the first ten words you used to describe me then?”

“Not at all,” she assured me, and she’s not one to blow smoke. She is my truth-teller and the one who knows me best.

That was all I needed to know. I knew it myself, but I had started to get all in my head, and I needed someone to just check me. I realised that constantly telling me that I’m anxious triggered something inside me, creating more anxiety. Funny that.

Amidst all that self questioning, and worry, and anxiety, I was smack-bang in a five day anxiety marathon. My anxiety usually lasts a few hours, or a day, but that series of days was the longest I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to write this blog post right then, while I was knee-deep in my anxiety to share how it felt. I wanted to talk about how my heart felt, or how I was subconsciously doing breathing exercises while I got on with life, trying to manage it all. I couldn’t write about it because while all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and watch a marathon movie session, I was busy sorting everything because my body wouldn’t let me rest. I’m a functioning person with anxiety. You probably wouldn’t know I was going through it, unless I happened to stutter or fumble as I struggled with talking. You wouldn’t know unless I cancelled plans on you, or retreated from being social. You wouldn’t know just by looking at me, but I’d probably tell you because I’m an open book.

And if this all sounds confusing, then you’re right… it IS confusing. I am one person. This is my experience with anxiety. It’s probably very, very different for the next person. I’ve had anxiety all my life, but didn’t really know until my late 20s. I’m exploring it, with people that know {doctors etc} and with friends. That beautiful, caring friend that I wrote about above doesn’t have anxiety, and this is new to her too. I am learning about why it happens, what to do when it happens, and that this is my life. I happen to have anxiety and it is a part of me. I am smart, funny, creative, a great baker, a story-teller, a good mum, a caring wife, compassionate and kind. I also happen to have anxiety. It’s something that will often surprise me, sadden me, and confuse me. One of the greatest things of all in exploring my anxiety was discovering that I’m not alone, and that’s why I am an open book, because I think it’s important for you to know you’re not alone too.

And remember, I am not my anxiety, and neither are you.