Friday, January 22, 2016

Living Authentically

There are some people who go through their daily lives and (at least from the outside) it seems as if they don't even think about the things that I think about - what kind of mark am I going to leave on the world? Who will remember me and why? Am I living authentically - that is, am I living the life that will make my soul happy? I remember thinking this way when I was a little kid and wishing that I could just have a normal brain for a few hours, one in which questions and worries weren't constantly being played like a television that just won't switch off. I understand now that those questions and worries were the seedlings of Generalized Anxiety Disorder with a touch of OCD. Those questions are still constant, like the text scrolling by on the bottom of a television news channel.
I am most anxious when I know I am not living authentically - when the things that I am doing day to day are not setting my soul on fire, when I am just going through the motions. I have a Master's Degree in Elementary Education for a multitude of reasons but one of the big ones is that I thought it was a practical choice. There would always be jobs (albeit not in my home state) and I do love children. It would allow me to make a decent living and have summers off. I would be making a positive mark on the world and have a profession I felt proud to share.
If I could go back and whisper in my own, early twenty-something ear, I would tell myself to stop and think. To let myself imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to follow my passions and not what I thought was practical. To picture what my daily life would be like in a job that yes, I am proud of, but one that doesn't quite fit. It's like a shoe that is my size, but doesn't feel right.
Now, I am $60k in debt to a Master's Degree in a profession that doesn't fit. What do I do? Do I keep on living inauthentically, with my soul shriveling up just a little bit more each day, with my anxiety growing as a symptom of living a life that doesn't quite fit me? With that anxiety is its darker, quieter, and much more menacing partner: depression. Once that bad boy gets ahold of me, anxiety seems like a warm, loving friend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

For the average person with the average level of anxiety, I'm sure it feels a way I can't imagine. The same is true for someone with an anxiety disorder - an average person cannot imagine what it feels like.
It is a state of fear, of constant adrenaline, of fight or flight.
It is heart pounding, face twitching, gulping air, heightened senses, no peripheral vision.
It is loud and silent at the same time.
It is a thousand ugly voices screaming at you, contradicting each other and all demanding attention.
It is shame.
It is finding a place to hide, and telling yourself that no one wants to find you anyway.
It is a feeling of wishing it would hurry up and kill you because the waiting is worse than dying.
It is waiting to fail.
It is an empty, echoing hole where you sit at the bottom and know that no one is coming for you.
It is screaming silence.
It is numbing, piercing pain.

I have had a therapist tell me that my Anxiety Level 3 (on a scale of 1-10) is probably like most people's Level 7. I have had a therapist tell me that the fact that I am able to function shows how strong I am.
I don't feel strong.
Sometimes I feel like I am dying. My heart races, my thoughts are loud and jumbled, and I am intensely fearful of an enemy that is not there. How do you fight an enemy that you can't identify? It doesn't have a face. It speaks, but it doesn't have a voice. It robs me of my present, and doesn't allow me to picture my future. It stabs me in the chest with my past, over and over until, finally, it releases for a little while. But the worst part is - it comes back whenever it wants, without warning. There are things I can do to help minimize it - limiting caffeine intake, getting enough sleep, exercising, meditation, down time, talking about it. Some of those are much more difficult than others. The last one in particular. Anxiety is like an abusive partner - it isolates you and makes you think you're defective, that there is no one else in the world that struggles this way.
In my lowest moments, I believe it.