Oops, I Left My Anxiety At Home
When you have had anxiety for as long as I have, it kind of becomes a part of your identity. Life without it feels great but strange and unfamiliar at the same time. My most recent episode of crippling anxiety resulted in being prescribed a ~very~ effective medication. So effective in fact, I don’t really know who I was before it. Because of this medication, I am able to go out to eat and socialize in sweaty crowded clubs like I once did. However, I have been experiencing this strange feeling whenever I conquer a fear. I imagine it’s the same feeling a mother gets when she loses her child in the grocery store. Actually, scratch that. The best way I can describe it is like leaving something at home without knowing what it is you forgot. Except, instead of a child or cellphone, it’s anxiety. A few thoughts run through my mind when this feeling washes over me, “Why am I not anxious?” or “Shouldn’t I be shitting bricks right now?” I begin to doubt my calmness. I rarely, if ever, experience physical symptoms with my anxiety thanks to the meds, but I do find it difficult at times to get comfortable with not being anxious in situations that once triggered me.
There’s this one article, the only article I have found on this exact same topic, written by Jessica A. Gold for Self Magazine. In this article, she describes a patient of hers who felt out of sorts when he suddenly didn’t question things he once questioned or hesitated on activities that once made him feel uncomfortable. While this patient, “Jake”, enjoyed the feeling of being able to function and do normal day-to-day things, he didn’t recognize himself; much like I haven’t fully recognized myself since being put on new meds. It almost feels like you have received a brain transplant. I personally believe anxiety becomes a bit of a crutch for us, and that’s why when we have experienced anxiety our whole lives, we feel odd when it becomes manageable. This is due, in part, to anxiety being so physical in nature. Our bodies are essentially trained to respond to stimuli that we identify as threatening (via the oh-so-lovely fight or flight response). You may sweat, your stomach may churn, and your throat may feel like it’s closing, among other symptoms. Take away these sensations, and you are bound to wonder where they went. It’s not to say you miss the anxiety, at all. Rather, it feels like something is missing.
How can you keep yourself from dwelling on this feeling? I’ve found a few things help:
Keep the Mind and Body Busy
Keeping your mind busy when experiencing racing thoughts sounds counterintuitive, but that’s not exactly what I mean when I say this. What I mean by this is that you should throw yourself into engaging activities, preferably those that involve some sort of physical movement. Exercise, dance, make art, go for a drive. Whatever it takes to get your mind thinking in other directions, do it!
Accept That You Deserve to Live Anxiety-Free
I find a majority of the doubt people experience when in the mental health recovery phase is rooted in the belief that they don’t deserve to be recovered. While this is not a thought I have personally experienced, I can see how some may feel this way. After all, we are our own worst critics sometimes. What I do know is that we all deserve to live a peaceful, happy, and healthy life. Keep telling yourself this truth, however many times you need to.
Write It Out
Sometimes, the best thing you can do when trying to sort through confusing emotions is to do what I am doing right now; write it out, baby! It doesn’t matter if the thoughts make sense or not, just let it flow out of you. Writing is an incredible tool for processing and releasing intrusive thoughts, especially. The Writer’s Center offers great workshops for this. Unfortunately, registration is full, but you can put your name on a waitlist here.
The latest phenomenon in the psychology world is practicing gratitude, but what does this mean and how can it be implemented? To practice gratitude means to be thankful and show appreciation for what we have, who we are, and all that surrounds us (be it people, things, etc.). This is a great exercise when we are feeling doubtful or questioning our identity because it grounds us. There are a few ways you can practice gratitude; through journaling, mindfulness, and meditation, or just by simply asking yourself one thing you are thankful for every morning and/or night.
If you are currently experiencing these feelings or ever do in the future; do not worry. You will not think yourself into having bad anxiety again. You are not going crazy, and you are certainly NOT alone. Just think, I thought I was alone until I read that article. If your concern is that whatever you are doing to alleviate your anxiety is “changing” you, be it medication or therapy, repeat this little mantra: I am changing for the better. I am changing so I can be the best for myself and those around me. Of course, if losing your true identity and/or personality is a concern, talk to a mental health professional. They are there to help you navigate this new way of life. Most importantly, be thankful for the moments that your mind is free.
Mary Vogt is a journalist and fierce advocate for those struggling with mental illness, particularly those with depression and anxiety. About 4 years ago, Mary was diagnosed with panic disorder and writes openly about her experiences with the disorder. She enjoys writing about mental health and hopes that readers will resonate with her stories.
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