I always say that one of my favorite things about having an anxiety disorder is that it will show you who you are.
Back before my anxiety disorder erupted 20 years ago, I had no clue who I was and I really wasn’t even remotely interested in digging around to find out.
It never even occurred to me to do so.
I just existed….living day to day with my mind wrapped up in my boyfriend and the stress of my life while, unbeknownst to me, the clock was ticking on, every second bringing me closer to the worst period of my life.
However, after my anxiety symptoms began, I was forced to take a hard look at myself and really get to know who I was so that I could find out how and why my life had ended up in the mess that it had become.
It was a painful process that took years.
Not so much because I had any serious trauma in my life to deal with, but rather because I had made SO many poor choices that I was forced to confront and deal with. I had spent years making bad choice after bad choice, both with my thinking and my actions, and I discovered that at the root of it all was my extremely low self esteem, my lack of faith in myself, the lack of any real support system in my life, and some very specific personality traits that I wasn’t even aware that I possessed.
My entire life I had thought I was just your average, happy person simply trying to make her way through this world, but what I discovered after my anxiety symptoms broke out was that I wasn’t “happy”. I was playing the “role” of happy because I thought that was the best way to get people to like me, but in actuality, I was a negative thinking, chronic worrying people pleaser who didn’t think she was capable of handling anything on her own.
Hello, real me.
It was one hell of a way to meet.
So much of my life started making sense as I started putting all of the puzzle pieces together and linking my personality traits and past history with the present circumstances in my life.
There is a always a little bit of a question of one’s own sanity when you have an anxiety disorder, and it was a pretty liberating, amazing feeling when I could finally say, with 100% certainty, that I wasn’t “crazy”…. I was just really messed up in the head from terrible internal dialogue, stress and mental exhaustion, and not taking proper care of myself.
Yay for being messed up in the head!
That was something I could work with. That was something I could do something about. There isn’t a mess in this world that can’t be cleaned up one way or another and I got to work cleaning up mine.
That period of self discovery was one of the most amazing times of my life. The anxiety symptoms were awful of course, but I was growing and changing every day and while I wasn’t aware of the growth as it was happening…I can look back now and just think “Wow”.
Its fascinating what you can learn about yourself when you just stop everything and look around. It’s true that I learned some things about myself that I wasn’t too keen on – all of that worrying and constant negativity of mine was going to have to be kicked to the curb. However, I also discovered some things about myself that I was pretty proud of, like my level of sensitivity and my level of intelligence and my ability to quickly analyze any given thing or situation. These were all traits of mine that I had never realized I possessed before my anxiety disorder, and they were traits that I knew if I just started using the right way, could actually make my life better!
Take creativity for example:
I never knew I was a creative person. I wasn’t consciously aware of it, anyway. I had taken personality tests before that had said I was creative, and having the astrological sign of cancer, I was always told I am VERY creative. Not that I put much stock in astrology, but it just seemed there was always something popping up that told me I must be “endlessly creative”.
But I would half laugh to myself and think “Nope..they got that one wrong…not even close.”
I mean, I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. I couldn’t “create”. I was terrible at any kind of art. I still am. I am 43 and I am not exaggerating when I say that my drawings of people look like a 4-year-old drew them. I couldn’t write stories or music. I wasn’t an actor of any kind. I knew I had imagination…I have always known that…but as far as creating something with it..nope, not me.
But you see that is the beauty of having an anxiety disorder.
Now I know the truth. Now I know that I really AM an endlessly creative person. Pre-anxiety disorder, I thought that creativity only revolved around something tangible…some finished product that you could look at or see or hear or touch. After educating myself about anxiety and using that analytical mind of mine in a positive way by trying to better myself, I realized that creativity involves so much more than that.
I had spent my entire life creating. I just hadn’t realized it.
My mind hasn’t stopped creating from the moment I could put thoughts together. As a little girl, I spent entire days in a world of make-believe. My mom was gone all the time and I had nobody to play with while my dad coached his basketball and baseball teams, so I would spend hours playing under the bleachers all by myself creating imaginary worlds so I wouldn’t be lonely. Looking back, its hard to believe a little girl could have so much imagination and creative power that she could get lost in a world like that for hours at a time while boys were all around her swinging baseball bats and running scrimmages. But I did, and I was perfectly content doing so.
When I was at home and I would go out and play, I would just walk around my yard pretending to be anywhere but where I was. It wasn’t because I had a bad life. It was because that was what I was happy and comfortable doing. My little mind wanted to create and pretend, so that is what I did.
My creativity took a darker turn around the time my grandfather died when I was 8 or 9, and I lost my innocence and became more aware of life going on around me.
Instead of continuing to use my creativity to make a beautiful world for myself, I started using it to create a darker one. I never felt sad or depressed. It’s just that I was learning that the world is not a fairy tale and that bad things happened and being the sensitive child I was, I became preoccupied with the fact that something bad might happen to me or somebody I love.
I started creating worst case scenarios in my mind…like little movies. “What if my parents were to get killed in a car accident or some other horrible way?” I would think to myself. If they were 5 minutes late coming home, I would imagine it all playing out in my head. The pain I would feel, the emptiness, my future life as a child without parents. I was SO good at creating these scenarios that they felt real to me and even though the bad things never happened, at least not when I was a child, those negative emotions still stuck with me. They were very hard to shake. I was pretty much a normal child in most respects, however there was always a negative undertone to everything I did. That combination of my creativity and my negativity set the whole tone for the rest of my childhood and it carried on into my adulthood.
Right up until the time my anxiety disorder erupted, I was creating those little movies in my head…those worst case scenarios… and I would play them out in my mind over and over again.
It’s no wonder I ended up with an anxiety disorder. And I thank God that I did because without it I would have never stopped and looked inside myself. I would have kept on wasting one of my greatest gifts, my creativity, and I would have never known the things I am capable of doing with it.
Now that I AM aware of it and now that I HAVE kicked my negative thinking to the curb, I am using that creativity to make my life better.
I am a writer now.
That is just crazy!
If you had told me all those years ago that I would be writing a blog with two and three thousand word posts, and that people would actually READ what I am writing, I would have never believed you. But this has been the natural progression for me since I “cleaned up the mess” inside my head and got rid of the negativity and allowed my creativity to flow through another channel.
It has been such a gift to me!
I am doing something that makes me feel good about myself, while trying to help other people.
By writing, I am keeping my thoughts occupied in a healthy way so they don’t have time to wander into toxic territory again, which they will always lean towards doing because negative thinking is my “comfort zone”. I am feeding that subconscious urge to create and this time I DO have something tangible, in a sense. I have a finished product that I can look at and see and read. I have an actual healthy result of my creative mind and it is the best feeling. I am actually proud of myself for something, which isn’t something I am too familiar with.
I sometimes imagine how my life would be if I been born with my same creativity, but with a positive thinking personality.
It makes me smile to wonder that. I imagine I would be much like my daughter Ily who is an eternal optimist……which clearly she gets from her dad’s side of the family. Ily spends her days drawing rainbows and unicorns and making people cards with inspiring messages. I tell her she is my “Airy Fairy” because her heart is so light and happy and she just likes to spread love.
It’s funny because I was talking to her not too long ago, and I was showing her the coloring book that I colored while I was pregnant with her brother 8 years ago. I explained to her how I was so filled with stress and worry during the pregnancy that I would color every single day to calm my thoughts and distract myself. Not was it fun to listen to her “oooooh and aaaaaaaah” over every page, but showing her my colorings helped me come to a bit of a revelation.
You see, Ily and I both love rainbows – we always say that “rainbow” is our favorite color – and I was showing her how I colored every page in rainbow colors. I told her it wasn’t really a conscious choice , it was just something I did because I think I needed to create something bright and cheery in my life. As she looked through the pages she said “But you also used black on every page too.” I looked, and she was right, on every single page I had done a black and rainbow theme. It occurred to me at that moment that the header image for my blog is also black and rainbow, as is my favorite purse, my favorite Esprit T-shirt from when I was a teenager, and a lot of Ily’s wardrobe that I have chosen for.
And that is when it hit me. I don’t love rainbows. I love the combination of rainbows with the color black. I realized that subconsciously I have been recreating that color scheme and adding it into my life in little bits and pieces for as long as I can remember. I have always gravitated toward that color scheme because it represents who I am. It represents what I want my life to be about: finding something beautiful in the darkness.
That is why I love my daughter so much. She helps me see things through her optimistic little eyes and amazes me all the time.
And that is why I love my anxiety disorder and the journey of self discovery that it led me on.
I genuinely know who I am now….100%..and I love every bit of me. And not only do I love every bit of me, but I understand every bit of me and I have to say that it sure does make life a whole lot easier when you understand why in the heck you react to things and do the things the way that you do.
Remember readers, you can look at your anxiety disorder as a loud bang that came along and disrupted your life, or you can look at it as “The Big Bang” that helps you create the new life you were meant to have. Don’t be afraid to look at it as something exciting. Don’t be afraid to see it as a huge catalyst for change and growth. Don’t let your negativity stop you from seizing this huge opportunity to find the life you were meant to be living and find out who you really are.