Anxiety and it's many parts

I know I was born into the world anxious. It is a distinct feeling which has been part of my cells and my being since I can remember. 

For most of my life it has been very manageable, it was uncomfortable, but often it was contextual. It came and it went and felt like something that had positive and negative aspects. I could hold it as part of me rather than something I was at war with.

That all changed significantly in my mid 20’s. It cascaded after I ran myself into the ground in my first Social Work job. I had willingly exposed myself to a lot of trauma without clocking onto the fact that everything I was seeing, was starting to change my sense of self in the world, especially my sense of security. Cue existential crisis.

Even though I was deeply familiar with anxiety, nothing I had experienced prior would have fully prepared me for this feeling. This was totally different, a completely different animal.

At its worst it was like a true impending death, a complete internal collapse coupled with existential dread and terror. For a rational and intelligent human, this is ultimately incredibly confusing. You know that there is no real threat, but your body is responding to things in ways that would suggest that you are on the brink of catastrophe. It is intense and it is something that makes you feel like you are no longer in control. It’s as if something else has taken over and it’s now your responsibility to fight your way back to some semblance of composure. It is intensely physical, and that in itself creates so much confusion. I have, over the years been amazed at the ways in which anxiety can manifest itself as such tangible physical symptoms.

The interesting part of this is that is can be happening without anyone actually noticing. I have been out with friends carrying on normal conversations, having dinner dates, supermarket shopping and sitting in hours and hours of meetings, while at the same time fighting an internal, white- knuckle gripping battle. I am so well versed in this that I can now do this while also smiling and joking and seemingly being completely engaging and charismatic. You wouldn’t have a clue.

When you have anxiety you get really fucking good at pretending that you are intact, and because I am a high achiever, I will go up another level and make sure it appears as if I am thriving, overcompensating for what I think might be observable to the outside world.

I often think of anxiety in layers. The first layer is the anxiety and the second is the performance that you have to engage in to appear like you are a functioning member of society. Sounds a tad exhausting yes?

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When you find yourself in this mess, anxiety can become a part of your daily, and hourly lived experience. Not only are you dealing with it as it arises, you are also dealing with the anticipation of it.

What can then happen is that the anxiety itself becomes the anxiety and the context slips away.

Now you don’t even need a trigger, you just need one tiny thought to poke a hole in the thin veil of security you have stitched together ever so carefully and diligently through hours and hours of positive self talk/ therapy/ insert preferred method of healing here.

Another other ”fun thing” I have learnt is that once your body experiences the extreme ends of anxiety, it has this incredible way of being able to remember and then, transport you back to that place in an instant. The fact that you know that place exists means that it feels easily accessible at all times. This is a mean trick, because it can lead you to think you have made absolutely no progress what so ever. Which I have to say is untrue and merely a flaw in our human design system… so don’t worry if this is where you find yourself on a regular basis.

I guess this is the part where I say that there are ways through this maze of torture. And yes, there are certainly ways through this, there are ways to manage anxiety that are incredibly effective. Over the last decade I have explored so many of these things, and different things have tended to work at different points for different periods of time.

For me, my anxiety is multifaceted. It has also evolved, from being something directly related to a real trauma, to now being something I feel I have processed yet, is still part of my energy field and body memory.

For me bypassing the cognition and exploring anxiety through a somatic bodily experience has been especially valuable. That, and also playing with my energy field through meditation and visualisation - in a very specific way, which I won’t dive into here.(This may or may not even be relevant to you, but I share as way to open up new conversations.)

I believe there is so much more to this picture, so much more to uncover and explore about what we call anxiety. Even simplifying this experience under one umbrella term, feels really very incomplete for me.

There is no neat bow I can tie around this topic but if you happen to be in the midst of this, know that there are pathways forward, they are unique to you, and may not fit into tidy boxes or diagnostic checklists, you are also not the only person who has been in this position, it is part of the normal human experience, one that really feels awful, but one that can be a gateway to so much more, this is something I believe to be true.