My intention in naming this blog A Fiery Peace was to show there is room for struggle in the pursuit of health and wellness. Wellness is not achieved by discovering a secret formula to perfection. We can be well AND acknowledge our challenges, our fears, and our vulnerabilities. The goal is not to obliterate the struggle, but to find the room to accommodate it and continue living our merry little lives.
I am sitting, rather uncomfortably, in the center of one of my own struggles. For over 10 years, I have lived with depression and anxiety. Sometimes large chunks of time sail past unfettered by mental illness. Other times I feel like there is an anchor chained to my ankle and the tide is coming in and all I can do is panic and fight and resist in hopes of saving myself from drowning.
For those of you who haven’t had a chance to meet my current house guest, Anxiety, allow me to describe what it’s like when she’s in town.
When my alarm goes off in the morning, Anxiety has already chugged half a pot of coffee and is ready to go. She hands me a To Do List she’s been toiling over all night long. The list is rife with half ideas, overlapping sentences, and bullet points that can only be identified as gibberish. Anxiety is very solemn about this To Do List. It is her masterpiece, not the work of a mad woman. Anxiety is certain that I must cross every wild thought off of the list or the world will know me for the failure that Anxiety tells me I am. Anxiety is even 65% certain the world will come to an end if the list is incomplete by nightfall.
Anxiety does not trust me to handle her list without micromanagement. Rather than resting, she sits beside me, prodding me to adopt her frenzied state of urgency and second guessing every step I make towards completion. Anxiety is my worst nightmare high school mean girl. She tortures me, leaving me absolutely certain that whatever it is I am doing is definitely the wrong thing.
My body recognizes that Anxiety is an enemy and reads red on its own terror-level threat assessment scale. I spend the entire day in fight or flight. My heart races. I can’t focus. I can’t even breathe regularly.
You’d think I’d be grateful to go sleep at the end of a long day feeling like this. But Anxiety has no manners and parties her way into the wee hours of the early morning. Sometimes I lie in bed, eyes wide open just listening to her ruckus. Sometimes I fall into a restless sleep plagued by nightmares that just might make Stephen King weep.
And then the alarm goes off and I get to do it all over again!
In short: Anxiety is a real bitch.
I struggled with my most recent onset of anxiety. I had been dedicating myself to mindfulness and was feeling very close to achieving a wholehearted way of being. I had been exercising, eating well, socializing, writing, job hunting, and being, you know…highly functional.
The return of anxiety felt like all of the progress I made was a lie. I felt like a fraud, especially here on the blog, pretending like I know what it takes to be well. I spent 12 days feeling this way (yes, I actually counted). On the 13th day, in a divine moment of clarity, I experienced a radical shift in my perspective.
I have anxiety. I am not my anxiety.
I am healthy, well, mindful, and wholehearted. None of that has changed. But I do have an illness. Having an illness in no way nullifies who I am, my knowledge, my experience, or what I have to give.
So I’m learning to live with my struggle. Anxiety is still hanging out in the guest bedroom and I'm not going to fight with her. She’s staying uninvited and is unbothered by inhospitable behavior. When Anxiety starts to make too much noise, I’ll acknowledge her attention seeking behavior by firmly letting her know that I will not be derailed by her shrieks and that I will be carrying on with my day.
I’m getting treatment and have high hopes Anxiety will hit the road soon. But for now, I’m learning to live with this discomfort. I’m learning to give it room and continue building my own beautiful life. There’s always going to be something in that guest bedroom, now seems like a pretty good time to learn a better way to live with it. Whatever it may be.