I wake up every day terrified of something. Whether I’ll meet that day’s work deadline. Whether the last thing I wrote was crap. Hell, I worry about getting the girls to school on time. You’d think that since I’ve never missed a deadline and never been fired by a client and consistently arrive at school so painfully early that we have to cool our heels in the parking lot so I don’t have to pay extra for before care – you’d think that I’d get over these worries. But history of success is no match for my brain’s ability to envision the worst case scenario.
This is what it’s like to live with anxiety disorder.
I used to crave a day when I would wake up calm and reasonable – what I imagine life is like for people who seem to ease through their days unscathed by worry and fear. But I’ve given up hope of that. I’ve accepted that anxiety will by my constant companion, my fellow traveler through life. And so I manage it like one might manage diabetes. With medications, yes, but since the only real “cure” would be to mainline benzos or smoke a ton of weed, I manage my anxiety mostly with thought control.
Over the past two years, since a nervous breakdown left me unable to shower on the regular, what I’ve learned to do is the opposite of what my brain tells me.
Now, if my brain tells me to stay under the covers, to not bathe, to eat Eggos and chips for breakfast instead of real food, here’s what I do instead: I force myself to get up, to make the bed, to wash myself, to fry an egg.
And if my brain tells me to stay timid, to not raise my voice, to give up at freelancing and seek a day job that would be much easier on my nerves than this constant hustle, then I send out more pitches, reach out to more contacts, dive into new projects.
Because to hunker down is to die. At one point, that death could have been quite literal, as suicidal ideation was my mind’s favorite hobby. Today, giving in to worry would represent more of a figurative death: Death by letting anxiety keep me from living a bold life.
And in 2017, my goal is to live the boldest life possible.
So I’ve been doing the opposite. I pitched several big publications. I submitted to speak at a writing conference at another level up from my typical speaking gigs. I even applied to give a TEDx talk on this very subject – the magical power of doing the opposite – subtitled “How to Survive a Nervous Breakdown with Your Creativity Intact.” Those things may or may not come to pass but, if they do, they will terrify me.
I will do them anyway.
Just this week, fate-like, a friend from twenty years past reached out to me with an offer to fill in for a drop-out on her Grand Canyon rafting trip at the end of March. A trip that will end with me hiking ten miles out of the Canyon with a mile gain in elevation.
I’m not a hiker, not a wilderness camper, and I’ve never rafted. I can’t tie knots, I don’t cook, and I cannot overstate how out of shape I am. “Irregular yoga” would describe my exercise routine for the past year. As in, sometimes when my back hurts from writing all day at the computer, I’ll do child’s pose on the mat behind my desk for like thirty seconds.
I said yes.
I mean, I have a tattoo on my wrist that tells me to do just that: Say yes. To do things even though they terrify me, even though I absolutely hate doing things I’m not good at, hate the thought of letting people in a group down, cried through a humiliating ski trip years ago with experienced skiers, broke my foot getting out of the bathtub, and passed out at Universal Studios and spent the rest of that vacation in the Disney World hospital recovering from heat stroke.
I said yes. Even though I spend my days anxiety-ridden about the smallest of small stuff, even though I battle imposter syndrome on the daily, even though I don’t particularly like being wet and/or cold, even though I make a thousand decisions every week simply to stay sane.
Because I will not let anxiety defeat me. I will do the things that scare me – the big things and the little things. And I will no doubt wake up the next day still terrified of something, and I will do it all over again.