If you are someone who need things to be shiny all the time this likely won’t sound very optimistic to you at first glance. But if you love someone who struggles with anxiety I would encourage you to consider reading to the end. I’ll describe the hard part honestly, which allows me to describe the hopeful part honestly too. Nobody is just one thing.
Having an anxiety disorder can be like having an emotionally abusive best friend. It follows you around from place to place and whispers to you confidentially (like it really cares about you), “What do you think you’re doing?”
When you try to make new friends, “Why would they want to talk to you?”
When you try to start a new project, “Who do you think you are? You can’t take this on.”
When you do something outside of your comfort zone, “You shouldn’t be doing that. Someone else could do it better.”
When you are brave in relationship, “You’ve said too much. They won’t want to be your friend now.”
When you are afraid for someone you love, “That thing you’re afraid of is going to happen, and it’s going to be even worse than you think.”
When you are celebrating something, “But what about all the people who didn’t get this thing? Have some compassion!”
When you are celebrating something else, “You don’t deserve this thing. This is a fluke and something bad is about to happen.”
When you think you know something, “You’re probably wrong about that. Someone disagreed with you and they’re probably right.”
This cycle is going on in my brain most of the time. When I’m doing well (which is also most of the time) it’s just one of many and I am better at disrupting or ignoring it. As I type this we are in the middle of a great weekend. Other times, the cycle is louder and it’s harder. So you’ll have to excuse me (or not; it’s your call really) if I don’t come across as Very Optimistic all the time.
See, I have this friend. I’d like to ditch them. But they’re right juuuuuust enough of the time that I can’t quite shake them. Sometimes I’m terrified a bad thing will happen and then it does. Sometimes people really do die. Sometimes husbands really do have heart disease.
I wish I could pretend Anxiety doesn’t exist. But abusive best friends don’t respond well to that treatment. At least not according to what I have observed. A more direct approach is needed.
So when I can’t handle it internally, I repeat the crazy things Anxiety whispers to me out loud. To a trusted friend, to a therapist, sometimes even in an essay. Because those things wither in the light.
My friends are my friends (and if they aren’t, that’s good information to have; when people show you who they are, eventually it makes sense to believe them).
I can do lots of things. Probably more than I usually think I can, not less.
All criticism should be considered in relation to the source. Relational equity and the amount of wisdom of the person offering the feedback should be examined, as well as making sure that a criticism really is meant for me before interpreting it so. Sit with criticism honestly, not under it coweringly.
We’re at the end of the Christmas season. If you’re into liturgical traditions and things, Epiphany was yesterday and so we’re taking our Christmas decorations down today. My favorite Christmas song is called, “You Are the New Day.” There are several versions of it out there but my favorite one has a couple of stanzas I love and hold on to:
Like a breath I knew would come
I reach for a new day….
Hope is my philosophy
Just needs days in which to be
Love of life means hope for me
Born on a new day
As I said at the beginning, if you are someone who needs things to be shiny all the time this likely won’t sound very optimistic to you.
But the thing I keep repeating to myself as needed is “Proceed as though this might turn out ok.”
And that’s been an amazingly encouraging thought.