By Anne T. Donahue
If there is anything to be completely sure about, it’s that everybody you have ever met feels anxious and weird most of the time. This, as the abundance of anxiety memes tell us, is not news. Nor is the fact that even after thinking we have our minds under control, they begin spiraling again with news of, say, a global virus, the democratic debates, or any number of reasons to stay in bed for a week and avoid people or the internet for as long as you remain there.
Obviously, aside from having it, I’m no expert on anxiety. I do not have tips or tricks to fix it, I can’t tell you how to meditate effectively, and the only words of comfort I have to offer are the ones that help me. I’ve largely resigned myself to anxiety sitting shotgun as I try to navigate the ins and outs of traffic. Sometimes it lets me do my thing, but most of the time it points to a car in a parking lot off the highway and shouts, “Be careful of that car!” Ultimately, I am still the driver, but sometimes I have to white knuckle through the commute. Which sucks when you remember that you never even invited this asshole entity to join your carpool.
But I have come to realize that my own anxiety is rooted in a lack of control. I want to control the way I look, the way I sound, the way I am perceived by other people. I want to control my health and the society I live in and the actions of other people. I read the news and immediately begin planning and plotting what I can do to ensure my safety, happiness, or any number of anything(s). I worry I’m posting too much, not enough, and whether so-and-so even noticed. (They didn’t. I can promise you, they did not.) I try so hard to keep a firm grip on anything I can grab a hold of that when it looks like there’s something that’s bigger than me, I quietly begin spiraling until I’ve talked myself into a bout of internal screaming. It never occurs to me that so much of my life is not mine to control and I’ve already made it this far. That would be too easy.
And my brain likes to tell me that nothing is.
Which is partially true: surrendering control is not easy at all. It’s super hard, it’s terrifying, and it means we have to “trust the process” as though we’ve ever been able to trust anything. But the older I get (and the more tired I become), the less energy I have to micro-manage every facet of life. Good things happen. Bad things happen. And sometimes, you find yourself inundated with news every five minutes about a global pandemic that may or may not be the death of us all. I want to control the news, the outcome, the reaction to news briefings and mass panic. I want a guarantee that myself or the people I love will always be safe and sound and warm and toasty and looked after and well-hydrated and will be spared from any number of catastrophes. I want to be promised that nothing bad will ever happen. But then I remember that isn’t the way being alive works, and that we can play our own parts and hope everything turns out alright.
And somehow, that’s become comforting to me. Overriding the urge to micromanage in exchange for reconciling the fact that some things just are (and will be), despite my best efforts, has been the only balm to soothe my what-if ridden soul. Has it abolished my anxiety altogether? LOL Absolutely not. (Not even an SSRI has been able to do that.) But it has brought me closer to an understanding: my brain may be wired this way and the world may be scary as hell, but I am not a god (yet). The things I can do to combat the rising tides of anxiety are simple (take an internet break, wash your damn hands, hang out with your family, find ways to lend a hand to your community as to remind yourself that you’re not in it alone), but they are also mighty. Why try to control everything when I can control my own choices? My own self? Parts of my own life? Why anoint myself as someone so special that I, and only I, hold the key to saving everything? I’m just some broad in Cambridge, Ontario. I believe a single person can change the world, but no one has by controlling every aspect of it.
So let’s see how this goes. Let’s face the onslaught of terribleness by acknowledging how shitty it feels, but that our power can be reserved for what we can see and touch and hear and do something about. Maybe your first act will be small. Maybe it’ll be the first step in building something that nurtures the community you live in. Maybe it will be taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that your anxiety will not alter the course of history. And absolving yourself of the pressure you’ve been breeding in your head. Either way, you’ve gotten this far. And you’ll be surprised at how far you can get by taking those first steps.
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