One of the biggest challenges of living with anxiety is figuring out how to re-enter the world after you’ve been in retreat mode. You know that feeling, say, when you’ve cut class so many times it’s just easier to keep on not going? Because showing up involves too many possible horrific situations, like people asking where the hell you’ve been and being all interested in you and also there’s that huge pile of work you left. Well, this is like that.
A while back, life knocked me sideways. That’s actually putting it mildly. It was like being hit by a train, and the train was filled with shit.
The only way I could survive was to shut all the way down. In a weird way, it was nice, because all I did was concentrate on getting to the next shitty moment.
I spent some time hunkered down. I did art every day, took walks, and ate too many pistachios (that’s a lie – there’s no such thing as too many pistachios). I cried a lot, but you can cry and do art and it’s fine. I mean, not FINE, but you know. It’s doable.
It felt like there was this big game of jump rope being played, and I didn’t know how to jump in. My timing was completely off. I wanted to stay in my comfortable little nest. But the stupid thing about anxiety is that it won’t really go away if you stay in your nest. It gets quiet for a while, but you know it’s in there with you, watching you draw your goofy sketches and eating your pistachios. The only thing that makes anxiety go away – and I know this sounds nuts – is exposure to the thing you are trying desperately to avoid. Or, as an annoyingly astute therapist of mine once said, “You must be willing to endure the suffering.”
What kind of suffering? In my case, the endless, unbearable What Ifs. What if no one cares? What if everyone cares? What if people hate the way I’ve changed? The way my art and words and voice have been inevitably transformed during my mental hiatus? All I knew was, anxiety and I were not going to be able to live in this temporary shelter much longer.
It has not been easy. It will never be easy. Some days, the anxiety wins. But the fact that you try means you are on your own side. And yes, sometimes laying in bed and crying is what your try looks like. It means you’re still on the step of experiencing the emotions, and you can’t skip steps. You’ll move into action when you are ready, so don’t be mean to yourself. You can do this