Anxiety has been a companion for much of my life. People don’t always easily see it, as one of the ways I’ve coped with it is to not let others see. When I was a child, I would sit with worry, eventually bursting into tears, with my mom having no idea that anything was wrong in the first place. I still find anxiety in my life, often in little things, “what if I’m late?” “I can’t talk on the phone, I have no idea what to say.” “I don’t want to bother them; I can figure it out.” I sometimes feel like I have an antennae for anxiety; when a highly anxious person is around me, it feels like an aching, raw nerve is excited within me. It’s a much more familiar feeling to me than I care to admit.
As I look at myself, I realize that I have often let this trait define me. I find myself judging that I haven’t walked through more fear in my life. I’m very aware of the pockets of fear that currently hold me back. I want to try creating my own programs to share with others, but more often than not, I let myself be distracted, as I’m afraid I will fail.
The other day, I was sharing a story from my childhood with a friend. The house next door to me growing up had a steep hill that led into the side of the house. This led to the potential for exhilarating, though frightening, sledding after a good snowstorm. I remember my brother and his friend telling me that I had to pay them a penny to sled down the hill (why I needed their permission can only be explained by the unwritten rules of siblinghood, I suppose). I paid them two pennies, with the idea that I could go twice. I went down once, and survived (I’m sure you guessed that already). But I decided to not go again. (For those of you wondering, there were no penny refunds, so that second penny was indeed a lost investment.) I’ve always looked back at that story with judgment toward my younger self. I knew I could do it, and yet I didn’t. My friend had a different perspective. She simply said, “you went once, and you didn’t enjoy it, so you didn’t do it again.”
Her words had shifted my narrative from one of cowardice to one of knowing myself and choosing to operate from that place.
As we talked further, I explained that I’d been thinking about that sledding story recently, as I’ve been equating it to my decision to quit my job and move to Cayman (which felt bold) and then returning, and feeling like I’ve done nothing with my life (yes, perhaps dramatic, but self narratives aren’t always gentle). I felt like I tried something, and then ran away in fear.
Again, she looked at my life, at my experiences, and gave me a different way of thinking about it. “You’re a risk averse person, yet you still take risks.” Looking at things I’ve done, climbing Kilimanjaro, completing an overnight camping trip on my bike, moving some place where I knew no one when I graduated from college, traveling around the world, quitting my job to move out of the country, none of these felt easy. I did them anyway. It helps me understand a bit more why others have more than once called me brave, even though I’ve never really felt that way.
So when I feel the anxiety, rather than letting the narrative be that I’m a person who succumbs, and hides away from life, I think the new narrative needs to be that I’m afraid, but I’m a person who is strong enough to do it anyway. That’s a person I’d like to be.