I write a lot about finding our calm center in the middle of our stressful lives here at Centering Down. But what I don’t write about as much as why this is such an important practice for me.
Fifteen years ago I was diagnosed with panic disorder, one of a variety of anxiety disorders that plague 40 million Americans.
I would love to say that after I was treated at 24 I never struggled with panic and anxiety again.
But that would be a lie.
The tide of anxiety in my life rises and falls depending on my stress level and physical condition. The most obvious are the bad times. The times that for whatever reason the anxiety spikes, sometimes to a debilitating level. These are moments over the years that I have been clearly reminded that this companion of mine has not left, but has merely been sleeping. As it wakens and wreaks its harm, I can only begin to fight it wondering how long and how bad the flare will be this time.
But on the other hand, some days and even some seasons are great. There are times when I barely notice the anxiety at all. Many, many days are good enough that I can function well in my life.
But always, always the anxiety is present like a undercurrent that tugs on me as I move throughout life. It prevents me from moving as freely and fully as I would like.
Even though anxiety is a near constant companion, I spend most of my time trying to pretend it isn’t there. One reason for this is that I wish it weren’t there. So like an unwelcome party guest, I ignore it and rebuff it hoping it will just go away.
But honestly, a more powerful reason is that I am ashamed of my anxiety.
Our culture values strength and not weakness. Bravery and not fear. We are supposed to be busy, busy people running ourselves on overdrive to accomplish all that we can.
Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression don’t play well in these value sets.
So I hide my anxiety from others and even from myself because of the stigma and shame involved.
On the good days this is very easy. Many people would never guess that I have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. But even on the bad days I hide it. Often even from people who are close to me.
Because God forbid what they would think or how they would treat me if they knew?
After years of functioning in this manner I have finally decided to speak out about my anxiety.
The shift came recently while we were leading one of our Calming the Storms anxiety management classes. Several of our group members were talking about how they were struggling but were unsure of how to share that with others around them: family members, bosses, and the like. We all commiserated on how the stigma of anxiety made us want to just keep all our difficulties to ourselves. As I looked around at the room of hurting people who felt so alone in their pain, I knew this had to stop.
If we were a group of people who had just been diagnosed with cancer or had just lost our loved one, the news would be made public and friends and family would be calling, sending casseroles, and holding our hand through the dark time.
I was not ashamed of sharing my neck injury and had so appreciated the support I received in response. Why in the world should I not share my following anxiety flare and let people walk with me through that illness as well?
It is well documented that one of the elements that helps heal mental illness is having good support from friends and family and that isolation only makes things worse.
Yet, the anxious hide behind their masks pretending they are not fighting a great and sometimes losing battle with fear.
So in honor of my class, the other 40 million Americans who struggle with anxiety, and myself I am going to talk about this battle.
I will join in with other bloggers out in cyberspace who explore a theme for 31 days in October and tease through the tangled mess that is anxiety.
Now, this will not be 31 days OF anxiety, because that would just be no fun for anyone! Instead we will talk about it.
I hope to share some science behind how and why anxiety happens. There will be some basic tips on how to help heal anxiety. If I am brave I will share a little bit about what it is like to walk the road of an anxiety disorder. Most of all I want to bring awareness to something that is so prevalent, but not often spoken about.
If this is the last thing you want to read about, I understand and I will look forward to seeing you in November.
But if you could benefit from learning more about this age old but still often misunderstood struggle, I would be honored to share these next 30 days with you.
As always your questions and comments are welcome. I suspect we all have an anxiety story to tell. Offer it below if you choose. It might be healing.
This month especially, that is my prayer for this time and this space.