The power of anxiety can be incredibly overwhelming if we don’t pay attention to it. I suffer from anxiety occasionally, however it wasn’t until the past few years that I realized what was going on inside of me.
Growing up as an abused child and bullied throughout high school, I often felt fear of others judging or punishing me. It may be hard for people to comprehend this but imagine the feeling of getting an electrical shock each time you touched a metal door handle. Now imagine that if that happened frequently as a child and what that might do to you as an adult. Chances are, you’ll probably feel a bit guarded around metal door handles and approach them with caution.
My anxiety is at its peek when it comes to meeting new people and large gatherings. Back then, I couldn’t quite pinpoint that it was anxiety that was bothering me, so I would end up externalizing the feelings and take it out on others.
Here’s an example from my past:
Back in 2013, I was engaged to a bright and beautiful elementary school teacher filled with smiles and an outgoing personality. For our engagement dinner we hosted about 50 guests, half of them were her friends and the other half were mine. The evening was held at a pub located in Gastown, Vancouver and it would be the first time that I would be meeting about 20 of her 25 guests. Throughout the entire afternoon, I brooded at home and was very reclusive. I didn’t want to talk to her and refused to do anything else other than sit on the couch flipping channels on the TV. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I didn’t even really know why at the time I was brooding. I was short tempered with tightness in my temples and chest when she cautiously asked what was bothering me. I closed up and didn’t tell her anything other than “I’m not in the mood to talk.”
Eventually, she figured it out and gently explained how she was feeling anxious about the dinner as well in her attempt to soothe my nerves. I didn’t acknowledge her because at the time I didn’t even realize it was anxiety I was feeling. Then my externalizing began:
“Why did you insist on inviting so many people?”
“Do you realize this dinner is going to cost us over $1200 for a mere few hours?”
“What IS an engagement party anyway? Why do WE have to do one?”
“I hate being the center of attention!”
“I’m not in the mood to go..I hate this idea.”
From anyone else’s perspective this should have been a joyous moment and occasion with true reason to celebrate. Instead I saw it as a death sentence to an evening I was not going to enjoy because I wouldn’t know most of her friends there and how I disliked small talk with people I wasn’t familiar with. It didn’t help when she told me about one of her longtime male friends Mitch whom I never met before. She explained that he was the type of guy that once would have bullied or given meeker guys a hard time back in high school. She went on to describe him as a big guy, a biker, but a softy at heart. She closed off by saying, “..I can see him liking you…but I can tell you right now that you won’t be his best friend..”
As someone who was bullied throughout high school, this sent a flurry of triggers inside of me. On top of that, she insisted that I give a speech at the dinner to thank all our guests despite my nerves and reluctance.
With my anxiety at a complete high, I started an argument hours before heading out to the venue. I raged on how I didn’t want this engagement dinner in the first place and accused her for doing this to show off to her friends. My hurtful and demeaning words clearly came from a place of fear and was truly damaging to the relationship.
We eventually made it through the night but not without painful memories. It was a night that I wish had a different outcome and a memory I’d rather forget.
Looking back, I suffered immensely with anxiety. Being forced to meet her friends, family members and forced into social situations that I wasn’t comfortable with all triggered my anxiety.
I talked about my struggles with various counselors who eventually helped me understand that it was in fact anxiety that I was suffering from. These days, anxiety is something I not only acknowledge having but also manage with greater success. It has taken a lot of practice, commitment and work but it’s so worth it. At times it continues to be a struggle to meet new people or attend large gatherings, but I know if I slow things down in my mind and begin recognizing triggers in my body, I have a better chance of managing through it. I can either excuse myself for a brief moment, get some fresh air, find a quiet time in the bathroom to gather my thoughts, practice some mindfulness on the spot or maybe even politely excuse myself for the rest of the evening if I’m feeling overwhelmed. My anxiety will likely be a part of me for the rest of my life and if I continue to embrace it rather than push it away, I know I won’t need to externalize my feelings in unhealthy ways.
Taking care of anxiety takes time, patience and self-understanding. Some people would turn to drinking or use of substances to relieve anxiety – something I will avoid to make sure that I remain self-empowered. I encourage those who suffer from anxiety, like myself, to try to slow down the thoughts in their mind and recognize the bodily triggers (read: When to say no to Ice Cream Floats and a Lesson in Listening to your Pain and My 4 Stages of Depression and How I Manage Through it.)
Anxiety can be quite a beast to put it crudely. It’s a beast with many heads such as anger, fear and depression…but I’m learning to tame it and stand beside it, rather than to run away.