We’re nearing the end of the school year, and I’ve got to be honest: I am SO ready. I’ve been ready since November. This year has been incredibly difficult, and while I’m proud of myself for managing anxiety throughout, I’m ready for a break. This shit is hard, guys, and I’m working really hard to resign myself to the fact that I’m more likely than not to wake up anxious. That sucks.
I’ve learned a lot this year about my limits(way higher than I thought), my ability to manage my anxiety(pretty damn good), and what helps me to stay on an even keel(thank goodness for the dude). Below, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned and relearned this year.
Give myself permission. Look, I am the QUEEN of holding myself to high expectations. In the past, and still, if I’m honest, I’ve worked really hard to meet my own Kilimanjaro-sized expectations while trying to appear effortless. It took me years to confess to anyone how late I would stay at work in order to try to make sure every little thing was ready. I’ll never forget the first time I cried in front of the dude, because it was about a test in grad school and I was so embarrassed that that’s what I was crying about. It was a freaking biology test. It didn’t even matter if I did well, I just needed to pass; and yet there I was worried I’d get less than an 85. This year I struggled to maintain my yoga practice norm of 5 days per week, which was just so unbelievably lofty considering my workload. I’m still learning how just to be happy for some time on the mat. It’s hard to look at my Thrive journal, see that I set a goal, and didn’t meet it. But I’m learning how to be flexible(pun intended) and allow myself to sit in front of my computer and laugh at whatever stupid face NPH is making on the episode of HIMYM I’m watching instead of feeling bad that I’m not doing something “productive”.
Say yes. This is a big one, and it has always been a struggle for me. For some things saying yes comes easily: yes, I will absolutely do the dishes/walk the dog/whatever the dude needs; yes, I will stay late at work to do this thing because it will benefit my students; yes, I will go to this thing with you a month from now. What’s harder for me is to say yes to the unknown. Some of my friends “leave stuff up to the universe” and I just don’t understand that. The universe can be a dick sometimes and it’s not sentient; why on earth are you trusting it for a sign? That seems really cynical, but I kinda think it’s a bullshit excuse. I also have trouble doing stuff with little or short notice; I plan and replan my day as I get ready in the morning, and I tend to start looking forward to sitting on the couch and cross stitching or going home early to do yoga or whatever. I have trouble giving that up in order to, say, go hang out at a bar that is loud, crowded, and involves drinking (which I don’t do). Usually that kind of thing involves my awesome friends so it’s worth it, but there’s a piece of me that feels disappointed that I missed out on the option of reading quietly. Honestly, though? This year I’ve learned that saying yes can be really awesome. There have been some memorable experiences that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t allowed myself to give up whatever I had planned. And I’m SO glad I did. Yes can be scary, but yes can also be wonderful.
An emotional support system is invaluable. If you look at my text message history, all of my most recent ones are from my sister, the dude, the bird, or my mom. In addition to that are my wonderful work hubby and my co-teacher, whom I talk to more than text. I am so lucky to have these people in my life. I know that I can turn to any of them at any time with any problem, and they will be there for me. This isn’t the case for everyone, and it can be incredibly difficult to deal with anxiety when you’re all alone, or feel you are. In the year or two in took me to share with anyone what was going on, I felt so desolate. And I only shared because my sister walked into the kitchen to find me crying while I waited for my coffee to brew; I probably wouldn’t have said anything otherwise. To anyone who feels alone or like they have to deal with this alone: you’re not and you don’t. Please email me. Please tell someone you trust. Please go see a therapist or sign up for a therapy app. You don’t have to do this by yourself.
Rumination is my default, but it doesn’t have to be. The thing that I never, EVER told anyone before this year (except for my sister and my therapist), was that a lot of my anxiety and stress stemmed from holding myself to the aforementioned high standards and then beating myself up about it if I didn’t meet them. At one point this year the dude and I were talking about how we deal with it when somebody says something to us that feels like a criticism of who we are or our behavior, and for the first time I was able to articulate that by the time anyone says anything to me, I’ve already been going around and around in circles in my own head. I’ve been mentally flogging myself since I said whatever or did whatever. Through the help of my therapist and a looooot of practice, I can usually interrupt that cycle. I still think about it, but not for hours. I’ve learned that I can say to myself that it happened, I’ve thought about what I would have/will do differently, and that has to be the end of it. I think I’ve finally learned that thinking about it doesn’t change what happened. That doesn’t mean it’s hard to stop; it takes effort not to ruminate about something anymore. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.
It’s ok. It’s ok to be anxious. It’s ok to be lonely. It’s ok to be happy. It’s ok to be whatever I am. I’ve gotten pretty good at separating myself from the anxiety I feel, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t also feel like I’ve failed somehow when I start to get anxious. Often I feel like I should be past feelings anxious about the little stuff, and it can be hard to remember that 1) this stuff makes me was less anxious than it used to and 2), this is the way my brain and body work. I’m not deciding to feel anxious(because, jeez, who on earth would choose that). I’m not asking for it. My brain is interpreting the world around me and sometimes it gets it wrong, or sometimes it wants to prepare me because it knows I’m about to interact with something or someone that it perceives as dangerous. It’s just trying to protect me so it can stay alive. I can’t really be mad at my genes for doing their job.