You’re Beautiful… and Terrifying

Candle Reflection
Took this photo a couple weeks ago. I chose it because a little light and a little warmth can go a long way. When facing anxiety, sometimes a little light and a little warmth can seem like a tease.

We’ve all had our “AHA!” moments when we read about the experiences of other people that so closely mirror our own. And when we’ve been feeling locked away and lonely for so long, the yelling is earth-shattering.

It was just so for me today as I read a guest post by Alexandra Elle from On Being With Krista Tippet:

Standing Still in a Field of Flowers: Living with Social Anxiety

I’ll admit I’ve had a love/hate relationship with mental health professionals over the years. There have been a number of wrongful diagnoses applied to me, the treatments for which have caused a lot of damage. Not to mention the strange reactions from other people who really don’t see what the health professionals seem to see; and they wonder if I’m really just looking for a label.

Trust me.

Ain’t looking for any label.

I would be wildly happy to go label-free for the rest of my life.

One reality that has remained constant throughout my life, however no matter the diagnosis, has been social anxiety. Trying to relate to people is just as the author describes: standing in a field of flowers.

I want to join in.

I want to be asked to join in.

Sometimes I’m asked to join in.

And… I blow it.

I freeze stiff.

I miss opportunities; I go home alone; I hide in bathrooms; I want to throw up; and I tire very quickly. I hear the laughter of the people around me, and I want that! I see how others interact seemingly effortlessly, and try to mimic what I see. But mimicry doesn’t create the real thing, and certainly doesn’t honour the real me. In the end, the effort is more than the result.

When Elle says:

“The flowers are people. Lots of people. New people. New places. New things. An abundance of fear and sweat emits from my body each time. New hellos. New hugs. New energy. New handshakes. New pictures.”

… I see the richness in community and in friendship. I crave it in ways perhaps others might not have experienced or understood before. I’m in the middle of my mother’s beautiful garden, exploding with colour and diversity and possibility for relationship, and I can’t even move.

“Even being around my own family takes effort. I feel like my body goes into hiding without my permission.”

I don’t want to be how I am. I don’t particularly like how I am in this regard. But it’s how it is, and I have to learn to manage it all on a daily basis. When family visits, I am thrilled to the core; but I need time to warm up. It’s a good thing my family thrives on discussing current events and social justice issues, because there are PLENTY of those to pick from to help melt my fear, and even boost my strength.

Is it any wonder my body went into full blown rebellion when my friends told me they were moving away?

It’s difficult for me to talk about their re-location because I know — truly I do — that it isn’t all about me. Yet when I can’t explain why the violent reaction to what is to me devastating news, I have to be gentle with myself. Even writing this disclaimer feels like I’m feeding the anxiety, thinking readers will believe me selfish or self-centred.

Right after the news came down, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I kept it ‘together’ until my work closed for the Christmas holidays. And then I was all alone with this monstrous grief, and it had its way with me in short order. Grief’s best friend was Guilt, because it’s not like I was making life any easier for Calvin or Lori. And they were leaving all of us! The last thing they needed was a shattered person past the verge of collapse. Life was already going to be hard enough for them as it was.

Grief and Guilt’s puppet master, however, was Anxiety (it still is). I couldn’t breathe. My diaphragm could not inflate far enough to allow enough breath into my lungs. My arteries could not send enough oxygenated blood out to the rest of my body. It was physically painful to walk, to turn over in bed, to sit and watch TV.

During Christmas, it was all I could do to reach down and pick up my littlest nephew. All of my bones had turned to jelly, and I was terrified that I was going to drop one of them. Thank goodness for comfy couches and warm blankets where nephews like to cuddle, and aunties can sit instead of stand.

Social anxiety means that my circle of close, intimate friends is pinprick small. I don’t let just anyone into my garden. I can’t. At this point in my life, I haven’t found a way to plant that garden wider and see fulfillment or success.

Losing anyone out of my precious beautiful garden, then, is HUGE. Loss of friends and family is massive for all of us, true. I don’t want to discount that. What I’m trying to share is that a small handful of wildflowers is more than enough for me. Each petal is special and revered and cherished and loved.

And all the more so because I, of all people, know just how much effort it took for me to overcome the paralyzing fear that is social anxiety. I get a little proud. I get a little grateful.

So instead of shaming myself with endless questions about proper reactions and ‘normal’ levels of grief at loss, or controlling angst during a time when I already know Puppet Master Anxiety will be out-of-control, I will admit that this is one of my daily struggles.

I will remember to eat, especially in the mornings. Mornings are the worst, when I wake up and my blood sugar is low. The emotions are wild and nasty first thing, biting at me and demanding obsessive attention.

I’ll remember to write, write, write, and write some more. Whether it’s here on the blog, in my journal, for a publication, lyrics for a friend to write music to, or notes or letters to other precious wildflowers in my little garden, I’ll keep at it.

I will try to wander in my small garden a bit more, even though every fibre of my being screams at me to isolate, isolate, isolate. Grief and Guilt, and the Puppet Master Anxiety all cackle when their lackey Depression sets in, which is all too easy. I have to remember that it’s safe to visit my parents whenever I need to… that I can visit my nephews for a little while… that I can rely on this small group as much as I need to knowing they love me and are here for me.

And I need not be ashamed of tears.

Seriously, the well won’t run dry! They are ever at the surface. I look at my breakfast cereal and something about the dried blueberries reminds of a fond memory, and there I go: Niagra Falls.

I won’t be perfect in this coming back to myself. Indeed I know that when I do return, I won’t even be myself. I’ll be just a bit different. A bit more scarred; a bit banged up; a bit run through.

But I will come back.

Anxiety will always be present with me in ways I loathe, and in ways that block me from thriving (or so I believe in the moment). I can’t stop it or fight it or control it. The worst attacks come from me trying to control it.

I will come back.

Not today.

But I will.


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