I realized I had an anxiety problem about four years ago. I was sitting with some co-workers, we were discussing what we were teaching in our classes, and I blurted out, “I wasn’t sure if that was a gay idea or not” (And, if you know anything about Britany Ederveen, using the term ‘gay’ is not in my repertoire). So, the next day, I picked up the phone and checked myself into counseling.
Here’s what was going on in my life at that time: It was my first year teaching. My relationship with my long-term boyfriend started unraveling. I was attempting to mend things with his mom and she refused to talk to me. My dad was getting re-married. Finances were a bit tight, so I picked up an extra job (outside of teaching and coaching). I remember coming home from work every day with a massive headache. I began having dreams of my teeth falling out. No wonder I had a problem with anxiety.
Anxiety stems from the fear of not being in control; when we feel our foundations, whether physical, mental, emotional, are shakable, we try to grab onto whatever we can to attempt to maintain as much control as possible. Often times, what we grab onto is irrational thoughts, repetitive behaviors, our eating or exercise habits, our moods, or sometimes, other people. There are a variety of triggers that could lead to these behaviors. I remember being severely bullied by a group of girls—bullying gives the illusion of a shakable foundation, because it causes us to question our own philosophies, identities, purposes in the world—and I resorted to compulsive working out to try to stabilize that foundation they were so vehemently trying to erode. When I unconsciously realized my relationship was unraveling, I began spending more and more time at work, and wrapped more and more of my identity into my job; if I couldn’t control my long-term boyfriend (and his mom) I could at least try to control my performance in my career.
Being a perfectionist, making decisions is always really painful and harboring, because in my head, I’m trying out every different scenario, attempting to predict outcomes, and trying to pick the best option. I one time sent a card to a guy I only recently started dating, and I spent about three days trying to figure out how I would sign the card. Do I…sign it ❤ Britany, like I do all of my other cards? But, then that might be coming off as too strong. Do I…sign it -Britany? But, then that might come off as ‘too friend-like’, and I definitely don’t want to send that message. Do I…sign it XoXo Britany? But, then that is kind of juvenile and middle-school-like. Do I…sign it ‘Sincerely Britany’? But, then that is kind of formal and old-person like. Do I just not sign it at all and hope he knows who it came from?
Anxiety trails into many other parts of my life. Whenever I go on a trip, I get anxious if I forgot to pack something. No matter how many times I travel, this anxiety never goes away. Instead, I pack at least two days ahead of departure, and I trust that, if I forgot something, I would think of it in that two day wait time. I don’t like to force my creative process, so I get really anxious when I have a paper due—I’m afraid I won’t think of anything I want to write about in time. So, I set my own personal deadlines two weeks in advance so I have plenty of time to come of out writer’s block (if it happens—which it never actually has). I even found myself getting anxious last week when I walked into a different yoga location, and not knowing what the yoga-etiquette was in this particular studio (even though I’ve been yogaing for 10 years). But, then I reminded myself that being out of my element was actually very good for me, because change shakes up relationships, perspectives, attachments.
I’ve learned that I will always carry anxiety with me. Whenever summertime rolls around, I always tell myself I am going to take the summer off. And, then suddenly, August comes, and I have traveled to Europe, finished two classes, attended teacher trainings, worked a second (and third and fourth) job, made a couple new friends, started a Bible study, wrote a book, didn’t sleep, and am still living in a world of anxiety. No matter how hard I try to calm my life down, my natural state IS anxiety, and I will always gravitate towards that kind of lifestyle. The trick is to learn how to manage the anxiety, and eventually, how to use the anxiety as an advantage.
Conquering anxiety requires logical self-talk. Anxiety, fear, illusions of being out of control stem from our emotional centers, so if we can see the rational reality, we can perhaps nudge the anxiety away. It’s kind of like studying for finals; you can sit there for three hours, stressing about how you aren’t prepared for the test and don’t have enough time to study, OR you can sit there for three hours and spend that what-would-be-time worrying, actually studying for the test; stressing about not being prepared takes away from the time you actually have to study. The same thing is true with anxiety; I could sit here, ruminating about how many things are on my to-do list, and waste that time on the ruminations, or I can just start tackling the list. I could sit here, and worry about losing my job, or I could spend the time working so I don’t lose my job. I could sit here, and worry about what that other girl will think of me, or I could spend the time strengthening a more important relationship.
A couple weeks ago, I was awoken from my slumber at 2:30 AM to a mouse scurrying across my back. I, of course, jumped out of my bed, screamed like there was a burglar breaking into my room, and didn’t go back to sleep the entire night. This situation traumatized me the whole next day. I kept seeing little moving things out of the corner of my eye. I accidentally stepped on a piece of paper and screamed. I was suffering from anxiety—fear of the unknown, or the uncontrollable—the mouse—because I didn’t know where it was, when it would pop up. Of course, my natural reaction is to move out of my house, never sleep in my bed again, but if I take that route, I’m letting the anxiety control me, and my experiences of the world (and, then I’m really, really freaking tired). So, I have to show back up, tell myself that I can’t control the mouse, and I can’t let the mouse control me, and if it shows up, then I’ll deal with it, but it’s a waste of time to worry about something that may or may not actually happen.
And, once I learned how to manage my anxiety, I could then use it to my advantage. Someone once told me, “I’ve suffered from depression my whole life. I just woke up one day and realized that, no matter how depressed I may get, everything was going to be OK”. Some of my most enlightening moments have come from a spurt of anxiety. Like my friend with depression, I’ve learned that wallowing in my anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, because the output is often a better understanding of the world, a brilliant blog post, a really great idea. I’m usually enveloped in anxiety in September as I begin crafting my dance team’s competition piece. Inside my head, I’m putting together music sections, visualizing costumes, solidifying formations and dance moves. While it often can be a stressful state to be in, I always have confidence that the final product will be worthwhile; I MUST exist in this anxious state IN ORDER for the output to be quality. I’m using my anxiety to my advantage.
I wake up every morning and have to consciously make the choice between wallowing in, or conquering anxiety. Sometimes, anxiety does win. I spend my entire day, running around like a chicken with her head cut off. I don’t eat (because anxiety takes away my appetite). I wake up early and stay up late, working on what I perceive as “imminent” tasks. But the times when I am able to conquer anxiety, I write better. I connect with others stronger. I exist more meaningfully, and suddenly, having anxiety no longer seems like such a burden.