I am not my anxiety

A Letter regarding my anxiety

I’m well aware that a lot of the pieces I write that are personal narrative or essays are advice pieces at their core. I don’t write these with the intention of appearing that I am qualified to give any sort of advice and I certainly don’t have the amount of control that it probably appears that I have when I write these pieces. I don’t believe that I’m necessarily any more qualified to write the pieces that I am; I think what separates me from others that are going through similar experiences is that writing is my primary coping mechanism. I believe that everybody should try to write daily, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe everybody should have a blog (of course anybody that wants to start one should!). Daily journaling is shown to improve mental health and emotional intelligence.

Something that’s generally hard for people that have never experienced anxiety to understand is that most our anxieties appear to be easily solvable and nothing to worry about. We are aware of this! We’re aware of how they are seemingly simple, and that only exacerbates our anxiety. I become anxious about a problem, then I get anxious about why I haven’t solved it, then I get even more anxious when I realize it’s clear that I’m struggling with this and people notice that. This is why anxiety and depression go hand in hand. All of these anxieties compound to make me loathe myself, which only makes my depression harder to deal with. Then I have to fight with the lingering thoughts that this is all my fault, which guess what, only makes both of these issues even harder. 

Writing helps me to reason through the emotions I’m feeling. When I start to write my thoughts on paper, I realize that I’m doing better than my anxious thoughts want me to believe. I realize that I’m actually thinking pretty lucidly about my problems and that things will get better. Writing promotes clearer thoughts and it helps to mitigate some of that dreadful self-loathing. 

I want to make it clear: writing doesn’t solve anxiety or depression or make everything better all of the time, but it’s certainly a powerful tool to have in the arsenal to utilize. It’s something concrete to come back to and it has the power to remind us of what it feels like when we’re thinking a bit clearer. I struggle daily with a physical disease in cystic fibrosis and I struggle daily with mental diseases in anxiety and depression. When I speak about cystic fibrosis, I’m never really challenged. People generally believe me and sympathize with me. It’s completely different when I speak on depression or anxiety. The only people that can empathize – and frankly, sympathize at all – are those that have experienced something similar. Explaining cystic fibrosis makes sense: I have thick mucus in my organs which causes a bunch of problems. Explaining anxiety is much harder: my thoughts are constantly convincing me that I’m not good enough or that I won’t work through these seemingly simple problems, to the point where it genuinely feels like I won’t ever feel mentally normal again. Unless you’ve experienced that, it doesn’t make any sense. 

Mental diseases like anxiety and depression are often comorbid with physical diseases like cystic fibrosis. I’ve always been a worrier; it wasn’t until recent years that my anxiety started to interfere with my daily life. Even through college, I would’ve never been diagnosed with general anxiety. Being diagnosed with anxiety and depression as well as having CF presents another interesting invisible issue. With CF, I have some (limited but existent) level of control over my disease. I can exercise more, improve my adherence, or try other medications. All of these can possibly improve short and long-term outcomes. With anxiety and depression, your outcomes feel inherently out of your control. Speaking for myself, one of the first steps to improving my situation has been admitting it exists. This may be different for everybody, but speaking out about this took a lot of courage and self-reflection and way too much time was spent denying I was struggling to the point of needing help. Over the years, I’ve learned how to write about CF in a way that (at least in my opinion) doesn’t solicit pity. Writing about how anxious and depressed I am requires a different approach. Our culture seriously stigmatizes invisible and mental diseases alike, so writing about it required me to ignore the fact that some people may not “believe” in it, because their opinions are useless and quite honestly harmful to me and the broader community. I never want pity; I want compassion, sympathy, empathy, and kindness. Once I admitted to myself that what I was feeling was something outside of my control and therefore needed to be solved through solutions I had never tried before, I was on a path to much better mental health.

After admitting it to myself, I forgave myself. It probably sounds weird to say that I forgave myself for this, especially when it was clearly out of my control. For me, though, it was a necessary step. I had to learn to accept that this was something that I couldn’t control and in order to reduce the amount of self-loathing I was having because of this thing that I couldn’t control, I had to remember that it wasn’t my fault. I had to give myself the same advice I’d give to a struggling friend. I realized the language I was using with myself was that of somebody that was starting to resent themselves. If I ever heard a friend speak like that, and I have before, I would try my best to help them see that it was not their fault at all. This is where depression and anxiety are so paralyzingly difficult; no matter what people say, yourself included, it feels despairingly impossible to ever see it that way. Through all of this, I have struggled with whether or not I am a good person. I feel like my heart is in the right place a lot of the time and I do my best to treat others with the compassion that I would hope others treat me, but there are always lingering, intrusive thoughts in the back of my mind. 

At times I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back. This is where the step of forgiving myself was so important. It helped me start giving myself credit for the progress I made. If you read my writings, you can tell through all of this grief, there are times I bounce back and forth rapidly about what I’m feeling. I still have a lot of progress to make. I think this piece is a big step for me.

Anxiety and depression are no joke. Please reach out to me (I am obviously not qualified to give advice, but maybe I can be a friend), or a trained professional, or whomever you need to get the right treatment. It saved my life.