I used to call myself a perfectionist. It was the only word I could find for myself, but it never fit quite right. I’d look around my home at laundry unfolded, a shelf undusted, a paint job in a bathroom that was a little crooked in one corner which I’d never felt a need to correct. Does a perfectionist live with these kinds of things? I wasn’t sure. Then again, “perfectionist” really is no diagnosis. It’s a word, and adjective, which a quick Google search yields was virtually unused the year 1800 but began a climb to popularity somewhere around 1930 and peaked right around the time we were all partying “like it’s 1999,” because it was.
A long chain of events, several decades of life experience, and one sentence that came from my mouth on a “bad day” a few months ago – which I feel lucky now to have heard myself give voice to – led me to finally realize, in a way that I hadn’t before, this truth: I have anxiety. What did I say, what utterance finally led me to this grand self-realization? Simply this: “I worry about everything all of the time.”
That was a bit of an over statement, but not by far. What might have been more accurate is “My concern for a situation is often out of proportion to the actual threat it presents, and this happens to me not in moments of emergency, but in the most mundane and ordinary situations.”
I’m a champ in an emergency. I am your gal when you want to know which way to exit a burning theatre. Just don’t ask me whether I’d rather sit on the left or right side of that theatre when it isn’t on fire, or what we should have for dinner. I may not be sure.
Anxiety can be brutal. Ask any service animal – they’d tell you, if they could, that anxiety is palpable. My dog isn’t a service animal, she’s a dog, but she’s been in our home for eleven years, from the time she was six weeks old. She feels my emotions across the house. She’s sixty pounds and has nearly crawled fully onto my lap on a few occasions when my emotional discomfort was off the charts.
“Just don’t worry about it,” says one friend.
“It’s not your problem,” says another.
“You shouldn’t care so much,” advises a third.
If it only was so easy. I often don’t make a conscious choice to “worry.” Anxiety doesn’t sail in from the high seas, visible on the horizon, announcing its arrival with trumpets and cannons. It appears – presto change-o – like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, instantly. Then it drags you around the room like an 800 pound gorilla.
Here’s the thing, though: I learn. I learn. And I want to learn more. I have held hope in my heart as long as I can remember. I have believed, for my entire life, that things can improve for the better if we only face them head on and tell the truth.
So I’ve been working, a little every day, to listen hard for the distant footfall of that cruel magician. Even as I sat down to write this, the first thing I had to do was forgive myself for not finishing the poem-a-day blog commitment I’d made in April, after life made other demands of my time. Then I needed to spend a minute working through my anxiety about admitting that I have anxiety. Then I needed to spend a minute working through my anxiety about being judged.
“Shhhh, shhh, shhh,” I coo to my fears, “It’s all going to be alright. It’s always alright in the end. You can let go of this, just a little, just for now.” And I breathe and breathe and breathe.
I think about yoga poses - asanas. Even if I’m seated behind a desk in a meeting I can’t leave, I think about lying in Shavasana, the corpse pose, sinking into the sureness of the ground. I think about standing in Tadasana, mountain pose, defying gravity, sure of the sky. I think about resting in Balasana, the child’s pose, safe and protected.
I have learned that dissecting the origins of my anxiety is productive, but gets me nowhere without the kind, gentle, steady reassurance which only I can give myself that the world has always cradled me in its arms. It is safe for my mind, like my body, to be flexible. It is safe to simply let life happen. There is no monster under the bed.
I hope that you, too, are practicing compassion toward yourself, minute by minute.