I am a person who has anxiety. I was reminded of this today when I was reading a legal document and by the end I felt nauseous. I realized this is because while I was reading through each of the stipulations, I was creating outliers in my mind of far-fetched, hypothetical situations in which I could be legally culpable of doing the wrong thing.
The thing about anxiety is that it’s progressive. So as soon as I have these little “what if I do something wrong one day” worries I remember that overall in my life I am also worried about how much my credit card bill is going to be for December since I can’t remember which gifts I put on it and whether my doctor is going to renew my prescription without me having to go in and see him like I said I would last time he renewed it and that I still haven’t painted over the place in my wall where I moved a chair and scratched up the paint. Anxiety is an exhausting thing to have.
What should be obvious, but never is, to anxiety sufferers is that you don’t have to fix your life all at once. We have to learn to sever the connections between all the things we’re nervous about.
I think it’s the natural conclusion of anxiety-thoughts that you have to figure out a solution RIGHT now. I know i’ve gotten out of bed enough times at 3am to make a list of things I’m going to do in order to assuage my anxiety just enough to sleep to know that planning and fixing is really the only that that helps halt anxiety symptoms. So we assume that we have anxiety because we need to fix stuff.
“If only I could figure out my life, I wouldn’t be dealing with these thoughts.”
Unfortunately, the thoughts won’t go away, you’ll just find something else to fixate on. For instance, I generally have anxiety about money topics. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, it just happens to be my biggest trigger. My friend who is unemployed currently, has a much bigger reason than I do to have money-related anxiety, yet what she fixates on is how people perceive her. Yet another friend with anxiety constantly struggles with thinking she is doing a terrible job at her work, where her bosses seem to love her in reality. None of our anxieties are tied to a real life problem, just to a perceived inadequacy. Fixing each individual problem won’t make our internal process of perceiving inadequacy go away. When you cut off one head of the beast, it simply grows another.
This is why it is liberating to say “I don’t have to fix my life.” Some part of our lives, by nature of being human, will always be imperfect. Chasing perfection is a red herring, it distracts us from the real goal, which is to figure out how to be happy in the midst of imperfection. Fixing your problems is unrelated to happiness. Do whatever it takes to internalize this reality. I’m doing that, and I hope, eventually it will be so internalized my anxiety will have no choice but to listen.