We all like to think we know ourselves, are healthily self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses. But each of us has something we either choose not to see or really don’t see, often until it’s too late. Turns out, these “blind-spots” can cause a lot of damage.
My blind-spot? Anxiety.
And this year, it ruined every important relationship I had.
I lost two of my best friends. I created tension and stress with my family. I emotionally exhausted so many people I cared about, to the point I’ve pushed some away and am still currently working on fixing things. I destroyed the trust, optimism, and belief in my own thoughts and self. I temporarily lost sight of the most beautiful parts of my life and myself.
When Anxiety Breaks You, You Finally See It
I didn’t see my anxiety. Others did, but I refused to believe I had it. Nor did I believe the little ways in which it was appearing or wreaking havoc on my life (even though so many people told me multiple times). I wasn’t always anxious; in fact, I used to be so good at feeling nothing that my nickname was “Ice Queen.” I was the master at feeling nothing when it came to my own life, and because of that track record, I stubbornly refused to believe or see the present-day truth that I was no longer that chill. I couldn’t see what I was doing to myself and to those close to me. I didn’t see any of it until it was too late.
When I broke, it was in the worst place possible. I was sitting at work talking to my manager and a simple question about upcoming plans with a friend set me off. For the next four hours, I sat crying in a private meeting room. I went through a box of tissues and tried to fathom what the heck was happening to me. I never cried, I didn’t’ break – I was strong. I didn’t do this, didn’t rely on people, didn’t feel this much. I had, through everything in the last seven years, always been able shrug it off and move on.
But this time, I was alone. Not the “alone” I love — the “I want to binge watch Netflix, drink wine, cuddle my dog and work on my novel or hike in the mountains with no cell reception” version. No, this was the “I have no family here, have lost all my friends I was close with, have ruined the relationship with the guy I was dating to the point that I knew I couldn’t reach out” version of alone. For the first time in my life, I felt utterly, truly alone.
It was the most terrifying thought I’ve ever had, because that same moment was also when I realized I was 100% responsible for this. I went to a walk-in therapy clinic that night. My mom flew up last-minute. I ignored friends and the guy I was seeing for the next few days. I left messages asking if I was okay unread, because the truth was I was ashamed, I wasn’t okay, and I couldn’t fathom yet how my anxiety had done this.
When We Let Anxiety Overtake Us, It Becomes All We Are
Our past impacts us more than we think it does, and when we don’t work through the hurts and insecurities it creates, we open the door for long-term damage. In the last month alone, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my anxiety stemmed from not working through being cheated on, being lied to, being used as a placeholder, being abandoned through losing kids, being told I could be just a “little prettier if I learned to do my makeup right” or “a bit sexier if I just ate a little better or worked out harder,” and being shown over and over again by various men that I was “amazing and fun” but not worth anything more.
But here’s where my anxiety got fun. My anxiety’s source – my past pain – mean that present-day “triggers” set it off. For me, anxiety permeated and severely influenced my mindset, self-perception, and behaviors central to the personal and professional relationships in my life, as well as the attached concepts of value and worth.
How I Let Anxiety Sabotage It All And How The REAL Me Sees Things Now
1. I stopped trusting in words or actions at face value.
I saw hidden agendas, believed in ulterior motives, and believed that when it came to dating, it was always a game. Needless to say, most all of my dates didn’t get off the ground, and I never believed sincere compliments.
Now: If someone says they care, they care. If you get a compliment, it’s a compliment. Words are what they are until proven otherwise, and actions are actions that mean exactly what they are in that moment.
2. I (wrongly) believed if someone lost interest in me, it was my fault.
I didn’t see anything like red flags in others; instead, I sought out reasons for what I did or said wrong. And I fully own that I let anxiety and fear get the best me a lot the last two years, manifesting in passive-aggressive texts, “testing” people (even unintentionally), and displaying neediness.
Now: People change their minds, and not every person or relationship has to have a perfect ending. Some people you meet are actually better friends than boyfriends, some are meant to come into our lives so we can learn from each other, and some people honestly are just bad.
3. I felt this overwhelming need to prove myself over and over.
Nothing I did ever felt like it was good enough. At work, I never felt sure that I was achieving success or doing enough to make my boss happy. I sought every opportunity to take on more responsibility, more work, and more projects — even when overwhelmed — to prove that I was worth them keeping around. Because if I was good enough, I never would be let go.
Now: Nobody has to prove anything to anyone. You have to own exactly who you are, even if it’s someone who is overly energetic, extremely passionate, driven, has a kinky sense of humor, and speaks fluent sarcasm. All you can do is do your best every day.
4. I became terrified of abandonment and rejection.
I used to love being alone! But during high school, I also learned how to fend for myself when it came to loss and death – I shut down, turned my emotions off and felt nothing. If I had been better at science, I likely would have made a damn good surgeon (picture Christina Yang’s coldness). But the first time I fell in love and then was cheated on, lied to, and eventually dumped, I didn’t know what to do anymore because I’d suddenly been turned “on” and had somebody to walk through life’s ups and downs with. Between 2017 and now, I shut down again but not enough to eliminate the new fear of being abandoned or rejected.
Now: Being strong alone is my forte, and it’s something we all need to learn. But sometimes we need others too – some people to help us get out of our heads and laugh, some to help us cry and work through issues, and some to push us with harsh honesty. People who truly care for you won’t abandon you (no matter what), and if someone rejects you for any reason, they aren’t worth your time anyways. No really, not worth your time – because they never cared.
5. I twisted my passions into distractions.
Want to talk about running away from your problems? I didn’t just run (I literally did, chalking up 24 half marathons in 24 months), but I took every road trip, train, or plane I could. I love to travel and run — they’re truly passions I have as the real me — but I began to use the adrenaline high I loved from “getting lost in the wild” as the auto-response to anything that set me off in life.
Now: Okay, there’s no changing the part of me that constantly desires travel — it’s just who I am. I will always need to be in new places and experience new things. But passions are passions, not solutions to use to run away from problems.
6. I overthought EVERYTHING.
From text messages from the guy I was dating that meant nothing more than what they said to early morning emails from my boss. I thought I saw red flags when they didn’t exist, and asking for a quick 1-on-1 meeting translated to “Crap, I’m getting fired.” I wasn’t. It was actually about a potential promotion.
Now: I try to take everything at face value. If I absolutely must ask a question, I do, but now I’m stopping and pausing, deciding first if the question stems from a place of a desire for clarity or from irrational fear.
7. I stressed everyone out around me.
I became stressed all the time, because when triggers popped up, instead of talking through them, I let them run like a hamster on a wheel in my head. Stress replaced my spontaneity and joy. It made the people I was around feel stressed and pressured, and it pushed them away – some permanently. I was wearing them out. I was taking the joy out of time spent with me, when formerly I was the go-to for laughs, smiles, and relaxation.
Now: If I feel a trigger, I kill the ember of fear and anxiety in my gut before it flames up. No, really, I just tell my head, “NO.” Additionally, I’m diving back in head-first into everything I love to do – hiking, watching movies, happy hours, dinner with friends, spontaneous meet ups for coffee, painting, writing, and a whole new travel plan.
8. I stopped living in the moment.
I see all the little details and notice everything, so for me triggers created by past hurts included behavioral pattern changes, certain combinations of words, and body language. In the last few months, I stopped enjoying my life and started questioning and analyzing every second. With my family, my friends, my coworkers, the guy I was falling for, and even when alone. I analyzed everything, connecting dots that didn’t relate, always searching for the potential for pain and hurt instead of doing what I normally did: Living the life I love moment-to-moment.
Now: I feel like ME again. I’m not worrying about tomorrow or the future. I’m enjoying the heat of the sun, the majesty of the mountains, the love of my dog, the incredible off-roading capabilities and sound system of my new car — and I’m just living each moment like it’s my last. The way I used to do and am again. I’m chasing joy and excitement with courage again, not running from fear and seeking security, which honestly is just smothering anyways.
9. I lost myself.
I was trying to protect myself, but in doing so, I stopped being the girl I was – happy, joyful, spontaneous, and relaxed. And the people in my life stopped seeing the real me, replacing their memories with ones of negativity, pressure, insecurity, and stress. This further pushed people away.
Now: This was easy to solve by resubmerging myself in the things I love to do and bringing the parts of the REAL me back to front and center: passion, drive, carefree spontaneity, adventure, relaxation, wanderlust, sarcasm, compassion, and fun.
10. I questioned EVERYONE.
This was the worst thing I did. It’s definitely ingrained in me as a journalist to ask questions, but when I let my anxiety start to overpower who I was, my questions became born of the insecure fear of being abandoned, used, or hurt. I stopped trusting actions and kind words and instead questioned their purpose and intent. As a result, people began to pull away from me. I was exhausting them and I didn’t see it. I’m still working on fixing things with those people (and still hoping it’s possible to reverse the damage).
Now: I evaluate why I’m asking a question, and if it’s not the right reason, I don’t ask. I just let it go and trust life to work itself out for better or worse. Also, therapists are a freaking gift, because you let your mouth run like a duck’s feet underwater, be done, and then be the cool coasting bird atop the surface with all the other people in your life.
You Have to Own It First, Fight It Second
But here’s the biggest takeaway. Since recognizing my anxiety and how it’s impacted my life this year alone, it’s become a hard truth to swallow that it’s not simply erased. I will have to fight it sometimes. I probably won’t even see it coming until a trigger occurs, but I have the strength in me to win. In fact, I’ve already started winning.
The People Around Me Are Worth Fighting For
As to why I have the strength in me to fix this? It’s the people I let anxiety ruin relationships with. Each of them, in their own way, are so uniquely important to me that the hope of remedying things with them in the near or far future is all I need to fight, to remind myself to be ME.
People who bring value and joy to your life, who make you grow, and who push you to become a better version of yourself are worth everything. I will never stop fighting for those I care for and love.
On that note: Anxiety can just go eff itself.