An End To My War With Anxiety
It’s taken me a while to figure out how to write this post. Those of you who have followed my struggles with anxiety know how difficult these past few months have been since I moved away from home in September. Well, I think I’ve figured out where the anxiety has been coming from. This time for real, and it’s something that is hard for me to admit, but here goes.
I have been reading a book called “When Panic Attacks” by Dr. David Burns, and it goes through a lot of different methods for relieving anxiety. The idea is that they will give you many options, and you’ll figure out which one works best for you. For example, one method is to directly face your fears by doing what scares you, admitting what you fear, finding out if the fear is valid or if it is over-exaggerated. Another one is to do a cost benefit analysis to decide if what you believe is helping or hurting you (like I worry all the time because I feel like I’m alert to danger listed as a benefit, but it’s controlling my life as a cost.
One phrase in the book really stuck out to me:
“Anxiety is nearly always a symbolic expression of how you really feel inside.”
I thought about this phrase for a long time. Maybe that was true for me, but I had no idea what my anxiety could be “symbolizing”, and just the thought of the word made me worry this was going to turn into a high school English class assignment. You know, the ones where the fish represents shame and struggles, or the man at the store is actually Jesus.
I then proceeded to do the “What-If” technique, as taught in the book. I started with a thought I have, and then started working off of it with more worst case scenarios, in a “if this was true, then what?” fashion. As you guys know, I’ve had a lot of panic relating to going out on parade where we all stand rigidly and they do ceremonial things. I’ve had two panic attacks this year in that situation, and even though I’ve done it a few times since then without having panic attacks, I’ve been living in fear of the next time I have to do it for months. Here is what the “What-If” model turned into:
What if… we go on parade
I might feel anxious and sick
I might faint
I might fall over and hurt myself or embarrass myself
People will look down on me
I will look weak
I won’t be respected
I will never get promoted
If I’m not a leader I won’t be respected
If I’m not respected, I’m worthless.
This blew my mind. I knew that my craving achievement was unhealthy, but I didn’t know how badly it was hurting me. I now see that I’m not afraid of parading because we have to stand still and I might pass out. I’m afraid of parading because people will be looking at me, watching, possibly judging. And the fear of judgment is crippling.
I’m not anxiety-free, of course, but I have to admit that I have only about 15% of the anxiety I’ve been dealing with for the past 8 months. Part of me still worries, but now I know that it’s only my thoughts that hurt me. More to the point, I don’t need to be afraid of my thoughts because I’m in control. I can do this, and I don’t need to be afraid anymore.
As for fixing the source of my anxiety, I’ve decided to take a step back from work. I realize that my time in the military might be short-lived, since once I graduate I might not be able to stay in the military if I’m working full-time. Next year I plan to work less. I’m going to have to learn to accept the place I’m in now, and be okay with it. I can be a leader among subordinates, and people will still respect me for what I contribute to the organization. I don’t need to be at the top to lead, and I don’t need to lead to be respected. I’m good at my job, I just have anxiety sometimes, and that’s okay. I don’t need to feel guilty for being anxious, and I’m not weak for being scared.
Admitting that my anxiety stems from my own feelings of inadequacy was tough to do. I didn’t even realize that I felt inadequate until I really took the time to think about what’s going on with me. Just talking about it wasn’t helping; I had to find the real cause. Well, I’ve found it, and I now feel like I can handle life. Next week is a special parade and awards night at the unit. I’ll be there, and I’ll be on parade. Everything will be okay, because I believe in myself, and am happy with who I am. I don’t need to worry about what others think because it doesn’t change anything, it just makes me feel sick and anxious. I’m happy with where I am, and even if I stayed at this rank forever, that would be okay. It doesn’t mean I’m not respected, and it doesn’t mean I’m bad at my job. It just means I’m doing what I have to do for myself to be happy, and right now, that’s all that really matters.