My first memory of anxiety was when I was 5 years old. We had just moved to a new town. I went outside to play. It was the desert and there was nothing but dirt. Then I heard it. The sound of laughter. I peeked around the corner of our house and there they were. Kids riding their tricycles in the street smiling and laughing. Oh, how I wanted to make friends with them. But as much as I wanted to run out there, I couldn’t. My legs wouldn’t move, they were stuck, paralyzed by fear.
Not much has changed since then as far as my desire to make friends and my inability to do so. I still feel trapped between desire and reality. In reality I’m more of a loner and have, for the most part, been able to embrace this fact. Sure, I can say hello, introduce myself, even have a simple conversation but to be free to be myself, to allow another person into my odd world, to know who I am, well…just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. There are times when the loneliness and sadness overwhelm me and I wonder why I have no friends?
While my anxiety has been quite debilitating throughout my life, I have also found that the exact same anxious energy has motivated me at times. I do realize this is an oxymoron but nonetheless, factual. When it comes to academics it seems that I am capable of harnessing the anxiety to my advantage. While I still get the exact same feelings of anxiety, the pounding heart, the sweaty palms, lightheadedness, lump in my throat, and negative thoughts about how I can’t do this and should just turn and run. I don’t. I begin to put one foot in front of the other and get it done. I have a high-grade point average because I am able to do this. Whatever job I’ve ever had, I have excelled at.
“Yes, I think that anxiety can be both debilitating and motivating,” Brianna, a fellow student, agreed. “One such experience was when I had to write an essay for one of my classes. I did research starting from the second week of my 16-week semester. As the semester started to draw to a close I tried to use my research to formulate my final essay, but every time I tried to sit down and write, I would think about how I wasn't going to be able to write the essay in a way that I could feel proud of.” During the short period of time left to complete the project Brianna did experience what she called “anxiety-induced paralysis.” Luckily, she was able to channel that same anxiety in a direction that benefited her. “My anxiety for meeting deadlines pushed me to finish the paper, to be polished and completed in only three weeks while juggling my other commitments,” Brianna said.
Dr. Cynthia Teeple, a professional psychologist, told me that if she had to guess, she would say that about 30% of her patients suffered from anxiety. “Almost all the patients who complete our Anxiety classes and consistently practice the anxiety reducing skills, significantly reduce their anxiety and increase their coping,” Dr. Teeple said.
The anxiety I experience goes far beyond the realms of building intimate relationships. My boyfriend and I spoke for six weeks on the telephone before finally meeting. Thereafter, we saw each other every other weekend for over a year. Then, eventually, we began to cohabitate, which has had many ups and downs. I feel fortunate that he is very supportive of me and understands my anxiety.
In social gatherings, I’d still rather be in a corner with my back to the wall just observing other interactions. The moment I move from that comfort zone I am overwhelmed by all the movement around me. I can’t hear, I can’t think. Being amongst all the external stimuli is just too much. My fear of dogs, heights, water, bees, and the dark has also limited the activities I will partake in.
However, last year I took my first photography class. And I found my passion. A few months ago, my boyfriend’s friend asked if I would take pictures of his band’s CD release party. I don’t even like going to the shows for obvious reasons. But I agreed. What I discovered while I took the pictures of the band performing was that I didn’t feel any anxiety. It was as though I was someone else, looking through another’s eyes. As I took the photos of the band on the stage I imagined myself as a confident world-renowned photographer. What would they do? How would they get the shots? When I’m behind the camera the rest of the world disappears. It’s kind of like how the parched lands of the desert soak up the rains and its soul is restored. Perhaps being on the other side of the lens has provided me with an escape. A way to be social without being social.
Anxiety Battling Tips from Dr. Cynthia Teeple
Practice every day, especially when not anxious so that it comes naturally to follow one is anxious.
Learn and practice square breathing and other anxiety skills, which are available on the Internet.
Light exercise (20 minutes of walking is really good)
Self-relaxation skills (especially at night when the mind tends to hijack our thinking and worry).
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude - notice negative thoughts and judgements as they arise and gently turn the mind to ‘just the facts’ in this moment only
Try not to think out pessimistic scenarios or project out into the future