I have struggled with anxiety since I was a kid, and would usually be the first person to scoff if anyone ever called this trait a “gift”. I have begun managing it as an adult through counseling and learning new coping/rerouting skills, some go the medication path, different things work for different people. What I do know, however, is that those of us with anxiety tend to agree that it is not a positive thing. When uncontrolled, it can be exhausting and cause heightened emotional responses and added stress to situations that aren’t at all threatening. It can cause us to consider all the dire “what ifs” but none of the possible happy surprises. It can introduce a lot of doubts in both ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. Lately though, I’ve been challenging myself to think about the positives of certain attributes within myself that I don’t always like. I’m a big proponent of neurodiversity and try to always see the positive attributes of others’ brains that sometimes work differently, so it would go to follow that I owe myself the same courtesy. Fellow anxiety peeps, though you have probably been told that your affliction is this horrible burden, I’d ask you to come with me and think through the ways your tendency towards anxiety has actually helped you.
I was looking for a notebook with some blank pages left recently so I could jot something down, and started reading an old journal I’d abandoned. In it was a set of columns listing positives and negatives about my life at the time. I noted as a positive that I was in a long term relationship with “no doubts or issues” and had “no bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, or mood regulation issues like I used to get”. Now, while not having panic attacks is all well and good, I am no longer in this relationship and looking back there were plenty of issues, and plenty of reasons I should have been doubting the long term success of our partnership based on some pretty significant differences and toxic behaviors. At the time I was also not getting the support I needed or deserved at work and was quite frankly being taken advantage of, albeit probably not intentionally. I came to the conclusion that when I thought I was “overcoming” or “doing better”, what I really was doing was turning my brain off and giving over control of my life just to feel more “normal”. Maintaining Zen and not letting life rattle you is one thing, but no one needs to smile and talk about how great it feels to have a bird flying overtop shitting on your head all the while not moving from the spot you are rooted in below.
I definitely deal with a hell of a lot more anxiety today than I did when I wrote that entry, but I also love my life infinitely more. I let situational anxiety take its course, because though my emotional responses may be more amplified than the average person, it acts sort of like the check engine light in a vehicle, letting me know that something isn’t working and I need to evaluate and figure out what needs to change for my mind and body to start running at their best again.
What other positive attributes does my anxiety bring out?
A drive to regularly set personal and professional goals, show up and work hard until they are achieved.
Dependability – I can’t comprehend of making promises not intending to see them through, and if I agree to assist I am going to be on time and prepared.
On that note, I have a planning oriented nature, and don’t leave important matters to the last minute (um, or unimportant ones … 😉 )
I am able to empathize more with others who are struggling emotionally, and I know the experience has made me better at my job leading a program whose participants have various disabilities, mental health issues, and general quirks.
Something I’ve been learning is though we can all grow and change and should be committed to continuous growth every day, certain parts of us aren’t going anywhere. We can deal with these parts of ourselves more beneficially and make them work for us and not against us, but they likely aren’t going completely away. So, rather than engaging in self hate let’s work through the parts that are toxic or causing us unhappiness, but appreciate the parts that help us be better humans … including our anxiety.