My misguided anxiety

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Anxiety. A word I have said, read, and written more times than I can count. Always attempting to find clarity and always eluded.

I often find myself backtracking through every moment of my adolescent years, trying to determine what got me here. A number of things come to mind – being bullied at an early age, parents who struggle with mental health and substance use, financial instability, intergenerational trauma, an atypical brain – and sometimes the rabbit hole goes so deep; I lose all sense of self. I used to think that if I determined the exact source of my anxiety, I could address it and move on. No such luck.

I don’t come off as a person with debilitating, intrusive thoughts. I did very well in school and graduated with honors, I participated in extracurricular activities, I maintain healthy relationships with friends, and I can hold a job and live independently. I am often described as well-adjusted and even comforting. But what many of my acquaintances don’t know is that this is entirely born out of negative reinforcement. I tell myself that I am not good enough hundreds of times a day. With every text, email, and conversation, there is a voice in the back of my head taunting, “wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong….”

This is just one manifestation of my anxiety, but I want to highlight it because it kept me from taking steps towards recovery for a long time. I have high-functioning anxiety, and I was afraid that without this constant pressure, I would achieve less. I thought that if I didn’t have the voice in the back of my head telling me to do better, I wouldn’t. I also convinced myself that this was a good thing, a thing that made me a valuable person. This toxic codependence kept me from seeking treatment for years. But I am here to tell you that this is an illusion.

Anxiety makes me feel out of control, and I find it calming to meticulously plan and organize. And here’s the thing…these mechanisms are what help me to achieve. There is absolutely no need for the added, “you suck” or “you’re a failure” or “nobody likes you.” Believe it or not, you can achieve greatness without one critique of yourself. This is easier said than done, and takes a lot of practice, but it is possible.

What I am trying to say is this: When you are encouraging your friends, do you put them down in the process? Would you say the things you say to yourself to your friends? No. You give them space to be human and you lift them up…and you deserve to be treated the same. So understand that your anxiety does not define you. Your hard work got you to where you are. Your achievements belong to you.

By Haley Rizkallah

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