Paulo Coelho once said
“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”
It’s hard to remember a time I wasn’t terrified, a time I wasn’t worried about every little thing, a time when even something minor couldn’t send me into a tailspin. I just think it’s in my nature. I’ve always been naturally nervous, anxious, frightened that at any moment I could fall off the edge. Fortunately, only a few people have had to witness me in my lowest moments when I have been imprisoned in the darkness of my mind, I have lost the key for a time and it seems there may be no way out. I am no stranger to feeling sad for days on end and not being sure quite why or crying an endless pool of tears and feeling convinced they might never stop. I’m used to being overcome by a sense of panic or dread when one tiny, but oh so important (at least to me) thing feels out of place or a plan goes awry.
I’m sure one of the reasons I can write so freely about these feelings right now is because, at least for the time being, I am not in that place. However, what is crazy about being me, or at least someone like me, that dark place is never too far away. And as if there wasn’t enough to fear, I also feel quite scared that right around the corner one of those times is waiting to creep up on me and again I will be caught feeling worthless, hopeless, like I’m drowning and can’t come up for air.
All throughout my life, I was always afraid to tell people about how I was feeling. I thought they might think I was insane, or be worried I wasn’t safe, or think I was looking for pity and attention. Being a counselor in training, it seems silly that I would buy into the stigma associated with “mental illness,” but alas in the midst of my toughest times, all my training seems to go out the window.
There is one thing though that turns things around for me time and time again: it’s the power of presence. When someone hears me and looks at me and tells me it is normal to be sad sometimes, that I’m not crazy for hurting, that I am loved and though there is no way to know how long the pain will last, it won’t last forever, that’s when I can see the sadness, the anxiety for what it is… a season, a spell, a storm to be weathered with others rather than needlessly alone.
Funny thing is, in times when have I shared my experience with those willing to offer me presence, I was able to offer some presence of my own. As I have opened up about my story, others have chimed in with their similar stories or breathed deep sighs of relief in finally realizing they are not alone. Slowly, I have learned you can be strong while sad, intelligent while anxious, and capable and competent while overwhelmed.
Life ebbs and flows. There are good days and bad days. I am now at peace with the reality that I have many days to come that seem so good that the bad is all forgotten and many bad days to come that are so bad that it feels as though a good day may never come again. I know who to call when I am feeling down and out (my beloved biological sister, my precious Lord, and nonbiological brothers and sisters who understand my battle) and I know what to avoid (loud/crowded spaces, people who don’t keep their plans, and small talk). I’m thrilled that no matter what stage or state I am in, I will always be able to offer the gift of presence to comrades and clients alike.
I think Paulo had it right; we do need to learn to live with anxiety/storms. I’m just glad that the next time I see those dark clouds closing in, I don’t feel the need to fight them on my own anymore.