Sitting at the stoplight, on my way to work, I found myself in deep introspection. I’ve started a medication for anxiety. This is the first time I’ve ever tried anything for anxiety and I’m still getting used to how it makes me feel. I’ve upped my dose to twice as day, as directed. I was told this is something I can’t quit “cold turkey” as it will cause pretty bad rebound anxiety.
I never thought I actually had anxiety. When I was young, I was just “shy”. I’ve always been a quiet, sensitive kid. I was often told I was too sensitive, which makes one feel like there’s something wrong with them straight off the bat. As I got older, I just thought I was awkward, as kids sometimes are in their preteen years. I grew up being laughed at a lot, simply for just existing. I wasn’t trying to get laughs or was the class clown. I just managed to attract the wrong type of attention from insecure, hurting people. What’s the saying? “Hurt people, hurt people”? Me being a quiet kid, I was an easy target for those who secretly felt like shit about themselves. What better way to deflect from one’s own insecurities than to draw attention to and laugh at every awkward moment in another person’s life, knowing they won’t fight back. Am I still working through this shit from when I was a kid? Yup. Do I feel weak, stupid, broken and eternally flawed for admitting that this stuff still lives in my head an effects me? 100%, without question. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, I still feel like that kid that everyone is laughing at and thinks is stupid and a joke and is the person who can’t do anything right, despite my confident exterior.
Fast forward to my early 20’s. Social anxiety was starting to raise it’s ugly head. My ex husband is from Mexico and a good portion of his family speaks Spanish primarily. However, we never spoke Spanish at home. He always said, “I live here now. We speak English”. The one’s that live here know English but when everyone is together, Spanish is what’s spoken as it’s the majority. I get it. It’s easier as it’s their first language. I have relied heavily on the little Spanish I retained from high school. Had I known this was going to be my future, I would have worked harder in class and not taken that time for granted. Being the one who didn’t know enough Spanish to follow the conversation, I was on the outside of many family gatherings. As we were together longer, my Spanish got better but it’s still pretty shit. “Use it or lose it” definitely applies to language. It would take me about three days to get acclimated to thinking in Spanish. I got to where my mother in law and I could communicate decently. She’s a saint of a woman and incredibly patient and loving. Whenever anyone would give me the third degree as to why I didn’t know Spanish yet, she would defend me and tell them “We can talk!”. This lovely woman still has a special place in my heart and always will.
As I went from my 20’s to my 30’s, I started to realize that this whole social anxiety thing and my great aversion to meeting new people or attempting to socialize with folks I didn’t know might actually be a problem. Also, my hyper-vigilance at work and my being on edge in every social setting might not be how regular folk operate. At one point, I couldn’t make myself enter the house of someone we knew, by myself, despite there being people I knew inside. All because the main language was Spanish and I didn’t know everyone there. I had to have my ex come with me. He thought I was being ridiculous, he just didn’t understand.
When I was 38, I entered therapy for the first time. I had been diagnosed with anxiety, at least in my medical chart, back in 2010. I can’t remember the visit or which doc I saw but that was the conclusion. I think I was given depression medication back in 2010 for the first time. It worked on both the anxiety and depression for a while. Eventually I stopped taking it because I didn’t feel like it worked anymore. Side effects were not great and I felt I could exist without it. I did and I could but not for an extended period. The social anxiety started effecting my job and that’s when I decided I needed professional help. In therapy, we worked on the depression mostly. The anxious tendencies seemed normal and not all that unusual as I’d found other people with the same behaviors.
Acute attention to detail was a favorable trait in my line of work. I didn’t know there was an underlying fear of failure and real distress every time I’d be corrected by a supervisor. There was a real and very strong feeling that I was a massive waste of space/pond scum/worthless human being whenever a mistake might be brought to my attention. I still don’t take criticism well but I’m better than I once was at recieving it. I still can feel my inner dialogue getting very defensive whenever I’m corrected. When I’m in a low, outside criticism has turned into internal berating, self loathing and self nit-picking. I hate this tendency within myself. I also didn’t realize that not knowing the answer to something was OK and was a perfectly human thing. Having to always get the question right for fear of looking stupid has been something that’s been with me for ages.
For whatever reason, I simply thought anxiety was something I had because I was simply a scared person. I wasn’t brave enough in life, and I thought that’s all anxiety was for me. I wasn’t brave enough to drive in the big city by myself or brave enough to travel. I wasn’t brave enough to start something new. I thought people without anxiety were just more adventurous, daring and braver. That’s all I must have to do to get past this. Just be braver, right?
In 2018, I left my job and moved to a different city to start massage school. I finally felt I was “brave” enough to try something new. During massage school, I decided I couldn’t move back and decided to end my 22 year long marriage. I finally felt strong enough to face the fact that things were not going to change. I was quite unhappy and in order to save myself, I needed to do this. I graduated massage school, stayed in my current city and have tried to make bold, necessary decisions for myself ever since. But you know what?? I still have fucking anxiety, despite all my bold moves and bravery.
Being brave isn’t just about getting out of your comfort zone, going places or trying to be more social. Being brave can also look like asking for help when it’s really hard to do. Asking for help can be hard because you don’t want to look weak or you’re afraid to look like a failure or you’re afraid someone close to you will look at you with pity and think you’re broken. Being brave is working through all that shit in your head and venturing forth, doing what you need to do to take care of yourself for a change. It can look like starting medication for the first time despite fears, because you’re facing the fact you aren’t really doing as well as your facade suggests.
To all of those fighting stuff people can’t see or understand, massive virtual (((hugs))) to you. You’re not broken. You are loved. And, you are truly brave, even when you don’t feel like it.