I never thought I would say this, but my anxiety and I are on pretty good terms right now.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. I first noticed I was struggling with anxiety when I was 15 years-old, but the ruminating and obsessing likely began long before that. As a kid, I was always in my head about things—and this only got more intense as I got older. I’m not quite sure when it turned overwhelming and all-consuming. I have vivid memories of sitting in my car when I was 17 years-old, stopped at a traffic light, and violently sobbing from the sheer exhaustion of not being able to turn my brain off. I felt broken.
Over the years, my anxiety has had its ebbs and flows. For years after that particularly bad day in my car, I felt rather numb to it—as if something cracked inside me so deep I could push it down and tune it out. But, of course, compartmentalizing your feelings is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound; a shoddy fix for a very real problem. My anxious thoughts returned with a vengeance as I entered my mid-20s, and began affecting my life in very tangible ways. It was difficult to stay focused at work and I those obsessive thought-spirals became a dime a dozen. How was I to focus on writing articles when my mind was preoccupied with something I thought was going to ruin my life?
I tried meds and felt like a shell of my former self. I tried CBD and ended up exhausted all the time. Nothing worked. I even tried compartmentalizing my feelings again, but found that didn’t work anymore either.
This cycle still continues. I’m currently 28, on the cusp of 29, and I still have days where I feel completely mentally immobilized. It's an invisible struggle—you wouldn’t know it, of course—as I still have to work and live my life. I didn't feel comfortable consistently taking sick days for my anxiety, mental health issues are confusing in that way.
Recently, a new therapist of mine recommended breathing exercises meant to help ground me during particularly intense, anxious times. “Doing something to break the pattern when you ruminate can be helpful,” she’d said at the time, before recommending a simple 12-second breathing exercise to try. And so, I did it. Every time I felt a tinge of anxiety, I would close my eyes and just breathe. I would acknowledge my feelings, and accept they existed. And then I would open my eyes.
My only choice is to acknowledge it when it’s there, accept I can’t change it, and move forward.
Through those exercises, I noticed something. By acknowledging my anxiety, I was accepting it in a way I never really had before. For years, I had looked at it as a battle, I felt I’d been cursed with a brain that would never really stop worrying. I didn’t accept it, and I didn’t accept myself. And this was part of my problem.
Anxiety isn’t something that just goes away, and we all know that. This is just the way my brain works. My only choice is to acknowledge it when it’s there, accept I can’t change it, and move forward. That’s it. This is me.
This realization has been the most freeing thing I’ve ever felt. Don’t get me wrong, my anxiety hasn’t gone away, and it never will—but by embracing it, I’m less inclined to be genuinely bothered by it. By extension, I’m accepting myself in a way I’ve never really done before. And acceptance is the first step to some sort of recovery.
I know this won’t work for everyone. Just like medication didn’t work for me, breathing exercises and embracing the reality of one’s mental condition won’t be a magical cure. But, self-acceptance is a good step forward, and has helped me cope with an issue I've never previously been able to get a handle one. For me, it was about learning to live with myself, the one person I'm stuck with forever. And, now, I move forward.