I’m not sure I can put my finger on the domino that fell first in the line, but somehow over the last six months I have been experiencing a shift. It started with being periodically attacked with severe bouts of social anxiety and depression; worse than I’d had in years. At times, it was so crippling that I felt certain I was going to drown inside of my own mind. For a while, I couldn’t exercise. I had nothing that I wanted to do and I couldn’t motivate myself to be active. I felt lethargic, depressed, tired. I would exercise whenever I could make myself, but it was forced, and I was easily deterred. But this year I started exercising a lot more consistently, and it’s been the best possible thing that could have happened to me.
There is a gym in our complex; and while I loathe gyms, I love running on the treadmill. I put on my headphones and tune out the world and just run without stopping, sometimes for an hour straight. It is better than any therapy I’ve ever had. I get uninterrupted thinking time to process all of the insanity floating around in my brain, all while the while pummeling it with endorphins, and I gain clarity. When I’m at my worst, it helps me to not feel quite so bad. When I’m feeling down, it lifts my spirits. And when I am middle of the road, it makes me ridiculously happy. Things tend to come into focus while I run, and my body feels clear and free. Some days I just feel like I could keep running forever. Those are the BEST days.
Anyone with bad anxiety will tell you that they know that what they feel is illogical, yet they can’t help themselves from being so caught up in it anyway. It consumes you in such a way that you don’t feel free. In many ways, you really aren’t. So all of the therapy in the world that tried to bring attention to the fact that the anxious thoughts were unrealistic didn’t do me an ounce of good. “Yes, and…?” Was the response I had to this approach.
When I am in a really dark place, I am absolutely convinced that I am a terrible, unlovable person that has no purpose and doesn’t deserve to be alive. It’s that extreme. I find myself looking at things that have happened to me, and am able to find endless evidence to support this bleak and dystopian view of myself. I make the most convincing arguments against my worthiness, and I believe them.
When I’m in a good place, I feel almost healthy and normal. I drive around everywhere with the music blasting on my stereo, singing along at the top of my lungs, I have comfortable conversations with strangers, and I’m able to be myself around people and enjoy it. I’m at peace with the fact that I’m the odd duck that doesn’t fit anywhere. I feel inspired, and hopeful, and I’m kinder to myself. I don’t beat myself up for the fact that my brain only remembers song lyrics and refuses to hang on to a single useful fact. Suddenly all of the evidence supports the opposite of what I had convinced myself of before. I see that the anxiety and depression are mud-colored glasses that completely distort everything around me. I wipe the mud off, and life returns to normal.
The most interesting thing about swinging so sharply back and forth between the lows and highs in shorter periods of time is that it has brought attention to my thoughts in a way that I never could through sheer willpower alone. It’s a little jarring to believe one day that you are the scum of the universe and then the next day believe you are actually kind of awesome in your own way — with no good reason to switch between the two. This alternation has been disorienting to my brain, and it’s allowed me to pull a little further outside of myself to a higher vantage point. The lows feel like they’ve shifted, and they aren’t quite so… real… any more.
And then I realized something that I thought was interesting. That piece of me that is a lawyer at heart and can argue any side of a debate, that is sensitive and both empathic and empathetic and seeks to understand people and walk in their shoes, the writer in me — that is the same piece of me that is also the voice of my anxiety. It gets out of control and starts spinning this dark, glittering story that’s highly plausible and feels impossible to look away from. I am always telling people that the thing that feels like your biggest curse is often your greatest gift in disguise, and here is perfect evidence of that. The part of me that causes my terrible anxiety is the very same part of me that sees the world in this utterly singular way, that allows me to connect more deeply with people. It is something I would never trade away, even if it meant losing the anxiety forever. I will keep this double-edged sword. I am finally getting better at wielding it.