On Anxiety, On Happiness
This past spring, I found out that I didn't have lung cancer.
To anyone else, this would not have been a big surprise, given that I had diagnosed myself, and I have never, as far as I can recall, received any kind of medical training or certification. But for me, hearing the doctor's reassurances that he had checked my lungs three times, and they were, in fact, healthy and clear, was a release from a reality I had been living in for at least the past month: I was dying, and no one but myself knew about it. I had started writing letters in my head to loved ones, and planning what instructions I should give to my parents for my funeral. I made mental lists about what I wanted to accomplish before my death, whenever that may be. I was resigned to my fate.
Deep down, I knew how ludicrous it was to assume that some raspy breathing and heart palpitations immediately pointed to my demise, but that didn't stop my brain from spiraling. I've experienced anxiety for long enough now that I recognize when I am in its grip, but as anyone familiar with anxiety will tell you, that knowledge doesn't make it any easier to escape it.
My life is going really well right now. For the first time in what seems like ever, I have no drama. Nada. Zilch. No horrible boss, no bank accounts with negative balances, no soul-crushing romantic relationships. It's been this way for awhile, and I have newfound clarity about what I'm capable of and how the habits and mindset of my twenties affected my decisions and led me down the path to this current phase of life.
For a long time, it was really easy to blame all of my mental health issues on temporary situations and circumstances, instead of acknowledging that perhaps anxiety and depression are more of a physiological baseline for me. I honestly thought that if I could just get to the point where things were good, the anxiety and depression that had been accompanying all of my problems would vanish as well. As you can probably guess, that didn't happen; both of them gladly and stubbornly stuck around.
Over six years ago, when I was a baby-faced 25-year-old, I wrote a three-part series of blog posts about my anxiety in relation to the concepts of the past, future, and present. I remember writing those posts, in the living room of my apartment in Los Angeles. I look back on them now, and I am amazed at how much I understood myself then, and both how much and how little has changed in the years since. I wrote so openly, and with such confidence, about what I was going through and how I was going to work out my issues. I wasn't as scared to be vulnerable. I was actually kind of funny! I miss that girl, and yet I am her still.
I talk a big game about the importance of vulnerability, and yet I have never been more fearful of being vulnerable than I am right now. My twenties wizened me in ways I wasn't expecting. I made mistakes, lost friends, and had to reckon with myself, deeply and more than once. I can now say with confidence that there are people who exist in the world who don't like me, and would probably be okay with watching me fail. This knowledge, on top of my own inner critic and demons, has turned me into a little bit of an emotional hermit, even though my predilection for expressing myself, for wearing my heart and life on my sleeve, has not lessened. And so my anxiety is intensified; hermiting + an intense desire for expression does not a chill person make.
I can say this with certainty: I am happy right now. I have discovered that is possible to be happy AND anxious at the exact same time. (And restless and joyful and a million other things. Multitudes, y'all.) As a matter of fact, it turns out that the better my life gets, the worse my anxiety becomes, probably because I have more to lose. The brain is a strange, illogical beast. But, for me at least, it's important not to confuse anxiety with sadness. It's also important not to equate honesty about mental health issues with a cry for help. It's becoming more acceptable for people to talk openly about what's going on in their brains, but we've got a long way to go. Many stigmas still exist. It's all very complex. Life is complicated.
I love writing. I love connection. The people who have helped me the most are those who are authentic and vulnerable, and I crave being more of those things again, shifting outward, and passing on the love, which is something the world needs more than ever right now. It's important that we know we're not alone, that we share anxieties and fears and hopes. Every time I've allowed a little bit of my messiness to be seen, and hear the stories of others, I am reminded that we are all so much more alike in our humanity than we realize. I'd like more of that in my life.