Why I Let Anxiety Stick Around

Growing up, I was a competitor. I liked to win { let’s be honest, I still do}. I have several memories of the nerves I held prior to competitive events. While my memory bank is full of moments of tremendous nervousness, a few stand out.

Prior to a track meet at Lakewood High School, I played it really cool. I was dropping f-bombs and talking to teammates. But actually, every 5-10 minutes I was running the bleachers to get to the top of the stadium where the bathroom was several times prior to the race because my nerves made my stomach tie itself into several ball-sized knots and nothing but sitting on the toilet helped. Things I remember saying to myself, “You better win this thing. You have to. You can’t let her beat you. If you do, you’ll let your team down. You’ll show everyone that you actually aren’t that good.” After the race, I treated myself to endless stadium hot dogs and prolonged the cycle of shitting.

It didn’t need to be a formal competition though. I can remember a summer evening when my Uncles and cousins and I went to our summer cottage baseball diamond. I was so sick to my stomach. I remember thinking that my Uncle needed to know what an athlete I was. And I’d do anything to show him. Even if it meant taking a line drive to the knee and limping for days to follow.

Well fast forward to 32 years of life, and it’s still there. The never- ending push to excel at anything I do is readily vocal and quite demanding. It is relentless in the pursuit of being the best, the first, and it is rarely appeased. The difference in those span of years is that I know it’s there.

So I was talking with my therapist, and she asked a riveting question. “What about anxiety works in your favor?”

The nerdy nerve-centric party in my head was like, “Finally we’re getting some credit!”

So here’s what I came up with.

Anxiety has been a hate, love, hate relationship. I start with hate because I don’t like being asked if I’m taking laxatives before a major event. It has generated a dis-ease in my belly, a clump in my throat, and a very chatty brain that is unafraid to tell me how much more I need to work on it and all of the things I haven’t thought of, and all of the ways I’m just not there yet.

But there’s a love there, too. Anxiety has fueled me to do more. It has been a fear driving semi truck that demanded attention. Sure, it could have been a little more subtle and perhaps, kinder, but guess what? In my head, it worked. And I have achieved some pretty cool things amidst the self-pressure and regular negative self-talk.

Fear drove me to never see anything as good enough which, in my anxiety filled brain, in a twisting addictive way, worked and I wasn’t ready to part with it.

I’ll say I’m not forever changed, yet. Frankly,I still see its value. But, I also see its detriment. It has taken a toll on my insides. It has taken a toll on my self-concept. It has devalued me.

I have hunch (and by hunch I mean a Ph.D. sports psychology specialist told me) that believing I can do it and using that as a fuel instead of fear, is more effective. The difference isn’t the result, she says, it’s the path to get there is less grueling, less mean, and more loving.

In my professional life, as a business owner and a mental health therapist, I do strive to do more. and better. and gather additional information. and read all of the things. and prepare to the -nth degree. And often, it has worked. But it has been more for the fear of failing and the ways I would see myself if I didn’t do those things.

So, the practice for me is to continue to hunt for answers and resources, but without the added layer of being value-less if I don’t and without the pressure to get to the “next thing.”. Instead, I’ll give a nod to that loud semi passing through, thank it for trying so hard to protect me and help me grow, and remind it { and remind me} that I know I can. That the young Halle who wants so badly to be good enough, already is. I’ll straighten my posture, lift my hearts center, and take a deep breath.

I’m good as I am. I can. I am. I have.