Living With Anxiety - How To Cope And Thrive
So, you've read the title, and now, you know the truth.
My big secret...
Although,it's not really a massive revelation is it?
I have certainly alluded to the fact that I am not an infallible and unflappable lady, and have indeed had 'issues' in the past.
But I want to make it clear in this post that my anxiety is very much alive and well, as is my nomadic lifestyle.
Hiding my truth like its a third nipple.
For most of my travels, and indeed my life, I have withheld information about myself from those around me and in the last 2 years, those who read my blog.
The kind of anxiety I dance with daily is not generalized, natural or normal every day worries, its a state of being and overthinking that alters my behaviour, decisions and daily choices.
For me it reveals itself in a few different ways. It comes out in OCD tendencies (which I don't want to over-focus on) as well as times when I wake up with an inexplicable and wildly overpowering feeling that something is about to go horribly wrong. It sometimes makes me feel completely empty and void of passion for anything, other times it makes me miserable and unkind.
Anxiety comes forth when I am making changes in my life, like when I start a new job or plan a new venture. It tries to dominate my mind at every turn of my life's path, and it almost succeeds at making me recoil and retreat from the things, and the people, that I love.
I wrestled with my anxiety so hard throughout 2013/2014, that it made me physically ill and nearly stopped me from coming travelling.
Seriously, it wasn't until the week before I left that I let myself believe it was going to happen and I was going to like it.
Anxiety is trendy.
It's not suddenly cool to suffer a mental disorder, but its certainly popular to talk about right now.
More people, from everyday folk to other bloggers and creatives, are speaking up about how anxiety affects their life beyond the usual idea of being a 'Worry wart'.
The reason I have held back this truth, the reason I don't admit it to people who have actually witnessed me having an anxiety attack (I just tend to cry and sob then refuse to say why, just a tad alienating) is because I feel shame.
I don't shy away from much, but I have sat down to write this post approximately 8 times, each occasion talking myself out of it. I have walked to work mentally writing it out in my mind and then mentally sent it to the trash.
The thing with anxiety is that you feel anxious admitting to suffering with it... nature of the beast an all.
Why do I feel shame? Well, I don't want certain people to perceive me as weak; be it in my job, in my freelancing or amongst my peers. And even by Taran.
The belief that I should quash down this part of me isn't helped by the fact that someone, not long ago, made me feel incredibly guilty for not being at my best. I was made to feel pointless and useless, because they couldn't deal with my humanness.
I get that there are people in society who marginalise those with mental illness and many of them do so because they suffer in silence or have a loved one who's mental illness might have negatively impacted them. These people might try to cut down those who represent a hard truth, one that threatens their self control and ability to keep it together.
And then there are those who are simply uneducated or bigoted. Those people are indeed the weakest of us all.
Their knowledge and understanding is weak, their desire to know more and care more is weak, but I don't judge even the most closed minded, because anxiety or not, I'm gonna do my thing and I'm gonna do it well.
This isn't mind over matter or ambition over adversity, this is evidence based thinking. I know that despite my anxiety I have succeeded at many things that have truly mattered in my life so far.
I bet all of you have done amazing things, and mundane things, just perfectly, despite your powerfully anxious thinking.
I was able to start and grow a new loving relationship. I also struck out alone and started my own small business.
I have also then gone and jacked that in, in favour of travelling indefinitely...
I haven't exactly made life easy for my anxiety and its punished me by laying the worries on heavy and thick!
So I know that I might have up until now, felt this horrid inhibiting shame and not wanted to share a large part of my truth, but regardless of that shame, I know that nobody can call any of us sufferers, failures or weaklings, because we live our lives the best we can despite our mind and physiology fighting us.
We aren't sufferers, we are fucking warriors.
We try hard, time and time again. When we do focus on ourselves, and ignore the judgement and treatment we receive from others, we recognize that we can have a fulfilling life, we just have to work a little harder to get there.
I no longer care what someone thinks of this part of me. In honesty, I am usually proud of the fact that I am not them. I would rather be emotional and sometimes frightened, and endure my afflictions, than be a nasty, vacuous or close-minded individual.
Awkward when you suck so much someone would rather live with a mental illness than be remotely like you, the supposed embodiment of strength and success, HA.
Anyway, truth bombs dropped, let's get specific.
Anxiety warriors tend to prefer routine and predictability as a way of coping and I am no different. Sometimes they desperately want to try new things but spend months going back and forth in their head before they do it, or they just simply never end up feeling able to.
The last 4 months have been marvellous in that I have had time to unpack, settle and just stop; stop having to plan our travels or deal with tent-living or force myself to interact with new person after new person.
And yet, it has also been a time of challenge, with my work not being overly steady, my income being way less than hoped, and just the fact that our brief period in Australia being sucked up by our need to be employed.
It's been a mixed bag of emotions and I am now so ready to go and travel again that I am chomping at the bit to get going.
That's why I am a traveller right now. I want to explore and I want to live outside my comfort zone but that small part of my anxious mind would prefer it if I didn't.
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How I travel with anxiety, and in spite of it:
I don't follow this advice like I've read it in a book or adhere to it like a diet pan. But I do try to remember these things each time I am on the brink, and it often helps me nip an anxious thought in the bud before it builds momentum.
I hope this advice can help any and all my fellow warriors, not just the ones living out of a backpack.
Balancing Today with Worries Of Tomorrow
I worry about money, an awful lot, and the only way I have found to counter this is to try my damnedest to be present and mindful.
As a particular worry grows in volume, I will tell myself 'Take life one day at a time' because that's all anyone can ever do.
If we don't at least try to do this, we either make impulsive emotional choices, afraid of some imagined future event, or we simply retreat into ourselves and ignore the positive things happening right that moment.
There is a right amount and wrong amount of time to spend thinking and planning for the future, and we tend to end up on the wrong side of that.
But when we recognize that we can indeed cross our bridges when we get to them, and not a month before, we become more present and more calm.
Accepting The Worst Case Scenario
For me, right now, the thought of having to prematurely return home is a big anxiety trigger. The thought of my dream being cut short due to financial reasons feels akin to someone cutting my oxygen supply.
So over-bloody-dramatic! Get some perspective woman!
Travel is a privilege and it is not the only avenue to feeling happy, but my anxiety would have me believe that the alternative is way worse than it is.
The best way I have found to overcome this and actually enjoy the travelling I am doing is by making sure I stay in contact with my loved ones, stay engaged with what's happening there and remind myself that home is never ever the worst place I could end up.
Not Trying So Hard
By this I mean caring a little less about those steadfast ambitions that feel as if they are the be-all and end-all; yes, I want to be a successful writer and one day a published author, but my goodness, if it doesn't happen, is that the end of the world?
Unless your life is truly horrible as it is, and unless you are trying to recover a lost career or even your health, having a dominant and all-consuming ambition is draining and frankly, its self-inflicted stress.
Why can't ambition be a slow process, one that has things in perspective and recognizes that no dream is worth sacrificing your now? Are you living and breathing for the right things?
What if you work so hard you get burnt out in the process and end up loathing what you once loved?
Just something to think about, applicable even to someone who isn't trying desperately to be anything other than a travelling bum.
Revelling In Joy Wherever I Can
I LOVE my morning walk to work with my headphones and 30 minutes of podcast time. I GO CRAZY for hugs from Taran. I INHALE chocolate and BATHE in cups of tea. And when we are on the road, I jump out of planes and rescue Koala's...
The little things AND the big things; I'll take them both.
I don't just feel the hard shitty parts of my day, I wholeheartedly enjoy the simpler moments, the ones which are able to happen because I am alive, healthy, and okay.
Anxiety can feel like it taints the good things we seek out in life and takes us far away from feeling the joy, but like I said, even the simplest of practises can bring us contentment.
Turning Down The Volume
When you have a headache because the TV is too loud or suddenly the radio is just super annoying, what do you do? You turn down the volume.
What do I do when my thoughts are vying for hours of my time and emotions, I turn their volume down.
I distract myself with writing, reading or listening to meditative podcasts, or even watching a movie. If my mind and my attention is taken up with things other than thinking, it stops the worry in its tracks. It might not erase the worry but it makes it quieter for a while, until some time when I deem it relevant to actually confront that worry.
This isn't about escapism or suppression, it's about giving yourself needed breaks from over-thinking and the havoc it wreaks on your behaviour and those closed to you. Inevitably you will still spend large chunks of your time given over to anxious thinking but a few periods of distraction amongst that will help.
Viewing My Weakness As A Strength
I find that I am usually the most organized person in my relationship and I have always been known for being reliable and trustworthy; my anxiety simply won't let me be any other way.
I am never late to anything because the idea fills me with dread; I might not turn up at my perkiest but I sure as hell will turn up.
I make provisions for the future to prevent my worst case scenarios actually happening, by being frugal and thrifty where possible.
I might try to live one day at a time, accept my worst fears, take it easy with my goals, revel in the small joys and distract my busy mind, but I also thank my anxiety on occasion, because it isn't all bad.
I'm not all bad. Neither are you.
Anxiety makes us feel acutely aware of the negative things in life, in people and in the passing of time.
We are all complex individuals with different motivations and differing amounts of time in which to achieve our goals, but at our core we are a beautiful concoction of processes.
I could see my anxiety as an indicator of the scary world in which I inhabit, or I could see it as a reaction to wanting to so desperately be part of the beautiful world which I also inhabit.
My anxiety makes me reach out, give love and accept love, because I fear losing the chance to do so. My anxiety forces me to weigh up decisions carefully and whilst it might have nearly stopped me coming to Australia, it also helped me prepare for it properly.
I treat my anxiety like a parasite; I feed off it and convert its strength into mental energy for myself.
It is possible to take the bad, with the good, and thrive in spite of what our mind fears or what actually happens to us; anxiety can be painful and feel impossible but anxiety also means we care and that means we are able to feel hope, faith and love. That means we live, not simply exist.
Thanks for Reading!
Want more reads like this? You can now find Hannah in her own online space, Good Intentions. Minimalism, mindfulness, conscious living and self-love; all the good stuff centred around being kinder to yourself, and kinder to the world.
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