empathy

How Anxiety Taught Me To Feel Strong

Artwork by  Laila Al Habash

Artwork by Laila Al Habash

As long as I can remember adults have always defined me as “emotional” and “insecure”. Once a pediatrician defined me as “stressed”. When I grew up, these definitions took the shape of a diagnosis: “anxious”.

I was gifted with a family inheritance: a generic and ineradicable sense of anxiety, emotional instability and a range of half-pathologies and misfortunes that resemble depression, mania, psychosis and modern world- phobia. An authentic triumph of living inadequacy, as well as the joy of psychologists. Given such an anamnesis, could I ever have hoped in a life without psychological issues?

I started gaining awareness of this intricate world, deprived of solid references into which I had grown up, when I was a teenager: looking around the first thing that stood out was that not all my peers lived things with seriousness, and above all, they didn’t suffer from being around people and putting the same effort into it. People who loved me told me it was a matter of shyness. Inside me I kept telling myself that being shy couldn’t mean carrying such a burden capable of preventing me from enjoying whatever happened to me.

The school that I attended was a particularly famous and high-standard high school and it wasn’t the ideal place to develop a healthy and mature identity. I grew more and more unconfident after every oral test, after every judging look by my classmates, after every rude and unpolite word, said by my teachers. This lead to a quite problematic behaviour: an obsessive attention to my body and food, with blowouts in the afternoon, onychophagy, slight attempts towards self-mutilation. My school results, in the meantime, were always on the edge of disaster.

My way to soften this interior mess was directing all my frustrated energy towards my body and towards food, for example by drawing, playing the guitar or, even better, by dancing to the full volumed stereo in my house basement, until I collapsed.

I never thought I needed a psychological support until, when I went to a different school, the good results, which my parents were so eagerly expecting, didn’t appear. At this time was a matter of survival to bring me, willing or not, to a psycotherapist. This experience, even if it was quite short and stressful, triggered an emotion conscience, which until that day I had been denying. I couldn’t handle them because I couldn’t recognise them. It was this simple, wasn’t it? It sounds simple, and still how many grown-ups have problems with their inner world?

I only needed to hear the right words, to have someone putting in my head, some thoughts, so that a hope would grow.

It wasn’t the disease itself what was afflicting me, there wasn’t something so terribly compromised that was impeding me to live my life so carpe diem-ish; I only needed to hear the right words, to have someone putting in my head, even through some kind of strength, some thoughts, so that a hope, a positive vision of life, which I had lost after my childhood, would grow.

That short experience was enough to lead me to the right path. I’ve had the luck to live this experience, and to make important friendships in my life, based on deep conversations, that helped me to know myself into the deep and to extirpate some negative thoughts. When you talk about insecurity, and about anxiety too, the worst enemy is represented by the obsessive and typically self-sabotaging thoughts. All this allowed me to play all my cards as young adult in the best way.

Collage Laila Al Habash

Even if, as you grow, everything can change, you can hardly get rid of such a big part of yourself. Anxiety can present itself in alternate times, go away for a while and then come back. You learn how to tame it: there are some moments in which many things help you to feel strong; there are other moments, however, when everything falls apart. It is like walking on a rope, stretched between insecurity and fear. The only problem is: the rope is you.

You should never back down and, above all, it is necessary to know yourself, to know what makes you feel good and how you can take care of yourself. It takes a lot of time to be able to do it, and what often happens is that people who suffer from anxiety and insecurity are exactly the ones that question themselves the most.
Sometimes, however, it is not possible doing it on your own, and not even our best friends can help us to save us, because that is not their duty.

We have the luck of living in a moment in which the scarlet letter of those who “visit a psychologist” is definitely re-dimensioned, in comparison to the past. However, it is necessary a certain amount of courage to recognize you have a problem and you need a specialist. I have seen many friends coming to terms with the fact that, often, you cannot handle some things by simply staying calm and silent, hoping to tame them, because it is simply impossible to.

I know anxiety as an old time friend. I know how to keep it under control, especially now, that I have become an adult. I know how a nice walk in the park can help me to forget about it, I know that going clubbing on Saturday nights will make me feel better and better, and that swimming twice per week helps my body not to gather too much tension, which could result in other physical problems. I know when to stop, before a potentially damaging thought comes, maybe by writing or calling a friend, or – even better – by asking him to go out to have a nice cup of tea. I know that getting into hobbies, cooking, baking or even only reading help me to swipe away the midtrust and the sensation of failure.

Anxiety is a bitch. It hits you when you’re alone and vulnerable, it forces you to know yourself so well, better than anyone else. Even the stupid, senseless thoughts help. And irony, too.

I like to repeat myself a sentence, in those moments in which I feel that weird sensation of hold in my stomach. It is something my psychotherapist told me, during one of our last meetings: “Sometimes, what is important is not being strong, rather feeling strong”.

Translated by Sara Riganti and Maria Nizzero

Veronica Tosetti pursued creative writing, storytelling and journalism in Turin, Italy. She has been working with prestigious characters of the editorial italian world and often worked on crossmedia projects, and on storytelling blogs, videomaking and narrative writing.

Story originally published in CollageMag