It’s often the lessons we learn the hard way that define our lives and stick with us. This was a lesson I never wanted to learn, and yet, there I was.
This is a story about how anxiety taught me the most important lesson of my life, one that I didn’t know I needed as much as I did. And maybe, just maybe, it’s trying to teach you the same lesson.
The first time it happened
I could sense that something was wrong. I knew that something beneath the surface was breaking, but I didn’t know what it was. And when it finally hit me, I was sitting on my bed, scrolling through Instagram, pretending everything was fine, a habit as old as time. As panic completely took over, my mind started racing with unpleasant thoughts.
My heart began to race, and the only conclusion I reached was to run. Run as fast as possible, as far as possible. I didn’t understand what I was running from, and initially, I didn’t give it much thought either. I was too preoccupied with why my mind was no longer under my control.
I remember being hyperaware of the sounds and movements around me. To this day, I’m uncertain what I was searching for. Perhaps, I was looking for signs that I wasn’t losing my mind or signs that I was.
For the longest time, all I wanted was a reason. Why was this happening to me? What had triggered it, and why wouldn’t it stop? Yet, there was nothing I could pinpoint. Nothing could ease the worries inside my head.
That’s the thing about anxiety; it doesn’t provide answers, only more questions. And so, I was left with countless questions and no answers.
I read as many books as I could about finding a cure. With each page I turned, they seemed more and more impossible for someone like me, who felt beyond curing. Yet, I couldn’t let go of the hope, diminishing with every passing minute, that I would ever be okay again.
Initially, I read as many books as I could about finding a cure. But it was challenging.
It is safe to say that I wasn’t losing my mind, and I did not have schizophrenia. I have grown stronger than anxiety, so I can confirm that it does come to an end. It may feel like the world is ending, and while your feelings are valid, they aren’t always the truth.
On that note, here are two life lessons anxiety taught me that I might not have learned otherwise.
As human beings, we often wish to be in control all the time. We want to take charge of the circumstances around us and somehow shape the future we desire. Anything that escapes our control is automatically seen as an enemy.
Unfortunately, by that definition, life itself becomes the enemy.
And I was no exception. I was so accustomed to taking charge that I hadn’t realized how exhausting it was, constantly trying to go upward on an elevator that was only designed to go the other way.
I tried to control what my body felt as much as I could. I even tried to prevent it by confining my life to the four corners of my room. If I didn’t go to that bridge where I had the worst anxiety attack of my life, I would be safe. And yet, I didn’t feel safe as the invisible threat came to life, and my safety behaviors failed to protect me.
The more I avoided going out, the worse I felt. Needless to say, things had spiraled out of my control. And that’s when I realized; maybe I was never meant to be in control after all. I couldn’t control what I felt, why I felt it, and the more I ran away from these feelings, the more they chased after me.
So, I had no choice but to let go and allow myself to experience everything anxiety brought to the table. And over time, I was no longer startled by a loud bang or the “what if” thoughts in my head. Instead, I had made friends with them.
Yes, the future wasn’t much different from a hollow room, but the present was filled with the colors of the now, and that’s what I was failing to realize.
Life is worth struggling for
It wasn’t until I found myself in the depths of despair that I realized the beauty of everything life had to offer. Enjoying coffee on an early winter morning, watching the last episode of my favorite series, the smell of new books, and leisurely days with no impending deadlines were just a few of the many things I had missed.
And as much as the distance between those sweet memories and myself broke my heart, I made a decision at the weakest point in my life: I will not give up because life is worth striving for.
If nothing else, the agony had taught me that life is much more about the little things than the big ones.
Happiness isn’t solely a product of achievements, major events, and reinforcement of our identity. Happiness is a product of life itself. All we have to do is live it to the best of our abilities.
Things that helped me cope with anxiety
Anxiety-stricken and mentally exhausted, every time I tried to search the web for “things that help alleviate anxiety,” I received unsatisfactory and typical responses. To say that I felt helpless would be an understatement. I felt like my life had become an endless loop; no matter what I did, the misery wouldn’t end.
Yet, it did. So, here are a few things that helped me cope with the turmoil, which I hope will be a glimmer of hope for you as well:
- Reading books about people who had overcome mental illnesses (such as “Man’s Search for Meaning” and “Reasons to Stay Alive”)
- Allowing myself to stay in bed on days when I didn’t want to get up
- Writing about how I felt in my notes app
- Maintaining a gratitude journal
- Enjoying my favorite coffee
- Going for a jog
- Watching videos about how anxiety works, which made me feel less isolated in my feelings
Take this as a sign to remind yourself that this will end. What you’re feeling right now is 100% valid, but it’s not permanent. You will feel better than this. Sure, life won’t turn into a bed of roses, but it never has, and you have still managed to survive. What makes you think you can’t do it any longer?
Yes, anxiety is frightening and limiting, but it’s also just a jumble of feelings that is here to teach you a lot. It may be difficult to believe right now, but this phase of your life, which seems like the worst of all, will make you the best version of yourself. Trust me; you’ve got this.
Keep holding on.
Asma Irfan is a freelance content writer from Pakistan who is passionate about breaking down the taboos surrounding mental illnesses and creating a safe space wherever he can.