Lifelong struggle with anxiety

I think that everyone in this world can say that they have gone through some sort of struggle with anxiety. But it certainly affects some more than others, to more intense degrees. And everyone deals with it differently.

I can say that it has directly affected my health since before I could even understand the concept of anxiety. As a child I used to grind my teeth so hard on a daily basis. There’s a school photo of me at 4-years old and you can actually see red marks underneath my bottom lip. At 5-years old, I had to get my two front teeth pulled out. Years following, even into my teenage years, I faced several more trips to the dentist to get teeth pulled.

It was irrational, and still is. What did I have to be anxious about at 4-years old? I had an average childhood and no significant traumas. It’s not something that could be explained away by my environment.

Anxiety is something so hard to describe. It’s the feeling that everyone is staring at you and ready to criticize. It’s the pressure of meeting standards that you will never reach. It’s feeling like you need to hide yourself from others because everything you do or say is wrong. It’s too much.

There is too much focus on the external rather than the internal. You could have “the perfect body” and “the perfect job” and the picture-perfect family portrait, and everyone around you would assume that everything is just as perfect for you on the inside. You could also have an ugly body and a crappy job, even no family, yet total peace of mind… and everyone around you would assume that you’re unhappy. Nothing is as it seems.

I can lie to myself and say “I have this and that, so there’s no reason to be anxious.” I did that for so long and it only worsens it. I am so grateful for all the blessings in my life but it has also taught me a beautiful lesson that no matter how pretty you paint something, all that glitters is not gold. There is no amount of money that can fix anxiety. You can buy products or medications to temporarily ease it, but all that does is strengthen an illusion.

Many people have ironically told me that I am calming to be around. Maybe that’s because I’ve been in so many situations where I have been forced to control my anxiety because it was too strong. I’ve been forced to find better coping mechanisms because it has pushed me so far. Every now and then I do totally crack because I forget to remind myself how much trouble my anxiety can get me into. It has the potential to destroy myself and those around me.

And so I have to remind myself about that little girl who was so anxious all the time that she grinded her teeth. I may not grind like that anymore but it’s not because the anxiety has disappeared — it is just better at hiding itself. And when something is hidden, it has more strength and control over you, because you underestimate it. I must keep that awareness.

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