How I Turned Anxiety into a Superpower
Someone asked me about a “flaw” in myself I learned to love. It really got me thinking. The question had such an impact, I even asked writers at my online magazine Change Your Mind-Change Your Life to share their stories. Here’s mine.
Anxiety wasn’t always my superpower.
Far from it.
I remember first feeling that sick-in-the-gut wave of anxiety when I was only about 5 years old. I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn’t.
Playing with dolls, sitting on the couch, out with friends. It really didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, that wave could come out of nowhere and shoot through my body with no warning.
Early on, it didn’t bother me or stop me from doing anything. Then one day I became aware of the thought, “What if it happens when…??”
In that moment, I gave it power.
With that ‘what if” thought, I gave life to the anxiety, and I gave it the power to tell me what I could and couldn’t do.
It stopped me from living in a dorm in college. It stopped me from traveling by airplane. It stopped me from eating out at restaurants comfortably. It got in the way of me developing close friendships
It stopped me from doing certain things, and at the same time, it pushed me into doing others.
It pushed me to get married at a much too young age. It drove me to create rituals and routines that brought an illusion of comfort. It drove me to be cautious and selective of what I’d eat.
Those are just a few of the examples of the shackles it placed on my life.
That doesn’t even take into account the toll it took on my health and body.
Migraine headaches, severe pain in my neck, and upset stomachs to name a few.
I was irritable and prone to angry outbursts. I kept my mind at ease by doing busy work nonstop.
Honestly, I wasn’t much fun to be around, and I wasn’t enjoying life.
Here’s the kicker.
I didn’t know what to name what I was feeling. I had no idea I was experiencing anxiety.
I put on a stiff upper lip. My symptoms embarrassed me, so I did whatever I could to hide them. I would grit my teeth and push through the best I could.
Looking back, I guess I was so detached from my emotions, that I couldn’t recognize them for what they were.
Instead of panic attacks, I thought I was having heart or stomach problems. Instead of recognizing fear, I just felt angry.
I was convinced I had an undiagnosed physical problem.
The day I admitted I had anxiety was the day it began to change.
When I admitted it, it lost its destructive power.
It was like a door opened in a giant wall I built to hold in the anxiety. All that pressure could finally deflate.
It was a gentle process. I admitted (first to myself and then to others) some of my anxieties, and the false power they tried to exert began to fade.
“Be happy with being you. Love your flaws. Own your quirks. And know that you are just as perfect as anyone else, exactly as you are.” — Ariana Grande
I admit there was more work to it than that.
I had coaching. I used techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), and NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). I used metaphysical scientific prayer.
I cleaned up my diet, and I committed to exercise and outdoor time every day.
The freedom came one step at a time.
Now my experience is my superpower.
What was once something I saw as a “flaw”, and abnormal or broken, is now a superpower I share with the world.
I can vibe with people who experience anxiety.
Knowing I’ve had anxiety, and sometimes still do, makes people know they’re not alone. They’re not crazy. There’s hope. They too can live with a lot less anxiety.
I offer my clients the same tools I used in my healing because I know they work, and they work fast.
Anxiety gave me a gift.
I’m keenly aware of and recognize other people’s anxiety. Even if I don’t know the root of it, I recognize they have it. I know all the tricks and symptoms. I’ve been there. When I see it, I know to be non judgmental, compassionate, and understanding. Others may think someone’s acting like a jerk, being selfish, being difficult, or just plain odd, but I see a human doing the best they can while their bodies and emotions attack with anxiety from the inside.
I developed enormous compassion to ease suffering. I lost a lot of experiences to anxiety. I know the magnitude of the discomfort it causes in your mind and body. (Discomfort is a poor word. It doesn’t even come close to describing the feelings.) If I can take away even a portion of that suffering, I’m a very happy person. Just this week I had the privilege to work with a 10 year old girl nearly paralyzed with fear about returning to school. You can read a short blurb about that here.
3. I help people feel safe, and I’m a nurturer. I create spaces that feel soothing. I love to take care of people’s most human needs. Feeling sick? I’ll make you homemade chicken soup. I never felt safe in my world, so I want to give that gift to you.
4. I’m a fighter. Anxiety doesn’t always show up looking like a person in fear. It’s just as likely to show up looking like a bold risk taker. People with anxiety can be “phobic” or “counter-phobic”. So while I’ve written here about my experience with anxiety, people who know me know how unlikely I am to back down. I stand tall in the face of fear. I’ll get between you and a bully any day. I’ll stand up and say something when no one else will. I’ll risk it all to do the right thing.
Was anxiety fun? Hell no.
And at the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Now I see it as the superpower that it is.
I still feel anxiety at times. It’s part of being human. But now I know what it is, and I’m no longer embarrassed to admit it.
It shaped me and gave me a purpose for the healing work I do with people.
What I once thought was a “flaw”, is a gift.
And that’s true for you too. The thing you wish was different or trying to hide can be a gift you share with the world.
Grow to love every inch of your being. Yes, you can still work on growing and improving, but love yourself right now. Accept yourself right now. Forgive yourself right now.
Embrace it all, there really are no flaws.