I’d describe my younger self as a ball of yarn you pulled out of your grandma’s craft tub. It’s a tangled mess of blue, green, yellow, and glitter yarn. You can’t tell where one color starts and the other ends.
That’s because my younger self was filled with anxiety. My feelings felt jumbled and messy. Even when someone did help me realize I suffered from anxiety, I had no idea how to live with the constant distress and worry I felt.
My anxiety felt like an uneasy presence that I’d imagine would look like the ball of yarn I described.
But that was then. Today, I still struggle with anxiety but a lot less. Some of my days are ruined by it but at a much lower frequency. And now that I’ve gone through many years of anxiety, there are a few things I’d tell my younger self.
If you struggle with anxiety as well, I hope these words give you solace.
It’s OK not to get a bunch of things done each day.
Anxiety can put you into a vicious loop. I used to wake up feeling bad, which would make it hard to get things done. I’d feel bad about not getting things done which paralyzed me and continued the cycle. At the end of the day, I’d realize I not only wasn’t productive, I felt horrible all day.
Instead of spending my days stuck in constant dread, I’d love to go back and tell my younger self that it’s OK to just take care of yourself. You don’t need to wake up and hustle like the people you see on Instagram.
Those days when my emotions consumed me would’ve been better spent doing self-care or something that brought me joy. Now when I’m having a particularly bad day, I’ll take it off. In the long run, I’m better off taking care of my mental health than pressuring myself into a cycle I know isn’t healthy.
You won’t always feel this way.
There were points in my life when I thought I seriously messed up my brain. I felt so far from thinking and feeling like everyone around me; I felt like I was in a pitch-black tunnel with no end light insight.
But through tiny steps towards working to feel better, I eventually did. There wasn’t a singular moment or specific realization that changed everything, but, eventually, that hopelessness passed.
When I’m having a rough day, I think back to those dark times when I thought I’d always feel broken. It’s a reminder that when I felt like my world was crumbling, those feelings passed; so no matter what I go through today, I know I’ll make it out.
I believe this so much that I tattooed a permanent reminder on my right ring in the form of an ellipsis. The phrase “this too shall pass” echoes throughout my mind whenever I see it.
A lot of your worrying is stemming from things you don’t care about.
In my early 20’s I could completely derail myself for the day just by thinking too much about the future. Thoughts about what I’ll do for a career or what other people would think of my choices would consume my mind.
But as I got older, I realized that all the anxiety those concerns created wasn’t something I had to live with. In fact, I was causing myself pain over people’s opinions I didn’t care about at all.
I felt this need to prove my worth; to my parents, old friends, and people I went to high school with. I kid you not; I’d imagine what someone I dated in high school would think when they saw my life through Instagram posts.
Yet I hadn’t talked to them in over 9 years.
I wish I’d considered my own opinion more, that I’d valued it higher than the opinions of other people who didn’t have to live with my choices. Because their fleeting thoughts of me (if they even had any) lasted a lot shorter than the anxiety created around worrying over them did.
You deserve to do something you love every day.
Life isn’t about grinding hard Monday through Friday and then doing things I love on the weekends. Call me crazy but only spending 2/7ths of my life doing things that bring me joy doesn’t seem worth it.
I’d love to go back in time and let my younger self know this. I’d explain that it’s OK to paint more, simply because it made me happy. As cliche as it sounds, I’d do more face masks and baths. I’d take more walks. I would’ve enjoyed the warmth of the sun against my skin more.
Because I’m a sensitive person, I don’t do well in a constant state of hustling. I thrive when I allow myself to live when I remind myself that working isn’t the most important thing in life.
It’s not about trying to get rid of your anxiety; it’s about learning to manage it.
With both my anxiety and depression, I thought they were something I needed to “fix.” As a result, I’d feel like an utter failure every time I fell prey to the grips of my mental illnesses. I figured I should eventually get to a point where that would never happen.
But that’s not how it works, at least not for me. I’d venture to say that depression and anxiety, in some form, are simply part of who some people are. Trying to eradicate it will only make you feel worse about yourself.
Instead, I learned how to manage my anxiety. I know things that I need to do every day to ensure I don’t become anxious. I take care of my needs and talk about anything that’s beginning to overwhelm me with my boyfriend.
And all of this works splendidly. I enjoy life with much fewer bouts of anxiety and depression. Things aren’t perfect, but I no longer strive for them to be.
Being sensitive is a beautiful thing.
The way I could feel anything and everything when it came to life made me feel like a freak. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t watch disaster movies without crying over every background character who died. I hated being so attuned to every person I came in contact with’s emotions.
But most of all, I despised how my anxiety made life so much more difficult.
And though I feel a lot of feelings I’d rather not, I also feel many more feelings that I love. I can empathize with people who are having a rough time. I can elicit feelings from other people through my writing simply because I’ve been there, too.
People may act like having emotions is bad, but I’m pretty glad I feel mine so deeply.
Not everyone will understand you, and that’s OK.
Some people will say, “just stop thinking so much” or “don’t worry about it.” They believe “calm down” or “just breathe” are helpful when they’re far from that. Friends won’t understand how you can carry a conversation while imagining every worst-case scenario in your head.
But I’d tell my younger self that’s OK.
You’re not meant for everyone to understand you, nor is that even realistic. If you want to feel less alone, find people who understand what you’re going through. Because when you eventually find those people, it won’t feel so bad that others don’t understand you.
No one will ever feel 100% all the time. That’s not meant to make you feel worse, but instead, to help you come to terms with reality. My older self knows this now, and it’s something I wish more people knew.
Once you understand how to work with the cards you’ve been dealt, you can create a life that works for you, rather than one you believe should work for everyone. Because that’s the thing about mental illness, you work differently than other people. So why expect what works for them to work for you?