A few days ago, I was supposed to be prepping for a big event in my life as an artist and writer. I was participating in our city’s art festival with my art as well as doing a book signing. I was so looking forward to this event, feeling honored to have been asked by a local shop owner. It was everything I’ve always wanted to do.
Half an hour before I was supposed to be leaving for the event, I found myself curled up on my bed, in my husband’s sweatshirt, feeling so anxious and unable to move. Anxiety has been a part of my adult life – it’s one of those things I thought would get better with time, but instead it’s gotten worse, no matter how many things I do to try to prove it wrong.
And that’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t listen to reason.
There’s this odd paradox that happens with events. I know that once I get there, I can be cheerful and artistic and answer everyone’s questions and accept their compliments about how far my work has come and how important it is. But before hand, I often struggle so much. And sometimes it’s hard to connect the two states of “me” – the curled up sweatshirt one and the one I can somehow muster up when I go out and do things.
I reached out to one of my best friends, just to have someone know how I was feeling, so I didn’t feel so alone.
I told my friend that I often feel so dangerously close to not following through on anything in my life. They are just hours in the day – what if I just stayed in my bed, let the festival pass me by, and go onto the next day? I would have avoided a lot of work and nervousness. But what she said in reply has stuck with me in the days following,
“Yes, but wondering what would have happened if you just went and did it will haunt you – you’ll always wonder what could have been if you went.”
I’ve come to believe that you really should do the things that scare you. Missing opportunities is so easy to do. But that’s letting anxiety have the driver’s seat. I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week and he was talking about how we can let anxiety in the car but only let it ride in the back seat (because, let’s face it, for some of us it’s riding along whether we like it or not). We don’t need to let anxiety in the driver’s seat. That imagery has been such a great help to me.
When I start feeling anxious, it’s easy to feel anxious about feeling anxious. The anticipation of an anxiety attack is sometimes just as or more damaging as the attack itself. Like one of my counselors once said, “When you realize anxiety has walked into the room, recognize it and welcome it, but don’t give it lots of attention.”
I’ve done so many things over the last few years that have scared me. I was looking back at photos from our move two years ago, halfway across the country. It was one of the best things we’ve ever done – and it was terrying. And every event that I got off my bed for, put on real clothes for, and showed up for, those are some of my best memories and where I’ve met some of the best people.
Let’s do more of the things that scare us. Let’s accept it if anxiety is in the car with us, but not give it the steering wheel or even let it ride shotgun. And let’s not be afraid to talk about it. I find a lot of comfort in knowing now that someone knows I get scared before I do things in public. I have my own “backstage” meltdowns and hours where I feel crippled by fear and like I might not actually get up and do it this time… but that’s what makes it so great when we actually do get up and do those things – because we fought so hard to get there.
For those of you who get what I’m saying, keep fighting. Keep getting up and doing those things. We need your work and your influence on our world, however great or small. We need what you’re offering. We need you to get off your bed eventually and come on out and show us what you’ve got. We’re waiting.