I’ve come up with a new way to explain anxiety to folks who aren’t intimately familiar with it from the inside out. Here goes:
You’re walking on a very thin balance beam that’s been laid across a mat of thousands of teeny sharp spikes. Now and again, you stumble, because nobody can hold themselves steady forever, and this is a lifelong balancing act that everyone goes through. Folks unaffected by chronic depression and anxiety usually don’t see their balance beam, because theirs is about five feet wide where yours is six inches at best.
You also have no shoes on. So when you stagger sideways onto the spikes, it fucking hurts. And your balance beam occasionally gets really narrow without warning, forcing you over onto the spikes.
Sometimes you’re so startled by the pain that you fall over onto the spikes. That, my friends, is a very very bad day indeed.
Therapy improves your balance, but it doesn’t fix the narrowness of the beam or do much for the spikes below. One medication widens the balance beam to be close to what “most people” expect to find underfoot. Another medication gives you shoes and a thin layer of armor, so the spikes don’t destroy you when you land on them.
Regular meditation helps you walk more slowly and carefully. Friends with sturdy shoes can walk alongside you on either side, holding you steady on that narrow strip of wood. Pets. Hobbies. There are a thousand strategies, and you’ll need them all.
It’s up to you to keep walking. Every step, every day, aware that the spikes are there, waiting for you to lose your balance. You have to come up with a reason to keep walking, to risk that pain. Every. Fucking. Day. You have to find enough joy and love and passion in your life to make that constant strain, that recurring pain, worth it.
Sometimes you wonder if it will ever be worth it.
Sometimes, on really good days, you dance along that beam, defying gravity, flipping off the spikes, leaping into the air, singing, laughing, living. And you know the answer is: hell yes, living is worthwhile. This is a beautiful world and I’m a gorgeous part of it.
Even then, you never forget that tomorrow, you’ll be doing a face plant on those spikes again, and it will fucking hurt. So you live as brightly as you can while the going is good, and you store the memories like a battery to get you through the bad times, and you just. keep. walking. forward.
Keep walking. Keep fighting. Keep trying. No matter what.
The world is beautiful.
You are a gorgeous part of a beautiful world.
It gets better. Keep walking forward.
If you don’t suffer from anxiety, take a moment right now to reach out to someone in your life who does. A postcard, an email, a flower on their doorstep, home-baked cookies, anything that will reach through and let them hold their balance for just one more step.
I’m going to close this post with a huge shout out of thanks to several folks who keep me moving forward: my husband, my mom, my close friends–you know who you are!–my readers, my editors, fellow writers and artists and creative people of all paths. I’m extremely fortunate to be a part of such a fabulous group of supportive, loving people.
Thank you for helping me remember how to dance.