Anxiety is something that everyone deals with, to some extent, during their life. For some people it’s a passing experience of feeling stressed and overwhelmed. For others, though, anxiety can be crippling. I mean truly, intolerably, despairingly crippling.
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t focus. Your work suffers; your relationships suffer. You question everything you do, and everything you say. Your mind never stops churning things over. You’re filled with feelings of self-doubt and never being good enough. It’s pure agony.
The term “anxiety” gets thrown around for everything, ranging from feeling nervous to experiencing unrelenting, incapacitating panic attacks. Because of this, there are people who equate “feeling stressed” to knowing what having an anxiety disorder feels like. Unfortunately, this attitude feels discrediting and invalidating to the person who truly experiences the wrath and magnitude of anxiety.
Anxiety can manifest itself as a condition, such as a phobia, social, or generalized anxiety; or on a greater level, it can present comorbidly with other conditions, such as Depression, ADHD, Schizophrenia, and so forth. Anxiety is not a character flaw. I repeat: ANXIETY IS NOT A CHARACTER FLAW. Anxiety is a neurological imbalance. It is the result of obtaining some unfortunate genetics and/or exposure to certain life experiences. None of those things are your fault in any way.
I am the youngest child of two girls. Some people believe that being the youngest child makes you “selfish.” I would say that I do, in fact, have a tendency towards selfishness. But my selfishness isn’t due to being the youngest child; rather, it’s a result of having to manage my anxiety.
For instance, I can’t be the person who goes and offers comfort to a friend in the middle of the night because of a break-up, or some other challenging situation. I have to be selfish; I need to sleep. Because altering my routine and extending myself could offset my own mental stability. I need to rest. I need to relax. I need time to myself.
I have to “be selfish” in order to operate in a fast-paced, high-producing, performance-based society. I’m at a disadvantage to others, who function at a higher level, and with more ease. Because of my anxiety, my mental and emotional reserves are easily and quickly depleted.
I want to be there for my friends in the middle of the night, when they are hurting, but the fact of the matter is that I can’t. I have to take care of myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care. It doesn’t discredit me as a kind-hearted person. I absolutely want what is best for the people around me. I simply need my time, time when I am off limits, time to recuperate.
I’ve learned from past mistakes of over-extending myself. There have been times when I’ve tried to be everything to everyone. I went out of my way, above and beyond, to be there for people. Even when I did all that I could, I still felt this hankering guilt that it wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t enough.
I have since learned that the care and support I am able and willing to offer others is enough. I have since learned that I am enough. I realize that I owe it to myself (and others) to take care of me. I have to care for myself at least as well as I care for others. Self-care is a requirement for others-care. And when you think about it, there’s really nothing selfish about that.
* Special thanks to my considerate, generous, hard-working, and capable niece for sharing her story, in hopes of providing understanding and validation for those who face their own struggles, and in hopes of providing insight for others to develop empathy for such challenges.