Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anxious and grateful

General Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression: I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, yet they have shaped considerably the person I am – someone I am generally relatively happy with, even kinda proud of. So it’s difficult to say I don’t appreciate being born with a little faulty wiring and, more so, what I’ve learned through fixing it.

To be appreciative does seem somewhat dismissive, insulting even, to the many victims of mental illness and those who haven’t made it through yet; even to my past self. I’m only appreciative because I finally can be. I didn’t need to waste so many hours – accumulating to years – on unnecessary worry to reach this appreciation, but it is what it is.

Having depression forced me to work out how to be happy; crippling anxiety left me with no choice but to finally embrace uncertainty. I feel like I wound up more relaxed and happy than a lot of people out there in this chaotic world who have no underlying mental health issue. The fact I will probably always be somewhat vulnerable to anxiety helps me to not take it for granted too much.
Everyone feels some level of stress, doubt and anxiety sometimes. Most people don’t require intervention, but they’re no good for any of us. So perhaps those of us that have had to learn how to keep these things in check might actually be better placed to deal with the everyday crap that gets people down than the so-called ‘mentally healthy’! Hooray!

And is it just me, or do some of the best perspectives and lessons on life come from people who have had struggles with their mental health? Maybe it’s because they tend to be more comfortable (or at least familiar) with curiosity, sadness and uncertainty – all healthy and essential, in their appropriate form. Maybe I just relate to them more.
Yet, so often do these people tend to be deep and considerate thinkers that I am genuinely let down when someone who has come through depression or anxiety turns out to be a crap person. I’m generalising, but only because it’s generally true.

Occasionally I do wonder how much anxiety held me back, what I missed out on as a result or how my life might be different. How much more capable and knowledgeable would I be, how much more could I have absorbed, if I had paid attention to the people, words and world around me rather than the constant, disruptive pulse of anxious thought in my head; if my mind processed information rather than obsessive, worried thoughts?
It’s interesting to consider but pointless to lament. I’m more interested in how it still affects my thinking (changing thought processes can take a while, ok) and continuing my improvement.

Yes, I would have a lot of strong advice for my 10-27 year old self, but regrets and wishes are a waste of energy, and without the experience I’d have no advice to give on how to live a better life.
The most important thing I learned was to let go of unnecessary, unconstructive thoughts and feelings that hold you back. It’s not just good for dealing with the irrational fear of an anxious mind but a bunch of other stupid things like cynicism, hate, anger, frustration, restlessness, etc. So, having pretty much dealt with the irrational fears, I’m using my new skills to try and let go of those other things a little more – especially cynicism and restlessness (procrastination).

On Saturday I had a chat to one of my yoga instructors after class. I lamented the fact that I haven’t been able to get back into the routine of going to 6am classes for almost 12 months now.
“Just do it,” she said, inadvertently quoting that fantastic bastardised phrase.

And I know that I can.
The doubt I have about whether I will actually do it tomorrow, the uncomfortable feelings that will urge me to make the stay in bed another couple of hours, the discontent mind that tries to convince me it is not ready to face the day – all of these things mean nothing and will pass. I know that for a fact. It is a very basic example of what I have learned about how the mind works but it is, in short, why I’m grateful for my now-minimised anxiety.

Though I’ve been thinking about all this for a while, I must acknowledge partial inspiration by a post Anita Heiss published on her blog about being grateful for depression.

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