This year has brought about a lot of change in my life, and, if I’m being honest, I don’t do so well with change. Never have. Probably never will.
Change, for me, is not about “going with the flow” or “riding the tide” with serenity, confident that things will all work out. I mean who in her right mind is willing to give up that much control? In my world, change means trespassers are storming the gates and—not being certain if they are good trespassers or bad trespassers—I must gear up for battle.
I guess you’re not surprised that, in my life, change=anxiety.
So here’s what has changed in the last eighteen months: I was diagnosed with Celiac (which means no more gluten which—in cake and cookie form—was the mainstay of my diet), I left a job I had loved for 13 years, I went on hormone therapy, my daughter got married, and my youngest child graduated from high school (and left for college a thousand miles away). Did I mention I am turning 50 this year?
Needless to say, we upped that Prozac just a tad…
And starting meditating…
And increased my exercise…
I even started one of those gratitude journals Oprah’s always going on about.
Guess what? I’m still anxious.
In an effort to work through some of this anxiety, I asked myself why transition upsets me so much. After all, going to college, starting a career, getting married and having children were all major changes in my life and yet I pursued and embraced them. Maybe it’s age-related. Perhaps younger me was better equipped to handle anxiety than I am now. Remembering my ulcers in college, panic attacks before my wedding and post-partum depression after the birth of my son, I think not.
Were those transitions inherently less anxiety-provoking than the ones I am currently facing? No—I think starting a family is right up there with death in terms of life-altering moments.
So why is my anxiety so pronounced during this particular period of transition?
“You ask that question every year,” Mags reminds me. “You have an anxiety disorder. That’s why you are anxious during transitions. And during periods of non-transition.”
It’s so simple but true. Managing anxiety means reminding yourself (and other anxiety sisters) that the answer to “why?” will always be the same: “Because you have an anxiety disorder.” I guess it’s the same for diabetics—they don’t search for meaning in each occasion that their blood sugar was out of control. They just accept that blood sugar issues are part of their condition. Sometimes it’s worse and sometimes it’s better. That’s just how it works.
Transitions are part of life. And anxiety may very well accompany some (or all) of those changes. But accepting—perhaps even expecting that—keeps you from expending all that extra energy trying to figure out, once and for all, why you are feeling so anxious. Blocking all of that head spinning takes the edge off the anxiety and allows you to focus on other things. Like learning how to cook really yummy gluten free meals, celebrating the freedom empty nesters experience (you don’t have to do so much laundry if you spend most of your time naked!), planning a really great 50th birthday vacation, and working hard to help others cope with their anxiety.
Because the reality is, change=anxiety for lots of people and for most anxiety sufferers. Accept anxiety’s role in your life and you will be less and less surprised that it shows up when it does. And if you take away the element of surprise, anxiety loses a lot of its power.
My kids are moving on with their lives, I’m getting older and have to accommodate my body’s needs and challenges, I can’t eat store-bought cupcakes with icing anymore. OF COURSE I HAVE ANXIETY!
Although, if I could eat store-bought cupcakes with icing, I wouldn’t be able to feel the anxiety through the sugar-induced coma… *sigh*
How much time do you spend trying to figure out why you feel anxious? What would happen if you stopping doing that?