Panic attacks weren’t something that I ever thought would be a part of my every day life. I’d had a few here and there in my early 20s but once I turned 25, I found myself reaching for my calming tea on a near daily-basis. Maybe it’s because the older I get, the more I’m worrying about new things — things that didn’t matter a half of a decade ago. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m just ignoring my biological clock, even though the alarm keeps ringing and ringing and I just keep working, because that’s what’s making me happy right now. Or maybe it’s because I’m putting myself out there and making myself vulnerable for the first time since I decided I wanted to make a go of it as a writer.
Honestly, it’s all of the above. And more.
My doctors always ask the same question: What stress do you have in your life? I have to give them the short version because otherwise my 20-minute appointment would turn into a 2-hour therapy session. So I say broad things like “work” and “school,” but leave out the fact that I’m a perfectionist and rejection of any kind shakes the foundation of my sense of self-worth. I leave out that my anxiety makes it hard to leave the house some days. That my anxiety from feeling left out or left behind makes me work twice as hard as everyone else just to make sure I’m doing half as good as they are. That my anxiety has me looking at even fictional women like Olivia Pope, whose character can do everything and anything and handle it all without breaking a sweat, and wishing I could do that, too.
On one hand, my anxiety pushes me. It pushes me until I’m ready to break, until I have nothing left in the cup of myself that I’m constantly pouring out for other people. It pushes me to work 16-hour days, pushes me to work on everyone else’s work before I do my own. I’m anxious about meeting deadlines and I want to get everything done a week early. I’m anxious about getting a good testimonial from a client, so I make sure I read their book more times than I need to, and I focus on their words instead of my own manuscript.
But as much as being a person with anxiety has pushed me, it has also broken me. It’s made me realize that there is no one but me to take care of myself when I’m completely drained of energy from my long work days and my intense schedule, and that I need to be there for myself. Self-care wasn’t even something I considered before this year. Sure, I’d indulge in a bath bomb or two from Lush and soak in the tub for an hour or two — but I’d be reading manuscripts for my internship or for work. I’d be reading for school. If I had the television on, it was in the background while I was working, or I’d look at it as a character study or a study in storytelling. Even filling my Tumblr queue was something that was excused as me building my brand (which I’m still fuzzy on what that actually means — I’m still a person, right?).
Against the pull of my anxiety, I practice self-care now. I color. I sit on the couch and binge watch Jessica Jones and House of Cards. I take a bubble bath, close my eyes, and listen to a Harry Potter e-book for the hundredth time because it’s the only series that feels like relaxing instead of working. I take days off. I drink tea and sit in the sun.
Some days, I have learned to love my anxiety. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without it. Other days, I still hate my anxiety. Things would feel much easier if I didn’t have it. Self-care has been helpful in finding a balance, even though taking time for myself gives me a new sort of anxiety, because it makes me feel like I’m being selfish, or like I’m not spending time on things that will move me forward— but I’m working through it. I’m aware that it’s there, but I also know that taking time for myself is good. Clients can wait. Everyone else can wait. I am now my own top priority.