When I was young, I went through the ringer of anxiety! Crippling, exhausting, intense anxiety. I couldn’t function without my parents, I couldn’t go to school alone, I couldn’t spend sleepovers at my friends’ houses. I lived through childhood with Separation Anxiety Disorder (or, SAD) due to my early adoption at 6 weeks old. I had no clue how to overcome anxiety and didn't know where to start.
Being subconsciously fearful CONSTANTLY can really take a toll. Even though my logical mind was certain that my adoptive parents were never going to leave me and that I always had a home to come back to after a sleepover or a day in class, internally I just couldn’t face it because my anxiety moved a million miles quicker than my rational brain. This is a common side effect of adoption for many individuals. While I was given the most beautiful life I could ever imagine, I also got the flip side of loss of identity and uncertainty.
I'm not blaming people or situations - just the crazy thing we call the human mind and its ability to scare the crap out of us even when there's no reasonable cause. I've lived all my life with a very strong fight or flight reaction to most every situation that I lack control over. I am a huge organizational lover and planning freak, always wanting to know the next step before it happens.
LEAN INTO FEAR
However, over time, I've learned to embrace the fear and I've gotten much better with how much I care about and handle the unknown. The unknown isn't going anywhere and it's in my best interest to make friends with it, aye? Now we're pretty much sisters. We fight, and it really annoys me, but at the end of the day, it challenges me, supports me and makes me become a better person. It's a love-hate relationship we're cultivating.
Change and the unknown is so, so important to embrace. Last year, a mentor of mine told me the most inspirational quote I'd ever heard: "Everything you want is on the other side of fear." How profound, yet so simple. I could've thought of that! Over the next year, little did I know I was about to experience the most changes I ever had before in the shortest amount of time. I moved in with my boyfriend and left the nest that held me so comfortably, engaged in two 6 month long internships in the field of marketing (and was later hired by both non-profits), started my own business and graduated with a Bachelor's degree.
RESILIENCE IS KEY
Back to childhood for a minute. When I was a 6th grader in middle school, I was horribly bullied. Not physically, and not threatening. Incredible emotional abuse--everything from kids cornering me in the school yard or during gym class and telling me I wasn't allowed to be friends with their friends, to writing a note including everything that was "super ugly" about me and sticking it in my backpack anonymously.
This spurred on a whirlwind of abandonment fears and reinforced my subconscious belief that I wasn't good enough and no one would come back for me at the end of the day. I wasn't welcomed and I was "weird"--a misfit at best. The anxiety of not having people who cared for me while I was learning caused me to receive awful grades and impaired my learning for much of my young life.
Then, I withdrew from the public schooling system. I had two parents who loved me more than anything in the world who allowed me to do online homeschooling and break away from the prison I had been living in, that was my middle school. My dad aided me in spending the next two years solving algebra problems, learning about biology and studying the different types of literary art... from the comfort of my own home.
I quickly discovered that this life had little open doors (both figuratively and literally) and that I hadn't been out and social in many months. My parents describe this as my "shell". I'm like a clam and my home was my shell. I elected to see a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) specialist and sought after mental support for my anxiety disorder and fears.
HAVE A LITTLE COURAGE
Even simply admitting you have a problem can sometimes be the first step to recovery. I don't mean to sound like AA, but it's true! Therapy is so highly stigmatized in our society, and I was a lucky 13 year old who was able to see through that B.S. and seek treatment on my own without my parents' force, however I know it's not so easy for many people.
Perhaps your family or friends have misinformed judgements about therapy... maybe they think you're weak for asking, or think you can just "rub some dirt on it" and things will get better eventually. I can't even begin to explain how damaging this mentality is.
If you have the resources available to you and can get good quality mental healthcare, go for it. The first therapy session is bound to be quite awkward. You will cry (there's no way around it) and you will feel incredibly uncomfortable (a discomfort I can't quite put into words) discussing your deepest, darkest fears with a stranger you've never met before.
ALLOW FOR VULNERABILITY
The reason I am so honest (or "frank") at this point in my life is because I got over that awkwardness of telling a stranger about my worst problems. I eased into the vulnerability and fear of being exposed and seen in all my flaws and mistakes.
Being vulnerable with those whom you love and respect is so, so key to cultivating positive relationships (and a positive state of mind and being)! It's also the way we feel love and allow ourselves to be desired and supported.
Although I've lived my life with the fear of abandonment most prevalent, I've also exercised great compassion with myself and others, and have never given up on quality relationships and life experiences just because I may have been given up on by some along the way - that's life!
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY
After engaging in rigorous CBT for a period of five years, I have finally "recovered", as I like to say - I went to a public high school soon after starting therapy, later a four-year university (which I graduated from this June - woohoo!), have served on a local non-profit's Board of Directors for the past six years doing community social justice advocacy and launched my marketing business last year at the age of 21.
When you make room for vulnerability, embrace the changes that life is bound to bring, lead with resilience and lean into fear, you will overcome anxiety and prove everyone who never believed in you wrong - for good. Life is too short to sit around and let it happen TO YOU.
If you're having a really rough day, just remember this quote from Brene Brown: