New Year, New Me?
Raise your hand if you felt personally victimized by 2023? 🙋🏾♀️ I actually have both hands up. Because when I tell you 2023 beat me tf up…I mean it! It’s Friday so I’ll spare you the details. But I know without a doubt that I don’t ever want a repeat of last year. In fact, if we could never mention the numbers 2-0-2-3, in that order, ever again that would be great.
But in an effort to ensure I have a much better year, I really had to do some reflecting on what that means for me and how best to go about achieving that. My top priority on that list is learning to better manage my anxiety.
TW; anxiety, childhood abuse
I’ve always been a pretty anxious person. Although, it’s only been in adulthood that I’ve been able to recognize it as actual anxiety versus just “worrying”.
Growing up in foster care, I learned that “worrying” provided me with a sense of security and safety. It helped me not feel overlooked and forgotten about, because if I was constantly worrying about my own needs and survival it meant (in my mind) that others would have to do the same. You know…”the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” And frankly, it served me well. I wasn’t forgotten about and statistically speaking I’ve had an outcome that eludes most foster youth. But in recent years, it’s become all-consuming.
During the pandemic, what used to just be worrying and chronic overthinking morphed into something much more debilitating. Panic attacks, dizziness, racing thoughts, not sleeping, nausea and some days a dread that feels so heavy it’s hard to even get out of bed. With all of that came the diagnosis of severe anxiety.
While it felt “good” to finally have a name for this “worry” that I’d been experiencing my entire life, I needed to learn how to manage it. One day my therapist said something to me that all but changed my life in the moment. She said, “Blake, you’re operating in survival mode. But you’ve already survived. Maybe it’s time to start living?”
That hit me like a ton of bricks! Because she was right. I was constantly in survival mode. Although I had perfected this thought process as a foster kid, it started well before that. As a young child, I experienced severe physical abuse and studies show that is the perfect breeding ground for developing an anxiety disorder—mostly as a means of survival. We learn to be hyperaware and hypervigilant in order to avoid future abuse. And again, it served me well. But now I have to learn how to process the world through a different filter. One that doesn’t constantly put me in fight or flight mode.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, it’s been years since my therapist spoke those words to me and I haven’t quite figured out how to live vs. survive. It’s a constant work in progress. But I’m determined to take major steps forward in 2024.
I closed out 2023 by taking a hiatus from social media (another major source of anxiety for me given that it’s my job) and really try to find my center again. Taking that time to myself and honestly to stop feeling all of my feelings so intensely ALL. THE. TIME gave my brain the rest it needed and allowed a lot of my physical symptoms to subside.
I don’t know that I’ll ever been anxiety-free. Just the thought feels foreign and unfathomable to me. But I know there are practices I can put in place to help alleviate the intensity of my symptoms while I’m still learning to manage my anxiety. That includes being mindful of the images I consume via social media, eating healthier, being physically active, and maintaining a more disciplined routine that allows me a healthier sleep schedule. *she says at 3am as she writes this post* Again, a work in progress. But the point is…I’m doing the work. That’s progress.
You’ve already survived. Maybe it’s time to start living?