I got asked this question today. More specifically, I got asked if I thought that anxiety could be defeated, could be overcome. It got me thinking.
I've always had a theory that when I hit 30 that my anxiety will simply be gone. I'm still holding out hope, but in the meantime, I've no interest in holding my breath. I know I have to spend every day working on my anxiety.
Once upon a time, my anxiety progressed to agoraphobia. In 2014 I couldn't leave my house, even to do something as simple as go shop for groceries. Thankfully, Thrifty's delivered to my doorstep, from two blocks away. I couldn't leave my house without being physically ill. Including my scheduled therapy appointments. I missed my first few therapy appointments, and when I finally forced myself to endure the physical wreck anxiety and panic attacks were causing, it was an ordeal to sit through my first session. This however was where I learned the self-love technique that has rescued me even now, two and a half years later. I still use this whenever I need to. The next time I went to therapy, it was still bad, but it was a little better. It was becoming safer and safer.
Sometimes the unknown is fucking terrifying. In this case, it was for me.
Anxiety is a chemical reaction your body sends to an unknown threat. It's a fight or flight instinct. It's your conscious mind trying to convince your subconscious mind that something is okay, and safe, while your subconscious is provoking the symptoms of panic and anxiety - shaking, sweating, heart palpitations, uneven or difficult breathing, choking sensation, nausea, stomach churning, brain fog and disorientation, racing and rapid thoughts. All of these things are telling you to leave the situation you're in, and you're choosing to either fight, or fly. Don't fly. And don't fight.
Accept it. Allow yourself to feel anxious. Half of the battle of anxiety is pretending it doesn't exist. Wishing so hard before an event that you won't have a panic attack, and then causing one, worrying about whether or not it will happen. Take a few minutes, take an hour, to lie back, to focus on even breathing, and accept it.
Don't let it ruin your experience. The biggest battle with anxiety is reprogramming your perspective and having experiences that don't revolve around anxiety. For instance, when I drive the Malahat, it triggers anxiety in me for some reason. I used to refuse to drive it, because every time I did, I would have a panic attack - I expected this, and I brought it on. It wasn't until this past summer that I drove the Malahat without having a panic attack and I thought, "Wow, I can do this!" The next time I drove it, I had a panic attack. Whoops. Instead of getting angry with myself or upset, I thought to myself, "Hey, remember that one time you didn't have a panic attack? That can happen again." I drive over that stupid mountain countless times a month now. 9/10 times I'm fine, the tenth time, I'll tend to have a panic attack. But I won't let that ruin the experience for me. The other times, I'm fine. And no matter what my subconscious is trying to tell me, I am always, always safe.
I really don't think the focus should be on overcoming or curing anxiety - but learning to cope with it in healthy ways. I think a huge part of it is to be pushing yourself. Start accomplishing small tasks that once triggered anxiety - grocery shopping, driving a long road, going to a show, going to a festival, anything. Tackle the small things, and get them under your belt, then start tackling more and more. Expect that anxiety will make an appearance - it always tends to. Sometimes though, it doesn't.
I almost cancelled a trip to Vancouver with friends a few years ago, because I was feeling anxious at the ferry terminal. I walked back shaking to my car, and told my friend he could have my keys for the weekend and take my car, I would bus back. He rolled his eyes at me, but agreed, until we realized I'd booked the hotel room in my name. I had to go. It was out of my control. So I sat in the passenger seat, and prepared for the panic as we drove onto the boat. I hate, hate, hate boats. The ferry started moving. I was expecting a full-blown panic attack to hit, and it didn't. After about fifteen minutes of rocking in the ocean, I realized it just wasn't going to happen. I got out of the car laughing, grateful, and was fine the entire trip. I don't know why the anxiety didn't come, but it didn't. And it doesn't have to every time. Just like driving over the Malahat, I now have safe experiences about the ferries, and Vancouver trips in general.
Anxiety is situational, and each and every person's experience with anxiety is different - to what triggers it, to the extent, to how they cope and manage. Different things make different people anxious and to different degrees. Everybody has it to some extent. It's all in how we manage it.
I'm fucking grateful for my anxiety. I get to learn the difference between a real and perceived threat. I get to learn healthy coping mechanisms. I got the chance and realization to quit drinking at a young age, and drugs even earlier. I get the daily strength fighting that voice every day that says, "You can drink this away." I've met some very cool people who are as open and honest as myself about mental illness, and become allies in this mutual understanding. I've grown spiritually as a result of it and am more aware and in touch with my body, mind, and emotions than most, because I have to be. And I have the opportunity to promote strength and growth in others, because despite still having it I am able to conquer it daily, be it going to a music festival, or grocery shopping, and show others that you can recover. Whether it be ultimate, or in a constant state, life is still goddamn beautiful.
If we focus on managing our anxiety, the looming prospect of being responsible for curing it entirely is lifted from our weighted shoulders. We're anxious. We don't need any more fucking pressures, thanks. I get asked, "Oh, so is your anxiety gone?" No. No it isn't. But I'm learning to cope with it, and I'm learning to manage it on my own, for myself.
Who knows? Maybe someday it will be gone. I don't have the energy to dream up 'someday's' all the time. Dreaming of a possible or impossible future will emotionally and mentally exhaust me. I'm holding out hope, but I'm not holding my breath - I'm living for today, and today I'm regulating my breath to stay present, aware, and within the moment. If I do these things today, then all I can do is ultimately hope that I am creating an anxiety-free future for myself.
Sometimes, anxiety feels like climbing a mountain. Getting out of bed is taking that first step. Tying your shoes. Remembering your waterbottle, your self-care. Telling yourself every step of the way that you can do this. Maybe I'm always going to be climbing this mountain. But after years of going at this unprepared, barefoot, I've now got a really good pair of shoes. A waterbottle. Confidence. Self-love. I'm looking forward to climbing this mountain.