Today wasn’t the greatest day of my life. It wasn’t. But it also certainly wasn’t the worst day, and there’s no way it even made the top ten. Or thirty. It was a successful day. I got all of the things I needed to do done, and I greatly enjoyed several parts of it. I experienced some small but very wonderful instances of kindness, and I attempted to deliver such moments to others where I could.
It’s incredible how a few minutes of anxiety can seem to render all that a failure. I think this is because we are designed so that intensity sticks in our memory; the everyday fades away, while the small dense moments of stress and joy we experience are blown entirely put of proportion. But I must accept that experiencing an acute pang of random panic on the bus home (or a couple), or feeling a bit dizzy and stressed while walking to my last class— such moments don’t render the other 23-odd hours of my day meaningless or insignificant. These tiny, uncomfortable, intense experiences don’t mean that my 25 minutes of morning meditation were useless, or that the three hours of ballet and hour of modern dance into which I poured my total self weren’t fulfilling, or that the intellectual stimulation I felt in my evening writing course wasn’t real. The truth is that I accomplished a lot today, and I felt really good for a lot of it.
Following this, I must release myself from the totally ridiculous notion that anxiety is my “natural state”, and that all the other modes of living— fulfillment, engagement, presence, fun— are just a veneer I desperately plaster on until anxiety slips back in through the cracks. We truly are the wolf we choose to feed; anxiety is no more my destiny than is a life consuming solely brownies and cheesecake, though I may have the occasional irrational impulse toward sugar as well. And while self-analysis and awareness may be wonderful tools, not every thought or feeling that happens to pop up in my consciousness has a grave bearing on my future selfhood unless I let it. I am not at the mercy of my least favorite memories, thoughts and emotions, no matter how scary they may be as I think or feel them. So much in my mind is or can be insignificant, momentary. This is one of the hardest things for me to teach myself.
At last, a moment of gratitude. Today I experienced fleeting ghosts of a past self, a self with fewer tools, less understanding, and very little self-compassion. While it was scary to feel some elements of anxiety I hadn’t felt in awhile, it was also an important reminder of the progress I’ve made, and a kick in the pants with regard to perspective, just in case I was starting to forget what some parts of anxiety can be like. There is no possibility of going back. Thankfully, time doesn’t work that way— as Heraclitus said, you can’t step in the same river twice. Progress, with anxiety at least, isn’t about never feeling the symptoms again; it’s about feeling those old feelings and allowing them to dissipate with a little more knowledge, awareness, and confidence each time. Progress isn’t linear. It’s a sort of loopy diagonal line, I think, with each recursive cycle landing one just a little bit further ahead. I can draw it for you, if you like, but the general outline is one of learning, growth, and hope.