As many of you know, I struggle with anxiety… and that’s because I talk about it publicly. A lot. And I think it’s important to talk about because it makes others feel less alone in their shit. I remember when I first really started feeling crippled by anxiety (specifically, agoraphobia) I thought I was completely alone. I was convinced I was the only one going through this. I would share my pain on my blog and when others responded with comforting words—because they had also left of college and were unable to exit the house without having a panic attack—I felt understood. And somehow that—knowing that I wasn’t alone—made it easier to go on.
But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about how, since the age of 18, I have put my identity in having anxiety. It consumed every part of me, so naturally, it’s what I thought defined me. I’m 21 now, and it’s been an ongoing war full of battles won and lost. There's been a positive trend; not a perfectly straight line going up, but it’s going up. But no matter how high the line has risen, it is still wrapped in bright yellow caution tape that screams MADISEN HAS ANXIETY. It is the earth, and I am the moon.
Last week during yoga, Adriene (of Yoga With Adriene on YouTube) said something about allowing yourself not to let your pain or troubles define you. And something inside me just clicked. I have let my whole life revolve around this pain, but it’s not who I am. I am not anxiety; I am not just someone with anxiety, I am me. I am Madisen. I love dogs and wearing jewelry, and my eyes are always bigger than my stomach when it comes to both food and aspirations. I prefer tea to coffee. I care about people. I’m funny. I’m really competitive in board games. I love milkshakes and the ocean. I am so many things; and I get to decide who I am.
I’ve been meditating on this idea of not defining myself by my pain the past few days, and there has been a noticeable difference in my energy. It’s as if I forgot that I was allowed to do anything without considering my anxiety. Without checking in with it and asking permission to do this or that. And now suddenly, I’m allowed just to be me and live my life and not be so worried about being worried.
On Monday, as I laid in bed at the end of a full day of laughter, it hit me—I realized I didn’t think about my anxiety once that day, much less feel anxious. I was so focused on things that I was excited about—going to the beach (didn’t even consider the fact that I didn’t know where the closest bathroom was. #IBSprobs), eating good food (if you’re ever in Venice, grab a meal at The Butcher’s Daughter and then pick up some doughnuts across the street at Blue Star for dessert), and spending time with people I love (my boyfriend and my cousin who was visiting for a few days before flying home to Florida.) I was kind of shocked because, as I said, I’ve made anxiety a part of me. It’s not just something I struggle with; it is intertwined with every part of me. I think about it so often, you’d think I had a crush on it.
But, holy shit, I am closing this chapter of my life. I am not just a girl with anxiety. I am allowed to be happy, and careless, and free. And I am fully capable of that. I am going to walk around art museums by myself because I fucking love art. I’m going to travel the extra distance to the cuter coffee shop in my neighborhood because I’m millennial trash and I appreciate the exposed brick and tattooed baristas. There are places I want to go and things I want to do that I’ve tricked myself into believing either a) didn’t really matter to me, or b) I was incapable of doing (because of fear.) But they do matter, and I am capable. I can live without fear and discomfort being the deciding factor on everything. I can let the habitual beginning of panic pop into my consciousness, and then watch it float away. I can acknowledge it and say, “thanks, but no thanks. I’ll be just fine.”
Wow, I’m getting emotional typing this in a coffee shop right now (the cuter, further away one, by the way.) I feel freer just writing this. I feel like I've permitted myself to let go. To breathe deeply. To be happy. To consider other things to find my identity in—like being an artist, a lover, an untethered soul. I can be and do anything.