I think there’s a certain beauty in being the underdog. Not that anyone would choose it for herself if she could. But, in my experience there is something formative about feeling like an outcast and deciding for yourself that something inside you is special enough to validate internally. Really, it’s a gift in dirty paper–a hard-won victory in charting your own course and a lesson in the importance of treating others with gentleness.
When I work with clients who suffer from anxiety, I share pretty liberally that I have also wrestled with that myself. I’m no stranger to panic attacks, or what is in some ways worse–the stigma of having everyone around you notice that you’re hanging on by your toenails, nervous and jarred to your bones. Inevitably, when I tell my patients I know of what I speak, they express some polite modicum of surprise. I mean, here I sit as the cheerful expert–I’m probably just blowing supportive sunshine up their skirts to emphasize some clinical can-do attitude about healing. Nope, I’m saying it because I’ve been there and I have so much sympathy for just how hard it can be sometimes.
What I don’t share with clients is the story of how my anxiety and my underdog story began. It would be too long. And after all, these sessions are about the people consulting, not about the consultant sharing her life story. But, I think it’s worth noting here because hey, blogging is a one-way conversation for the most part. And, I hope it will help someone to understand that if you have been hurt, it doesn’t have to be an emotional life sentence. You can utilize it in ways you never could have imagined.
When I was in elementary school, I was an average kid. Neither shy nor outgoing, I hugged the middle of the pack with zeal, speaking up when I had something to say, and sometimes when I just hoped I was right. I raised my hand in class and did my homework. I was about as gloriously normal as a child could get. But, one year, that all changed. I had a teacher who had long-standing bad blood with my family, as happens sometimes in small towns. And, whenever she got the chance, she humiliated me in front of my peers. At first, I tried to please her with a child’s confidence that there was logic in the world and that it could be done. Because, after all, she was an adult and adults made sense. She made me stand in front of the class while she teased me. She told the other kids that they would be punished if they hung out with me–a promise she followed through on by making each child who befriended me solemnly walk over to his or her apple (our measure of good behavior) and punch a hole in it for every interaction. To underline her point that I was wasn’t very bright, she made sure that I could never really progress academically through the levels of achievement in the classroom, no matter how well I read or learned. And, she threatened that I better not tell my parents about the things she said. So, I didn’t.
Later that year I was diagnosed with Amblyopia, an eye condition for which I wore large, thick glasses and patches on my affected eye. Just in case I wasn’t different enough already, that sealed the deal. I felt like I was weird. I definitely looked weird, and because of the severity of my vision problems, I couldn’t see the chalkboard no matter how close to the front the teacher put me. Things in which I had previously excelled became difficult because I couldn’t see the lessons to follow them. Socially anxious? I was. To be honest, many times, I still am.
Happily, the following year, I had a wonderful teacher who did her best to understand and accommodate me. Nonetheless, I became withdrawn, a loner– afraid to tell her when I didn’t understand, and too weary emotionally to risk her rejecting me. Would I have been a sensitive sort of soul without those experiences? Who knows. It took me many years to embrace that sensitivity as part of my creative nature–a sort of emotional antennae that help me notice things others don’t and turn it into art, both conversational in my therapy room and literal in my writing and music.
I think it’s particularly difficult (and so necessary) for anxious folks to remember that the anxiety doesn’t dehumanize you. It doesn’t rob you of your many gifts. Rather, it paralyzes you in such a way that telegraphing those contributions out into the world becomes like swimming through molasses while having a heart attack. It’s obnoxious, and it can feel as though it diminishes the fact that all the things that make us unique and special are still there. But we can do something about it. We can begin by talking about ourselves with kindness instead of loathing. We can engage with folks who don’t look down their noses at our sensitivities. And we can treat others as though they are carrying their own burdens as well–with gentleness and kindness. That’s me and my friend Londa over to the left. She gets me. If you don’t have a few of those folks too, take it from me that you need to find your tribe. Sometimes, people won’t get you. But, that doesn’t meant that you’re not worthy of love, companionship and loyalty. It simply means that you have to keep looking until the pieces fit the right way.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we can take control of our bodies by regularly practicing meditation techniques that can help us hit the reset button more quickly when anxiety creeps up for an impromptu reunion. I consider it good emotional hygiene so we don’t get clogged and weighted. I practice Transcendental Meditation, but there are a number of other techniques that are equally helpful in getting you back inside your body and out of your head.
Would you like to begin to work through the knots that have made you feel bound up and anxious? Are you ready to regard yourself and your personal history with kindness and respect? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it. I’ll be waiting with a cup of tea.
Your Partner in Healing,
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