After I was diagnosed with “severe anxiety” I resigned myself to a lifetime of panic attacks and mood swings. Once I did that, I stopped having them.
Okay, it’s only been about three weeks since I last broke down in hyperventilating hysterics for no real reason at all, so I hardly think I’m “cured”. But it turns out that things get much easier once you stop beating yourself up about something and start showing yourself compassion.
I stopped telling myself I needed to stop being so ridiculous, and let myself relax. I stopped panicking that I was about to start panicking, and accepted that I probably would at some point, but it would be okay and that I didn’t need to worry about it before it happened. I accepted that I was ill, and I started treating myself more like somebody who needed a bit of help. I went to bed early, I stopped insisting that all my time be productive, I stopped making myself do things I didn’t want to do.
Once I noticed how good this felt I started doing it in other areas of my life.
I chilled out at the gym by changing the story I was telling myself about it. I stopped going to completely change the way my body looked, feel better about everything, and become a super fit person. I started going to the gym to lift a few weights and move my body around a bit.
I noticed myself getting panicky when my husband asked me to spot him, glancing nervously at the clock to measure the amount of time I was taking out from my own workout. I noticed this feeling, I thought about it, and I realised that I was thinking that any time spent in the gym not exercising was wasted time. I decided to think something else instead. Now I genuinely enjoy the time in the gym where I’m spotting, counting his reps, or even just having a chat between sets. Maybe I do less exercise, but I also have more fun, and it doesn’t lead to a panic attack.
I let myself start a new crochet project, rather than ploughing on with the socks I was having to force myself to knit. It suddenly felt a lot less stressful, and I remembered that my hobbies are not supposed to feel like chores.
I let myself stop reading a book I wasn’t enjoying. In fact, I gave myself permission to stop recording what books I’ve read. This has been a real game changer for me. For years, I’ve been writing down the title and author of every book I’ve read, along with the date I finished it. I guess I wanted to remember how many books I had read each year, and which ones they were. But somewhere along the line (perhaps with the list becoming public on goodreads) this starting influencing the kind of books I read, and why I do. I started reading for show, rather than for fun.
I wondered when my free time became about achieving things, rather than enjoying myself.
The other day I read this, by Ashleigh Shackelford. In it she says:
I want to challenge and politicize health and happiness as life’s pinnacle achievements that are dangled in front of us to fight for. White supremacist capitalism cultivates an environment in which we are trained to fight for something at all times – whether it be power, happiness, health, or survival – there is no world created for us to exist and be centered on non-competitive joy.
I completely recognise this. Do you?
We are trained to fight for something at all times.
I have always had a problem doing nothing. I taught myself to crochet because I felt guilty about watching TV without having an end product to show for it. I always feel like I should be doing more, better. Whether that’s exercising, dieting, reading or writing.
But fighting gets tiring, and it doesn’t always work. Beating yourself up about things continues the cycle of shame and anxiety.
What happens when you stop fighting?
When I stopped fighting to be thinner, and made peace with my body, I became happier and stopped the cycle of binge-eating and purging. Then I lost weight without meaning to.
What will happen when I stop trying to be a better person?
Will I relax and become one?
Is the secret to peace to untrain yourself to be fighting for something at all times?
Is this what people mean when they say you should just relax?