Our Moving Conversations events are typically followed with a written reflection of each event, including: themes explored, quotes from attendees, and further research into each topic. Following our September 2020 conversation on Anxiety, we received this insightful submission from a participant who wished to remain anonymous. In this reflection, the participant shares their anxious musings. As they put it, “a stream of anxious consciousness woven with insights and mechanisms from the conversation.”
It was that time of the week – my one day – to have a glass of wine and enjoy the “company” of others. This time it felt... necessary? To attend a conversation about anxiety, yes, it seemed necessary. As a life-long non-drinker, to come upon the adult joy/vice in my later years, I have only really had two rules with it - to drink in moderation, and with others. Nothing like a pandemic to dramatically change my personal commitments. But to drink an entire bottle of red on a Wednesday night against the light of the blue screen and 30 strangers staring back at me. Something isn’t right. And I begin to feel.... anxious.
Jumping into the conversation I was experiencing, you guessed it, anxiety. What would we get into that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing? How could we possibly fit the entirety of the topic of anxiety in 90 minutes? Would there be things shared that would make me feel silly or think my anxieties were trivial compared to others’? Could we discuss coping mechanisms? How does anxiety really work? What would we discuss that I would relate to so much that I would be triggered and spiral and break out in sweats and be on the verge of tears? This racing brain could only be described as a 20-lane highway of cars with broken indicators travelling in the wrong direction. And yet, here I was, in a virtual lounge, sharing my glass of wine and my anxieties with 30ish other humans equally as anxious as I was.
Oh the field day psychologists, researchers, journalists, doctors, analysts, pharmaceutical companies, governments, everyone (?) will have post-COVID, when we look at the mental health impacts of this pandemic. The numbers of people who had perhaps only experienced stress or exhaustion, never anxiety, would now join forces with those of us who are clouded with insecurities, overthinking, doubt, worry, restlessness, sleeplessness; this internal, constant war in our minds. But aside from COVID, let’s talk every day, common place, home-brand anxiety.
When our problems or issues are met with disproportionate reactions. When everything is much harder than it needs/seems to be. When we think of 1,000 solutions to problems requiring one (and often, one that is right in front of our faces). When focusing is impossible. When calm and sleep and ease and normalcy is impossible. Anxiety.
Now I don’t recommend hitting the bottle. In fact, it was the reason I spent over 30 years avoiding alcohol – control. I thought control was better than any suppression mechanism, alcohol or otherwise. And really, the anxiety is always there.
When the conversation pivoted to focus on navigating anxiety, I was looking forward to hearing what others had to say. Yet in the back of my mind, I imagined my cars, from the previously mentioned 20-lane freeway, and the impossible task of coordinating them to go to the mechanic to get their indicators and brake lights fixed.
But there were two highlights within the conversation to assist.
1. Defining the (often unreasonable) expectations of ourselves. Both of our anxiety levels, and in general. Why are we so ingrained to use the word ‘normal’ when we describe life? Nothing in life is normal. There’s no normal family, friend, life path, career choice, passion project, behaviour, appearance - nothing is normal. Or perhaps, normal is everything?
Point is, we need to redefine normal for the sake of the bench marks that drive our anxiety. To do otherwise is setting ourselves up for lives of not only anxiety but failure.
The pressure we put on ourselves is so unrealistic, but really, it’s just us. WE are enforcing these anxiety-inducing norms on OURSELVES. It’s time to put some new goals in place, sort out some new short- and long-term goals.
Be kind to ourselves, be understanding, and especially right now, don’t compare ourselves to anyone else – including our past selves.
And 2. Perhaps, as one moderator put it –
sometimes we function better in a sense of chaos vs a sense of calm.
Wow, what a revelation. I know the word chaos is extreme, but as I face day 370,274,190 of isolation in lockdown all I crave is purpose. All I crave is having 63 balls in the air at all times. All I tell my therapist session after session – I just need my purpose to return, I just need that thing to dedicate my time and energy to. If I have that, then everything else will fall into place. I won’t even have the time to let that self-doubt seep in because I will inevitably be reaching out to catch the 62 other balls before they come crashing around me. Give me chaos and give it to me NOW!
Learning to love what you can’t control and embracing the shadow were two additional themes throughout the conversation. Now I know these themes seem similar to the chaos I so desperately crave, but they are far from it in my mind. My inner critic and I are truly having a battle over giving myself a break on my mental state. I’m much more primed to use avoidance tactics to suppress that anxiety and literally work my way through issues. Embracing the shadow and loving what I can’t control feel very unreachable to me. If you have mechanisms that help you, please, by all means share them. The wine isn’t doing me any favours in this department. Perhaps the next purpose needs to be focusing on this love and embracing stuff? Can self-care be a purpose?
Mutual, reaffirming thoughts swirled among the 30 other humans equally suffering and sharing. Thoughts of necessary repression and avoidance. We shared that sometimes our coping mechanisms are unreachable and we cannot establish the balance we so desperately need. That ideally, we are avoiding putting all our coping eggs in one basket. Let’s spread that anxiety coping a little further. Let’s try, at least. And while we’re at it, let’s try to focus on our five senses, and nature, and sitcoms, and reconnecting with people we haven’t in a while, and being mindful, and stopping, just stopping, putting our phones down and breathing.
As we closed the session with a member of the conversation sharing her music and another guiding us in meditation, I felt something new. The isolation in which my anxiety usually flourishes was momentarily redirected to a community. A community of people who equally, though perhaps not all the over-achieving, public-facing, do-gooder that I once was, shared a plane of something mutual, our normalcy. A new normalcy of everything and anxiety.
And what has helped me compose this reflection on anxiety? Beyond the assurance that this piece will be anonymously published, that the Centre is a safe place to share, and, of course, that bloody glass of red.
Moving Conversations events will return in 2021. We believe these conversations provide a much-needed home for community members to explore and tackle difficult and complex issues in a safe, facilitated environment. Keep an eye out on our Facebook page for event details. We'd love to see you there.