Do you know any chill people who don’t get worked up about things? People who manage to take things as they come, who know how to not take things personally, and don’t over analyze every minute of their lives?
People who know the difference between a real problem and a problem that will be forgotten in three months, or two days, or even one hour?
I know maybe one or two people like that. They’re amazing to watch–there’s a kind of warmth emanating from them, an indescribable softness.
And all I want to do is warm up in that sun of theirs.
Because I’m not like that at all.
I was born worried.
Worried about other people, first of all. Like a lot of children, who feel responsible for the well-being of the people around them. I was constantly asking myself millions of questions: Is everyone around me okay? Who am I? Am I pretty enough? Polite enough? Smart enough? Well-behaved enough? Why do I live here? Why can’t we adopt all the unhappy children in the world? Why are my parents aging? Are they going to die?
I remember one day I noticed my father’s hair was thinning on the back of his head. I cried over it. I was inconsolable. For days.
My constant worrying became more refined over the years, more sophisticated. What was I going to do with my life? Had I made the right choices? Was the life I was living really my own? Was my boyfriend happy? What more could I do? Was I a good friend, a good student, a good girl? Had I turned off the stove before leaving my apartment?
Don’t worry (ahah), like a lot of anxious people, I also really loved having fun, laughing, living, loving. I was pretty happy! But you could often find me deep in oceans of worry, lost in my thoughts, incapable of doing anything about it, incapable of figuring out what to do, where to go, what decision to make to satisfy my entourage, society in general, and my own image of myself.
I rarely thought about what I really wanted, what my true needs were. I never would have known where to look for them. I never checked in with my intuition.
Because for me, this way of functioning was totally normal: everyone around me was the same way. My boyfriend, who was a musician (yep) was constantly torturing himself over whether his music was as good as his ambitions. My parents were constantly worried about… well about everything. My friends all had worries similar to mine. We would talk about them, laugh about them, and try to reassure each other. But at a certain point, that wasn’t enough anymore.
I ended up suffering from panic attacks and that’s when I started the long and winding road toward finding more peace. Little by little, with lots of ups and downs, I was able to start freeing myself. It took things like…
Therapy, first of all, of course. Therapy helped me put my anxiety into words and get it out. Once I shared them, my worries suddenly seemed much less threatening. Talking didn’t fix much, but it somehow made me feel less crazy. I got everything out, with no shame, and once they were out in the light of day, my demons weren’t so intimidating anymore. And sometimes during a session, I would even start to get a glimpse of something that took me years to fully understand: My worries weren’t necessarily directly related to my problems – often, they were just something I created in my mind. The problem in question, when looked at from another angle thanks to my therapist, suddenly seemed a lot simpler and more manageable. Sometimes it even went away entirely!
Building my own life and identity. I love my parents, I love my friends, but I am not them. Living other people’s ideals is a source of deep anxiety for me and it took me such a long time to realize. So the more I build my own life and identity, the more the world around me corresponds to my ideals, and the less it stresses me out. It takes courage (especially if you’re an anxious person, haha, the vicious circle!) to let go of the ideals that aren’t your own – but little by little, you manage to do it, and you know how to make choices that are good for you instead of the ones dictated by friends, parents, magazines, etc. And naturally, when you feel like you’ve found your place in the world, or at least feel like you’re on the right track, your anxiety naturally quiets down.
I started doing yoga to work on my abs, and…I still don’t have abs, but yoga might be one of the most useful things I’ve learned to this day. It’s crazy, right? It’s not so much the yoga itself, but the meditation part that changed my life. As I’d already started to figure out in therapy, yoga helped me finally understand that I wasn’t a slave to my thoughts. I was creating them and could let go of them at any time – and that it was as simple as a physical exercise, a little mental self-discipline. You don’t even have to meditate every day to figure that out, and it changes absolutely everything.
Thanks to those three tools, I’ve managed to come a super long way. I’m not a little Buddha yet, but I admit that’s kind of my goal. I like to have a calm mind. I like being able to fill it with what I desire; put my energy toward creative ideas rather than useless, exhausting cycles of stress.
So that’s what I’m learning right now. I’m approaching a new level, the level of experience and letting go.
Understanding that we can’t control everything, or that the only thing we can control is the energy we put out into the world, into our projects, into our loves.
And right now, thanks to experience, I’m finally realizing that I cannot be responsible for the happiness of others. I can’t control my successes and failures, but I can give the best of myself and then detach completely from the result. I can’t control what people think of me, even if I’m perfect, above all reproach, ideal. Which I’ll never be, not any more than anyone else.
The only thing I can really do is be comfortable with myself and honest with others. Make peace with myself and my flaws and offer the same thing to the people around me. Let them be. Love them as they are. Let ourselves be.
Somewhere, deep down, you have to be a little selfish, actually. Slightly nonchalant.
I would have loved to learn this as my very first lesson, honestly.
I would have loved to be born that way, understanding all this from the beginning. That would have saved me years of coming up against walls, wanting to be understood & loved, and trying to stick to the norm. I would have loved knowing sooner that peace, love, joy – all of it comes from inside, never from the mirror others hold up to us.
Even though I read so many things on this subject, there’s one thing that has no substitute: time and experience. Try as you may, life just isn’t something that can be learned in books.
I would have liked to know all that, but even so, I actually want to thank my worries. They made it so painful for me when I was getting away from my truest self that thanks to them, I was finally able to find my way.
So there you go. I even accept my anxiety now. I still have a lot to learn…but I’m not that far off from being a little Buddha, with all these personal development posts, don’t you think? Have you ever had to deal with anxiety?
Translated by Andrea Perdue