Is it that hard to love me for me?
When I was a kid, I used to wonder what I’d be like when I grew up. Somehow I had the idea that nothing about me would ever stay the same. I thought I might grow up to look completely different and act completely different, as though my future self were a stranger I would one day meet.
But one of the secrets people don’t tell kids is that you stay the same you for your whole life, give or take a few wrinkles and gray hairs. I was well into my 30s before I realized that this is it—the me I am right now is the me I’ll always be.
Here are some things that will always be true about me:
My hair is a wild and unruly mess unless I put significant effort into it (and sometimes even that doesn’t work).
I wear a size small bikini top and size large bottoms; a salesgirl at Victoria’s Secret once said to me “Damn, girl!”
If I don’t get up early in the morning, I’ll be out of sorts all day.
I smile when I’m nervous. When I’m really scared, I laugh.
I have a hard time saying “no” to anyone for any reason.
I’m needy—I need a lot of hugs, hand-holding, and cuddling to feel OK.
When I’m in a crowd, I tend to get overwhelmed and have trouble breathing.
I can’t function in a messy environment.
I need to know what the plan is. (DO NOT say “we’ll see” to me.)
Sometimes I will lose my temper or cry or panic for seemingly no reason.
All those are things I’ve desperately wanted to change about myself over the years. Some of them are hard physical facts (I swear my hair gets wilder by the day) and some are just personality traits, but some are due to my anxiety disorder.
Here’s the thing: I can’t do anything about my anxiety any more than I can make my hair naturally smooth or grow bigger boobs overnight—it’s just part of who I am.
That’s not to say I don’t do things to try to control my anxiety; I carry Klonopin in my bag at all times for emergencies, try to exercise regularly (I’m like a dog that has to be walked), and go to therapy. (OK, I went to therapy. I swear I’ll go back again.) I avoid caffeine. I meditate and do yoga. I pray a lot.
But lately I’ve been trying really hard to embrace my anxiety rather than fight it. That means no negative self-talk, no making excuses, no apologizing. It’s not easy, but I’m trying. Part of it is remembering I’m not the only person who suffers from anxiety—it is the most common mental illness in the United States; close to 20% of the population has some type of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety looks different in everyone.
Last weekend, when I was moving into my new apartment, I was scrambling up on the counters, insisting on wiping down the interior of every kitchen cupboard before I put anything away. My sweet, patient friends may not have realized this was part of my anxiety disorder—or maybe they did, who knows. All I know is that they spotted me as I stood on the counter, ready to catch me if I fell, then climbed up to wipe down the ones I couldn’t reach myself. That’s love.
My younger daughter is vigilant on my behalf as well. If she sees me drinking coffee, she puts on her sternest face and says “That better be decaf.” And if she hears me struggling to breathe, she brings me a glass of water and asks if I need my “breathing medicine.”
If I had the choice, I would have chosen to be the kind of person who is always calm and collected. Someone who would never need reassurance from anyone. My boobs and ass would be in perfect proportion, I’d be able to sleep late once in a while without moping for the rest of the day, and I’d go with the flow and not panic when someone says “We’ll see.” But then I wouldn’t be me.
And now that I think about it, I don’t even think I’d like to be friends with that person. She sounds kind of boring. My friends love me as I am—anxiety and all—and I’m trying to do the same.
Elizabeth Laura Nelson lives in Brooklyn with her two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to get up and sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.
This story has been republished from SHESAID.com with permission. If you liked this, you can read more like it on SHESAID.com: 17 Things People With Anxiety Wish You Understood, What I Wish People Knew About Living With Crippling Anxiety, and This Is What An Anxiety Attack Feels Like.