Out of the Darkness: The Power of Anxiety

In various Pagan traditions, you hear of “the fire in the head,” or “the muse descending.” For many creative people, this fervor of inspiration and creativity, comes at a cost.

As I sit here, typing this piece, something is rolling in my stomach. I have an awareness of the flutterings inside my rib cage. There are moments where I stop to think, and panic floods me.

I didn’t have a name for these feelings, when I was young. Knowing I had to do something, wanting to do something, feeling frozen in place… My grandmother called it “laziness” or “making excuses.” My teachers called it “procrastination” or “not reaching your potential.”

During college, my therapist finally put a name to it: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” She said the words aloud, assuring me that she wouldn’t write them down in my file, so that I would keep a “clean” mental health record. It was important, to my future success, that this be kept secret.

As an adult, keeping Anxiety a secret, involves a lot of “I’m so sorry, I’ve been so busy.” It’s not a lie. I have been busy. Busy remembering to breathe. Busy making lists in my head. Busy feeling inadequate.

Arthur_Rackham_1909_Undine_(13_of_15)
(Detail from Arthur Rackham’s “Undine,” 1909. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There are mornings, where I remember something I have forgotten to do, and suddenly I’m moving through peanut butter. Each motion, exertion incarnate. It becomes difficult to focus on one thought. Everything spirals.

Facebook tells me I’m not alone. Lots of my friends have taken to posting about their own mental health status, to keep themselves “accountable.” I don’t tend to do this myself. It’s not that I disagree with the practice; it’s just not my style.

I think there’s another side to Anxiety, which at times, is more boon than curse. Sometimes, when I say, “I’ve been so busy,” it’s not just breathing, and feeding myself; it’s going out and doing things. Busy can mean attending a rally, or a discussion group, or researching. Busy can be creating something beautiful out of something old and broken. Busy can be teaching my child about music theory, or mythology, or science.

Busy can mean Productive; Anxious energy, like any other energy, can be channeled.

Sometimes, when the Anxiety monster is raging, my brain has time to consider other options. Sometimes, on the other side of Anxiety, there is a solution that was not apparent before I broke down and cried. Often, doing something a little more slowly, results in receiving the thing I needed at the perfect time, or being there for someone when they needed me, instead of when I thought I was needed.

Anxiety is aided by inaction; moving, even if it’s in the wrong direction, breaks the spell.

The more I acknowledge the Anxiety, the more I am able to communicate what is happening to me, the less it affects me. The people who love me, have strategies to help me when I have an attack. The people who judge me for those moments, I tend to forgive; they are probably afraid of their own shadows.

In the wake of #MeToo and “The Last Closet,” this seems like such a small thing to bring forward. But, then again, that’s minimizing; something folks with Anxiety do a lot of.

We all have our own secrets; the things we’d rather not look at or talk about. Usually, it’s in breaking those things apart, that we find our power. When we cast a light on the source of a shadow, we’re less afraid of what’s in the dark.

If you find yourself sitting alone with something inside of you, please consider this an invitation to examine it…to name it…to give it shape.

What is a source of power for you? What is in your dark?

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