I love writing. Yet, I find that it is usually the weekend before my blog is due when I actually sit down to write it. I could blame this on a busy life, however, given my current state of unemployment, that excuse doesn’t quite work. I know that the truth is that I procrastinate because I am afraid.
What scares me? I’m sure I am no different than a lot of other people: it is everything and nothing. Sure, my experiences do make me a walking cautionary tale, but why would anyone really want to read what I have to say? My old patterns are hard to extinguish and when I don’t make my negative thoughts conscious and challenge them, I can easily fall into the emotional shut-down that comes with the angst of not feeling good enough.
Fear, and his sidekick Anxiety, have been my unwanted companions for much of my life. The more I tried to ignore them, the stronger their hold on me was. They could stop me cold, immobilize me. I spent many unhappy years running, hiding and finding unhealthy ways of dealing with my free-floating worry. Some were relatively harmless – the distraction of retail therapy and endless to-do lists; some were so damaging – self-medicating with alcohol and sleeping for countless hours to avoid crippling panic.
My inner voice whispered my deepest fears: you aren’t good enough; you will fail; it’s just a matter of time before others will discover how incompetent you are. The worst part is that I wasn’t even aware of this incessant negativity.
After many years, a lot of self-education, and good treatment and support, I learned some of the things that help me to keep the ugly voices in check. The first thing I discovered was that this negativity can’t survive the light. The unconscious nature of the thoughts were the reason for their strength: you can’t dispel thoughts that you aren’t even aware of having, but when you bring them into the real world, they lose their power. When I started writing down what the voice was telling me when I became overcome by fear, I was on my way to winning the battle. I learned to talk to myself the way I would speak to a friend who was facing similar challenges. I started to have faith in myself – to speak with kindness and compassion. It felt awkward at first, but after a time, it became real. It began to change how I felt about myself and the negative whispers were drowned out by the positive ones.
I also started to learn about dealing with my anxiety on a physical level. When your breath is shallow and fast, your body responds in ‘fight or flight’ mode, whether or not you are in physical danger. I found that I could often control my anxiety by changing my breathing – making it slower and deeper. I read about and began to practice mediation and mindfulness. I am still somewhat new at these processes, but even the small steps of being aware of my physical reactions and focusing on my breathing has made a huge difference in my daily life.
So if I have anxiety beaten, why am I still writing this blog on Sunday night? The truth is, I still fall prey to my fears. The difference is I am kinder to myself when I fall into those old patterns. I implement the practices that help me bring those thoughts to my consciousness, acknowledge their existence, counter those irrational beliefs, breath through them, and let them go. Then I change the tape from negative to positive: I can do this; I believe in me. Sometimes I have to do this a few times before it sticks and that is okay – just like life, it is a journey that only I can navigate. In the words of Thich Nhat Han, “No one can give you fearlessness…you have to practice it and realize it yourself.” And so I will continue…to breathe and believe.
About Susan Mifsud
Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.