My name is Tawanda Chirenda and I have lived in Toronto since October 2005. I suffered from unbearable anxiety and debilitating panic attacks for most of my adolescent and adult life. It seemed as if I was living in a wilderness, alone and disconnected from the mainstream of society. My anxiety was so bad that I was constantly depressed and had no interest in life.
My story begins when I was growing up in Zimbabwe, where I lived most of my early life trapped in anxiety and experienced a great deal of inner turmoil. At the age of 25, two years after I moved to Toronto, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. For me, this condition was characterized by persistent feelings of impending doom, an inability to relax, agitation, an unfounded fear of having a serious physical illness, chronic fatigue, exhaustion, fear of going crazy, nightmares, bad dreams, dramatic mood swings etc. This list is by no means exhaustive. I experienced every anxiety symptom you can imagine. I spent most of my time worrying about dying prematurely, going insane or losing my mind. I could no longer enjoy the things I used to enjoy; a simple trip to the grocery store would turn into a nightmare.
I strived to make efforts in hopes of overcoming my anxiety, but most of my efforts were misdirected and therefore counterproductive. Even doctors and therapists couldn’t help me. I went through countless medical tests, sought the help of numerous medical and mental health professionals as well as alternative health practitioners including a naturopath, acupuncturist, and herbalist. I was prescribed numerous medications, tried a variety of herbs, vitamins, diets and a host of other treatments in hopes of regaining my normal life, but these treatments did not make me better – instead they brought new pain and more suffering. I paid hundreds of dollars for therapy, and my anxiety went down a bit, but the anxiety always came back as soon as therapy ended.
Over time, my worry and fearful thinking became unbearable. I reached the point where I thought I could never recover from this awful condition. I was having panic attacks at home, at work, and whenever I went out with friends. I couldn’t function properly anymore. I felt like a prisoner of my own mind. Disturbing thoughts would race around my head all day. The more I tried to control my thoughts, the louder and heavier they became. The mornings were probably the worst for me. Each morning I would wake up feeling uninspired, with dizzy spells, exhausted and worn out. I felt I was sleep walking through life.
Eventually, help came in the form of a rare and unconventional insight. One evening, I woke up in the middle of a severe panic attack. After the panic attack subsided I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I spent the rest of the night wide awake, starring at the ceiling, and wondering “Why was I so fearful and anxious?” and “When would this anxiety disorder go away?” That night, I made a decision to become a willing student- I decided to embark on a fact finding mission. I knew if I had to get better and overcome this condition I had to understand it and not judge it. With a renewed sense of optimism, I spent hours every day learning everything I could about anxiety and panic attacks. I took advantage of my background in psychology and began studying the mind and how it works. I wanted to understand why I had developed anxiety.
I became aware that even though I had developed an anxiety disorder, I was not born like that. I saw through my pain and convinced myself it was time to reclaim my freedom and well-being. I knew that with a little willingness to further explore this condition, I would soon figure out how to free myself from its hell. I made a hard choice, which was to give up the fight against anxiety.
Instead of trying to resist anxiety, I welcomed it. Instead of judging anxiety, I turned my attention towards understanding it. Instead of running from anxiety, I started walking through it. I embraced anxiety and allowed it to be present in my consciousness. I allowed anxiety to have its say. I shifted my focus from trying to get rid of my anxiety to learning and growing from it. What surprised me was that this decision came with a great deal of power. I began to develop an attitude of openness to the unknown and a willingness to suspend the judgments conveyed by my feelings.
I am fully recovered now and I am a much stronger person than before. I am living my life by design not by default. I have brought order to my chaotic internal world. I have learned how to have a quiet and peaceful mind in the face of life’s chaos and conflicts. I am also helping other anxiety sufferers reclaim their freedom. This is giving me so much joy and satisfaction. If you are suffering from an anxiety condition, I want you to know that it’s not your fault. I can’t tell you how many friends and colleagues accused me of being too fearful, weak and “unmanly”. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I was dedicated and committed to finding a solution to my anxiety problem, but nothing was working.
The reason you have an anxiety problem is not because you are weak. In fact, a lot of the anxiety sufferers I have come across are individuals who are strong, passionate and amazing at what they do, but they just happen to have an anxiety disorder. Your anxiety does not mean that you are losing your mind or going insane. It just means you have some learning and growing to do – you have to adjust how you use your mind. Health and well-being is a process and we have to evolve to be healthy, which obviously means we have to change. We have to move away from our limiting beliefs and habits and adopt a new perspective about life, a perspective that recognizes and appreciates the interconnections between all life and human thoughts, emotions, values, and actions. What we think is just as important as what we do, and we have to control our thinking as well as doing. How we think determines the way our lives will turn out to be. The choices we make about what we do with ourselves determine the quality of our lives. What we do now creates the next now.
In the next coming months, I will be blogging about my experience with anxiety and how I overcame this condition. I know exactly what it is like to try to overcome anxiety and fail time and time again. When I was struggling with my anxiety and panic disorder, I tried everything I could to overcome it and feel normal again- including herbs, medication, vitamins, positive affirmations, and deep breathing techniques, but nothing really worked until I changed my perspective about anxiety. It is my pleasure to share with you my story and help you reclaim your freedom.
About Tawanda Chirenda
Tawanda Chirenda is an anxiety-transformation and resilience-building coach, speaker and founder of The Willing Student Method, a program that helps individuals overcome anxiety, build resilience and live a happier, more purpose-filled life as a result. Although Tawanda is now a resilience-building coach, he came to it the long, hard way, through many years of struggling with anxiety, failure, and helplessness. At the age of 25, Tawanda was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that drastically affected his normal functioning and everyday life. Through a willingness to learn, grow and change, Tawanda was able to successfully recover from this condition and regain his healthy and productive life. Tawanda has been fully recovered for more than 7 years now and he is a much stronger person than before. You can connect with Tawanda on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website, www.thewillingstudent.com, to learn more about his work.