Turning Shame into Acceptance

I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life.

Ever since I was little I carried the weight of the world on my tiny shoulders.

As I grew up, I expect my anxiety to mature too and dissipate, but the older I got the more I realized this was not the case. If anything, my anxiety amplified over time. Panic attacks became more common. My heart would race unnecessarily. My to-do list seemed insurmountable. I catastrophized everything – and mental breakdowns became the norm. From the moment I woke up, to the moment I went to sleep, I couldn’t seem to find any reprieve. My anxiety was all encompassing.

And beyond the extreme strain it was putting on my body – the weight loss, the unexpected vomiting and the constant migraines – it was doing fucking wonders on my brain. I became extremely paranoid, constantly fearing the worst in my work, my schooling, my relationships – my body was constantly vibrating at 100, and I didn’t know how to stop.

I felt ashamed and I felt disgusted with myself.

Why couldn’t I function normally?

Why couldn’t I get through a day without having to talk myself off an emotional ledge?

I needed help, but I didn’t want to own up to it.

I didn’t want to appear “weak,” “emotional,” “sensitive,” or “less than”.

I couldn’t stand the idea of succumbing to medication. I was better than that. I needed to be better than that.

But the reality was nothing I was doing was helping my cause. So, I finally gave in to the warning signs. But little did I know swallowing a pill wasn’t the hardest pill I’d have to swallow.

That instead came with therapy.

And through many, many sessions and many, many tears, I found myself standing in front of one major hurdle. Instead of constantly beating myself down every day, carrying shame that my mind doesn’t always function the way it should, could I instead accept my anxiety and recognize it as a strength? Could I even go as far as coming to love it fully?

While there are many voices whispering to us that “we are not our mental illness,” could we perhaps flip the narrative and instead shout confidently in a voice comparable to Queen B herself “I own my mental illness”?

 When I finally came to accept my anxiety (and I mean fully, completely, truly accept it), I became free and so much lighter.

I no longer carried shame towards myself, instead I carried acceptance.

I no longer carried judgement towards myself, instead I carried understanding.

I no longer carried hatred towards myself, instead I carried love.

Because the reality is that I am a person with anxiety, but that doesn’t make me weak or emotional, or sensitive or less than. In fact, my hard-fought battles with anxiety have brought superpowers that I am grateful to have, like…

Clarity and self-awareness. I am more in tune with myself and my needs, so I can easily identify when a situation, relationship, role or workplace is not serving me. Because of this, I am able to take on work that means something to me, pursue passions that drive my ambitions, surround myself with ‘my people’ – the ones that empower, inspire and care – and pause to take pleasure in the moment.  

An unwavering strength. I’ve been through hell and back and I’ve come out singing. With every hard day, moment, breakdown, I’ve managed to dust myself off and stand a bit taller. Plus, when your biggest critic or enemy is yourself, dealing with anyone else becomes much easier and much more bearable.

Empathy. Because of my anxiety, I can feel more. I have a better understanding of what others are feeling and I can more easily put myself in their shoes. This allows me to listen fully and care deeply. Not only have I cultivated strong connections and long-lasting relationships with my love, friends, family and colleagues, but I’ve had transformative, goosebump moments of connection with strangers as well. And I cry more tears of joy and gratitude now, than those of sadness, shame and embarrassment.

Accepting anxiety isn’t something that happens overnight, in fact, it’s very much a journey. And getting there requires more than medication alone, but also a focus on eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, exercising, therapy, relying on loved ones, asking for help and support when you need it and much more. There will be good days, and there will be bad days, but how you start to perceive those days and the forgiveness that you afford yourself will greatly influence how quickly you rebound back.

I am a woman and I have anxiety – this is who I am. And as I write these words, I’m standing tall with my shoulders rolled back.

Exhale and embrace, I promise it will be worth it.