A few months ago, I turned the anti-climatic age of 26. And while I realize that this by no means makes me any wiser or more qualified to offer advice, I learned a few things in the past year — both insignificant and slightly significant — that I want to share. Before I begin, I’d like to offer a disclaimer on this post: parts of it are a bit deeper than my usual stuff. You–as my mom often does–might find yourself wondering, “Why are you being so intellectual, Jo?” (She asked me this after I told her I was reading The Red Tent). And to be honest, I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, or perhaps its a chemical reaction from all the gray hairs I’ve forcefully removed from my scalp. But don’t worry, I won’t be an intellectual blogger forever.
Hair pills don’t work.
Sometime around the sprite age of 23, I decided it would be a good idea to cut my hair off. I honestly enjoyed my new ‘do (for about 48 hours), but I spent the next two years of my life looking like Thomas Jefferson caught in a rainstorm. I absolutely hated my colonial bob, and so I did everything (short of extensions) to fix the situation.
This meant taking an obscene amount of hair pills and vitamins that, when combined, promised me Kardashian-esque locks and frighteningly radiant skin. For a couple of months, I convinced myself that the results were worth the investment. My hair felt smoother, my hands looked slightly less scaly, and my breath was only mildly fishy. But one afternoon, my mane-and-tail cocktail didn’t sit too well with my delicate stomach and I ended up getting sick in a coworker’s office. To explain my cold sweat and sudden exit was awkward, to say the least, and so on that very day, I wrote off hair pills entirely.
Yogis aren’t all that crazy.
Until a few months ago, the closest I’d gotten to yoga had been by way of an extensive collection of black stretchy pants. To be sure, I never wore said pants while performing the actual act of yoga (or during any stretching, for that matter), but I appreciated their universally flattering fit and, like any 20-something, how well they complimented my Sperrys.
Then, a few months ago, someone told me that yoga is one of the best exercises for people with anxiety, and that she’d highly recommend it for someone as neurotic as myself (high praise, indeed). While I doubted it would bring forth the peace and tranquility she promised, I figured it was probably due time I learned how to touch my toes. Thus, I began an unlimited package at a yoga studio.
I showed up at my first hot yoga class feeling insecure and skeptical. Not helping my cause was the fact that I was the only person wearing athletic shorts, or that I’d brought an american flag beach towel to dry off with. Everyone else was clad in an assortment of spandex and tattoos, and no one — I mean no one — had a beach towel, let alone a towel as visually assaulting as my own. My skepticism only grew as the class went on, as the instructor proceeded to list the benefit of each pose as it related to the organs. I highly doubted that the compression from “wind relieving pose” (a ridiculous name in itself) would massage my descending colon and flush out my pancreas. Nor was I buying that by placing my forehead on my knee, I’d improve my metabolism and relieve depression. But as I’d already paid for a month in full, I carried on without complaining.
My next few appearances were much the same. With each subsequent class, I learned more about my organs, breath and glands than I had during my sadistic addiction to Web MD. But around my third week (around the same time I stopped wearing athletic shorts), something miraculous happened. I realized that I did feel better. I felt more balanced, more confident and more self-aware. I’m not saying I bought into any sort of lower-intestinal-massage powers, but I recognized a significantly positive difference in my body and in my mind. So, as it turns out, I guess yogis aren’t all that crazy.
And now for the intellectual stuff.
Anxiety doesn’t define me.
For years, I’ve joked about my anxiety. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I often make light of my germophobia and hypochondria. I get it. It can be funny sometimes. And until recently, I’ve found that joking about it has been the best kind of therapy. But a few things happened this past year that, quite frankly, aren’t all that funny. And they’ve made me realize that my anxiety (no matter how comical it can be at times) has completely run–and at times seemingly ruined–my life.
At the incessant urging of my mother, I won’t go into too much detail about my anxiety. But at some point, I plan to write about it because I think it’s a condition that more people need to understand. Generalized anxiety disorder isn’t worrying about passing a test or being late for work. It’s taking a fear or an insecurity (whether that be rational or completely irrational) and turning it into an obsession. It’s worrying about EVERYTHING — relationships, work, weight, body image, MRSA, germs, receding gum lines, typos, cancer, perfection, social awkwardness, what someone said about you 5 minutes ago, what someone said about you 5 years ago, etc. — to the point where you’re unable to “wake up” and check-in with the world around you. To the point where your mind is so incredibly clouded at times that it blocks any and all external thoughts — no matter how important it, he or she may be. Having anxiety means that routines are religion, and to deviate from them is almost unbearable. It means feeling debilitatingly insecure and inferior and, at times, it means feeling completely detached from everything and everyone. As a result, it means your friends, family and loved ones can’t understand why you’re so distant, so frustrating, so indecisive. They feel insignificant to you, even though they’re anything but.
For 25 years, I’ve done a pretty good job of masking the severity of my anxiety (except for all my bone cancer blood screenings, of course). And I managed to do so, in part, because I didn’t realize the full extent of it. But I’ve recently realized that my anxiety and insecurities have dictated far too much of my life, and that it’s time to make a change. So–with a little outside help–I’m learning that I don’t have to live like this anymore. And that feels awesome. I’m learning that my anxious actions are not who I really am. That they don’t define me. I’m realizing that being open and honest about my anxiety is far better than keeping it to myself, and that laughing at myself has been (and will continue to be) one of the best things I can do.
I’ve debated whether or not to publish this blog post for quite some time. It’s not exactly flattering. But after months of editing, re-editing, deleting and re-typing, I finally said screw it. At the very least, I hope it’ll help people understand me (and why it takes me 45 minutes to pick a beer) a little bit better. But most of all, I hope it’ll encourage those who struggle with similar demons to finally get some outside help, because it truly makes all the difference.