What I've Learned From My Anxiety
When I’m at the least comfortable, I tend to watch the same movies and television shows over and over again. I’m sure the first notes of the Gilmore Girls theme song are a harbinger of doom for my downstairs and/or upstairs neighbors. But there I am on the couch, watching Lorelai dump Max, the best guy on the show, once more. It’s nice to know what will happen, even if it's not ideal. It’s nice to see familiar people, even if that familiar person is Logan.
Besides rom coms on TBS or the Final Destination franchise, one of the films I will watch over and over again is Melancholia. I’m not sure I even like this film. It’s long, and it’s dark, and it’s full of rich people. But there’s something about its panic and the classical music that comfort me. While I think I would probably just drink wine and scream at the end of the world like Charlotte Gainsbourg, it’s Kirsten Dunst’s character that draws me in every time. Kirsten Dunst doesn’t really care about the end of the world, because she’s already so depressed that she has nothing left to fear. It makes mental illness into something I’ve never really seen before: an asset.
I was thinking about that movie the other day, because I have subconsciously been trying to make anxiety my asset for a long time now. I’m an anxious, obsessive person who tries very hard to normalize it so I can succeed in my daily life. Or else I’d just sit home and stay frozen. If I can’t get rid of it, I think, I will make it work for me.
After a few years, I have found “the benefits” to having anxiety, to having obsessions, and to just being the type of person I am. I don’t really ever forget things. I never leave my keys at home or the freezer open or the stove on before I leave the house. Of course I don’t. I can’t leave the house without checking to make sure everything is off. I often don’t leave the house without checking again, just in case. But I like that I’m careful. I like that I’m careful and meticulous and it carries over into other aspects of my life---I’m organized, I am good at making lists, I never forget faces or things at the grocery store or birthday gifts. I don’t forget dates. I don’t forget important details. I am a lockbox of memory. After all, the weapon of the anxious is preparedness. You’ll see this when I travel, because I pack like a pro. I also have the name of every good restaurant in the vicinity of where we are going, the hotel phone number programmed in my phone, and a cab already waiting at the airport. I am your manic pixie nightmare travel planner, like a Zoey Deschanel with more facial hair. And why stop at travel? I’ve had a fish for 6 days and I already know more about the signs of fin rot and the right temperature of the water and chlorine in the water and how to teach your betta tricks then the guy who sold me the fish, who actually didn't really say anything at all to me. If I feel like I need to know something, I will know everything about it. Just watch me checking the news the last few months. These are the benefits, I say. These are what I get in return for sleepless nights, for picking at imperfections on my skin that aren’t there, for days when I stay home because I just can’t face the outside. I need something in return. I have to see the good in this, or else I am worried I would be hopeless.
The unfortunate thing is when I misstep, when I make a silly mistake, when I leave my card at a bar or forget shaving cream in my travel bag. When I misstep, however small and inconsequential, I look at myself and go “now what am I good for?” When I make a mistake, it's not good.
After I did this for a while, after I berated myself for literally years for leaving my keys in the house one time and locking myself out, after I called myself an idiot over and over again for that credit card mistake, I went, “well, this isn’t good either.” My good qualities are not lucky consequences of the other things I battle. They’re just good qualities. Right?!
Of course. We are made of many good and bad things that we actively work on. And sometimes we are made of bad and good things that come easy for us and we don't work on them at all. I'm a good listener, but I'm not the most fun at the party. I'm a great friend, but I can't have too many close friends at once. I'm impatient and, at moments, kind of mean. None of those personality traits really have to do with my anxiety. An important thing to note: not everything does. Not everything does. NOT EVERYTHING DOES.
But if there is one thing that has come from having anxiety that is good, it is this: I have learned to take risks. Even if those risks are small. Even if it’s just going, “I’m not going to let this overtake me today.” Even if it’s just being okay with letting it overtake me, but just for one day. I have learned to push forward. And I have learned to push to make myself better. I have learned these things because of who I am. There are some good things that come directly from it, none of which have to do with my personality. I learned to separate it. You should to. It doesn't make all of me.
I don’t know if I will ever consider the state of my mental health an asset. I don’t know that I should. I do acknowledge the good and bad parts about them, just as anyone should acknowledge the good and bad parts of themselves. If you are feeling in disarray today, or yesterday, or you’re thinking, “how can I possibly move forward in the world, with all the good and bad that is in it, as a functional person?” I’ll tell you this: it’s good to learn to take risks. It’s good to utilize that skill for a larger good. To speak out. To step out of your comfort zone in a world that desperately needs you and your voice to do that right now. Your mental illness may not be an asset, but know this: you are. The things you learn from it are. And it is not everything you are.
And if the end of the world does come soon, I know this: at least I’ll be ready with some kind of list.