Millions of people suffer from anxiety and for creative types these chemical and emotional imbalances seem ever-present, so much so that it’s hard to say whether we were born with our artistic abilities or if those abilities were born later as coping mechanisms. We’re just more vulnerable to emotional stress because our emotions are our tools. Whether we paint or write or build, the very bricks, pigment and thoughts that make up our creations are really nothing more than feelings. We have an endless supply of them, all rushing like some wild stream while we tread water and try not to drown. If you’ve ever had a panic attack or just felt overwhelmed you know exactly what I mean. On a good day we can channel all of those emotions into our work but on a bad day we can’t live in the present moment long enough for an idea to even take hold.
I’ve suffered from anxiety all my life and even though the older I got, the easer it seemed to mentally cope with my stress, my body has always betrayed the truth. Over the past 23 years I’ve gotten the shingles, gained an excessive amount of weight, lost an excessive amount of weight, experienced migraines, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, ulcers, insomnia, anxious ticks, and mild panic attacks. As isolated incidents none of this was debilitating enough to hugely effect my daily life. Or maybe I was just really good at hiding it. It’s hard for me to say because at this point in my life I’m so used to my anxious thoughts that I feel like more of an observer of them than an actual participant. The truth is I’m just more mentally numb to it all. But my body isn’t, which is why all of my symptoms came to a head in recent months and I was forced to face the truth–that my anxiety isn’t mild or manageable or something I’ve grown out of, my anxiety is real and evolved and more potent than ever. And it’s scary.
It’s scary because as painful and uncomfortable as all of those feelings are, I need them. Because I’m a writer. Because I’m human. When I was in my teens I tried all kinds of medications to help with my anxiety but synthetic remedies only hid the issue rather than healed it and each one stripped away my ability to empathize bit by bit until I wasn’t afraid of anything while everyone around me was afraid of me. My feelings were muted and one-note, sometimes non-existent, and that’s no way to live, especially when you’re called to be an artist, or more specifically, when you’re called to use art to facilitate connection. Because you can’t connect if you can’t feel and even more painfully, you can’t create. Or at least, not anything good. Not anything real. And that’s the point of all of this–the human experience, connection, destiny, all of these damn feelings. Sometimes just being alive and all of the emotions that come with that can be overwhelming but the point isn’t to drown in them, to suffer, and feel isolated. The point is to channel them.
I’m no expert at it, this confession about my battle with anxiety is evidence of that. But I have come to the conclusion that it’s better to feel everything than to feel nothing at all. Not only that, but my fears and anxieties can be just as purposeful as my hopes and dreams. One day I will find a healthy way to manage the stress in my life but I will never be the kind of person who can maintain a state of bliss. I will never be the kind of person who is bold and totally care free. Why? Because I’m not meant to be. I’m meant to be slightly cautious and incredibly thoughtful. I’m meant to be the kind of person who loves the people around me so deeply and so desperately that I’m afraid to death of losing them. I’m meant to empathize with others on such an intimate level that I absorb everything they’re feeling, including their pain. I truly believe that is my super power–empathy–and that even though I’ve yet to learn how to control it and its power sometimes overwhelms me, I will someday use it to make the world a better place. And one day, in the latter half of this spiritual journey, I will look back on the first part of my life and realize that the anxiety was not a symptom or an illness, it was not a curse or some kind of karmic punishment, but it was a divine call to action.