When we suffer from anxiety, we can hit a fork in the road with two signs and struggle with which road to take.
One points us to a safe path that has very few challenges and can be very lonely, unsatisfying and ultimately leads us nowhere. The other points to a path that looks more daunting and is full of challenges but eventually leads to a far more fulfilling place.
To make my point, I once saw a documentary on a soldier who lost a leg and half his arm in Afghanistan, and when he came back to England, his partner said he had given up on life and that he stayed locked in his room. He was full of self-pity and became very depressed with plenty of ‘why me?’ He had decided to give in to his disability and taken to hiding away, getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself.
This attitude continued until he said to himself: ‘You can have a very fulfilling life with the way you are, you just have to choose to live again, your disability is not stopping you enjoying life, your attitude towards it is?’.
From that day on; he was determined to give life a go and stop hiding away, feeling sorry for himself. He chose to embrace his disability and went out socialising while finding local disabled clubs that he could get involved in.
This person then went on to represent his country in a particular sport at the Paralympics and made so many new friends, going on to live a life that he never thought possible.
I am telling this story because this person had a choice; he also met a fork in the road and initially took the safe one. He decided it was easier just to give up and hide away, while at the same time feeling sorry for himself; the same route I chose many years ago.
Well, I finally got fed up with this road, and one day I decided that hiding away was not going to give me my life back, only living it would.
Yes, this approach would be a lot harder, and yes there would be some discomfort and challenges to overcome, but I was sick of the life I had now and was determined to make some real changes. I had anxiety, yes, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t live my life, that was a choice I could still make.
Choosing the road of avoidance
Most people pick the path of avoidance because they don’t want to feel the anxious energy within them. They falsely believe that the outside is actually causing their anxiety and so by avoiding it they think they will solve the problem.
The truth is that the outside has nothing to do with your anxiety, the inside does. If you didn’t have anxious energy stored within you, then you would not feel it unless you were presented with an actual situation that merited it.
Avoiding life is completely pointless and counterproductive, all it does is teach your mind that there is danger in the outside world and so instead of your mind been open and at peace with life, it becomes fearful of it. The world then appears to be a threatening place full of danger, when it is nothing of the sort. The world spins the same for all of us; it is only our mind that makes it appear differently.
So this road of avoidance not only creates a fearful mind, but it also restricts our life and helps keep all the anxious energy stored within us.
You have to realise that this safe road is not working and it is never going to give you your life back.
Initially, taking the road of non-avoidance is not easy, as your mind will still be unsure and have some fear present due to your past actions of avoidance. But once you decide that you are no longer going to hide away and that your life means more to you than a few uncomfortable feelings, then you slowly teach your mind that the outside world is not to be feared. The best way to reprogram it through your actions, it won’t come through a book or by trying to master some technique.
Going out and living your life will also give you a chance to release this anxious energy within. The more willing you are to feel it, then the more you free yourself of it. Finally, your world will also begin to open up, and you will no longer be a slave to how you feel. Your anxiety will no longer make choices towards what you do and don’t do; you will.
I remember the day I had, had enough and decided a life wracked with anxiety was better than no life at all. So from now on, how I felt would have to come with me, there were no more deals to be made with my anxiety, no more compromising. I was going to regain my life back come what may and apart from a few uncomfortable emotions, what else could happen?
I am not saying going out there and starting to live again was easy, it wasn’t. I still experienced high anxiety, my mind still felt fearful, and I still felt a real sense of disconnection. But none of this was going to stop me from getting my life back; I now understood that to feel normal emotions again, then I had to be willing to go through the uncomfortable ones too.
There would times when I felt pretty exhausted mentally and physically on this journey, and so I would take some timeouts and rest when needed, but apart from these times, I decided never to let how I feel stop me from doing what I wanted to do.
Choosing the right path opens up your life
When I chose this new road, I still expected to feel anxious, disconnected and fearful, even more so, as I was now coming out of my comfort zones.
I held no expectations of how I should feel; my only goal was to live a fulfilling life again. Progress wasn’t going to be measured on how I felt, but more on how much normal living I was doing. How I felt was secondary and certainly not something I would be trying to control anymore, I had tried this for years, and it did not work.
This fearless road had its challenges but it eventually took me to a far better place and far more fulfilling life. Places and experiences that I previously feared and avoided now appeared peaceful and welcoming. My life just began to open up, and all my previous emotions of fear and uncertainty began to leave me.
In time, I learned to love this new road, it was not as safe as the other road, and it had many twists, turns and bumps in it, but it was one full of victories and surprises. It felt good being in control of my life again, to be able to do what others did without going through a long list of what could go wrong and trying to plan escape routes.
I always thought that I had to feel great before going out and living my life when the only actual way to regain my freedom was to go out and live it. I had just had to let go of all my uncertainty and insecurities and embrace life and live it with these emotions present. Life ended up being my salvation; it was my cure; it was never something to avoid and hide away from.
Life helped me unearth all of what was inside of me; it brought all that anxious and fearful energy up to be released. Life brought all my fears and insecurities to the surface and forced me to experience their presence and let go of them, instead of hiding from them or attempting to suppress them.
I look back and realise that I was never avoiding life, I was scared of life triggering all the anxiety and fear that was within me, and that was my mistake. Once I stopped blaming life, I was finally able to live it again.