I’ve mentioned this before, but anxiety, for years, has been an incredible source of shame for me. It was my silent struggle, the thing that made me feel weak, not good enough, deeply flawed. I so wanted to appear confident, unafraid, capable and just normal.
My struggle with anxiety, often debilitating anxiety, was my deep, dark secret.
Even now, after years of therapy, when I think I’m finally ok with it all, another challenge arises and I feel that familiar, though much more subtle, sense of shame and I realize there’s still some more work to do.
I started this blog a while ago, and only recently did I add a photo of myself to my “about me” page and my avatar. I finally gathered up the courage to share this website on my personal Instagram page, but I blocked certain people whom I believe would judge me for it. I agonized over my post for a few days after, assuming that everyone was judging me, thinking the worst of me. I kept it up on Instagram but deleted the post from my Facebook stories. I wasn’t ready for that yet.
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with keeping certain things private. The process of opening up about any struggle is deeply personal. And, when you share, you open yourself up to the possibility of judgement. It’s just the truth. I’ve felt it, sometimes from well-meaning people who just didn’t understand, and other times from someone who meant to hurt.
When I first struggled with anxiety, the world of social media wasn’t what it is today and that’s brought both blessings and curses a long with it. I think social media has helped to break the stigma surrounding mental illness. I follow so many accounts related to anxiety disorders and I’m grateful for them. They were helpful in my times of darkness. I also know that social media makes it easier to compare your life with someone else’s. The rise of depression in teens is at an all time high, and I have to think social media has something to do with it. We’ve become too “plugged in”. It’s a double edged sword but I’m thankful for the brave people who chose to share their struggles with anxiety before I was willing to share mine. They helped me to feel less alone and they gave me the courage to eventually open up about my own anxiety.
I was listening to Chloe Brotheridge’s podcast the other day (one of my favorites) and the guest (I wish I could remember her name!) she had on was talking about how she gathered courage to share difficult things, how she became brave enough to get on stage and talk to people about the hard stuff. She said whenever she started feeling uncomfortable she reminded herself of the importance of her message, that her message was more important than her discomfort, and that statement really stuck with me.
My message is more important than my discomfort.
Message > discomfort.
What an empowering thought. My story is unique. Your story is unique. If we don’t share the difficulties we’ve gone through, if we don’t use our voice to speak about our struggles, if we don’t speak our truth, we could be robbing the world of beauty, of healing, of light.
You’ve probably heard the quote by Morgan Harper Nichols that goes like this, “Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.”
Message over discomfort. I wish I had the courage to share what I was going through sooner because, yes, you open yourself up to judgement, but you also have the ability to light a match for someone sitting in darkness, and when you do that, you also light a match for yourself.
We are not alone.
In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown explores themes like vulnerability, courage and shame. It’s hard for me to pick just one quote out of her book, but here’s one of my favorites:
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
It’s not easy, by any means. It’s taken me years to get to a point where I feel semi-ok about sharing my struggle with anxiety, and to be honest, it usually still makes me pretty uncomfortable. I often get what Brene Brown refers to as a “vulnerability hangover” after I share something deeply personal. Vulnerability hangovers feel something like regret, but they’re mostly about fear of judgement after sharing something intimate or difficult. I had a bad vulnerability hangover that lasted for days after I shared this blog on my personal instagram account. I almost wished I hadn’t posted anything at all, but then I received a few messages from friends thanking me for sharing my story, telling me they experienced something similar, and I remembered that my message is more important that my discomfort.
I have to let myself be seen in order to heal, but also in order to help someone else. Keeping it a secret just breeds shame and keeps me insecure.
Sure, vulnerability is hard, but staying in the dark is ultimately harder.