As a person with anxiety, I find that I have to be a vigilant gatekeeper for the information that I allow myself to digest. For example, I am very careful not to read books or watch movies that are very sad or very scary. Scratch that- even a little sad or a little scary. I’m just not able to take that content and distinguish my reaction from my organic emotions. I’ll be very sad or very scared for REAL, and it will take a long time to shake those feelings. If you think that sounds silly, I totally agree. I really tried to make it not true, and tortured myself with horror movies and Nicholas Sparks novels for years before I came to a place of acceptance. So if you hang with me, no, I did not read that book about the girl with cancer, or the dog that died. And if we’re going to the movies, prepare yourself for a rom-com. I’ll buy the popcorn. (Total side note- most movie theater popcorn is vegan! That radioactive looking “butter” they used is typically soy-based, and dairy free. Zero nutritional value, and will probably take a year or two off your life, but cruelty free! Vegan high fives all around.)
Anywho, my emotional defensive game is a critical part of staying mentally healthy. It applies not only to entertainment sources; but also to conversational topics, specific memories that trigger strong feelings, and even certain people. I’m not walking around with giant walls up and shunning anyone who reminds me of a childhood bully, but I maintain a steady awareness of what’s allowed to sink in to my delicate psyche. I get better at this every day, as I get to know myself and learn about what make me feel good versus what makes me feel ick.
Unfortunately, the world does not cater to my needs (it should work on that), and sometimes I’m caught off guard. Sometimes a toxic little seed will slip between the cracks of my consciousness, and before I realize it’s there, weeds of negativity are growing like, well, weeds. Unfortunately, their growth only widens the cracks, and allows more unwelcome crap to fall through. It’s a vicious cycle.
It happened a couple weeks ago. I was speaking to a woman who helps people to detoxify their diets. I was intrigued, and excited to learn more about clean eating, as I’ve been working on that part of my life. One of the first things she pointed out was the “frown line” on my forehead. The bane of my existence- I know it’s there, I know I make it worse when I’m concentrating and furrow my brow, and I dislike it mucho. However, she informed me that my line indicates that my liver isn’t functioning correctly, and it’s in desperate need of a detox. Totally threw me for a loop. And by loop, I mean spiral. I went from feeling self conscious, to concerned, to convinced I was dying of liver failure in a matter of minutes. Not her intention, but health stuff scares me, and as I wasn’t expecting a diagnosis from this (completely non-medical) person, it slipped through the cracks.
Shortly after this incident, I was getting my hair cut. The stylist noticed some broken hair near my part and asked what caused it. I explained that I wear a ponytail too often, have my forehead on the mat a lot in yoga, sleep with wet hair, etc. Nope. According to her, my hormones and/or my thyroid are in trouble. It’s the only explanation. Better get that checked, quick. Oh dear, the weeds keep a-growin.
Did either of these people intend to upset me? Of course not! They thought they were helping. But their unsolicited diagnosis were poison to my brain- a brain that is home to anxiety just itching for something to feed on.
For the record, my liver is fine. So is my thyroid, and my hormones. I know this, but the rational part of me doesn’t come out to play when anxiety is running the show. She’s such a bully.
But you know what? Lesson learned. My gatekeeper just got a little stronger. Next time someone offers medical counsel (besides my doctor, who I go to when I actually do know something is wrong), I will nod and smile and let it slide off of me like movie theater butter. Not let it absorb, not let it grow into something bigger than it actually is.
It’s a marathon, this learning to know and love myself business. Not a sprint. And every time I hit a wall, I figure out how to go around it next time. When I look back, I’m grateful for every obstacle, because it got me here; to a place where I know so much more about how to take care of my most valuable resource- me!
Full disclosure: when I’m in the thick of anxiety, I am not grateful- I’m terrified and I’m pissed about it- but I also know I’ll get through it.
I’m sitting on my floor, enjoying a gorgeous Saturday in Florida, munching on (what else) lentil hummus. In this moment, life is pretty perfect. My gatekeeper can go on break.