Taming the Beast

When I was little, the span between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next felt like years rather than months, and a full calendar year felt like an eternity. But with each passing year of my life the pace of time quickens, and memories from several years ago feel like yesterday. So it seems as though barely any time has elapsed since my last blog post, when in fact it’s been almost nine months since I wrote anything for myself, outside of work.

I could tell you it’s because it’s been a year of pretty significant change and I just haven’t had time to dedicate to writing, and that’s not entirely wrong. But the truth is 2017 was a bad anxiety year. I’ve written previously about my struggle with anxiety, and while I’ve learned to cope with it, it still rears its ugly head from time to time. I picture it as a sort of shadow that always follows me around. Sometimes it’s right next to me. Sometimes it’s miles behind me. This year, it wrapped itself around me like a suffocating cobra and refused to let go. And I’m still not entirely sure why.

That’s the thing about anxiety. It’s easier to recognize it when it’s related to a particular thing, like a doctor’s appointment or a major project or a confrontation with a friend. But sometimes it simply is. If it can’t find something specific to latch onto, then it infects everything. Productivity and loved ones tend to puncture it. It loosens its grip when I’m at work or spending time with friends and family, focused on the people and things I care about most.

But when I’m alone with my thoughts again, it returns to its full strength, ridiculing me with a barrage of taunts about my greatest doubts and fears. It’s exhausting like an extended illness — not exactly the greatest frame of mind for creative expression. It’s frustrating because my year was actually filled with some incredible blessings, but when anxiety takes hold, it can be difficult to see the light through the darkness.

The last few weeks of the year were a turning point. On Nov. 13, my uncle died unexpectedly. It’s the most profoundly sad I’ve ever felt in my life. One day he was there, and the next day he was gone forever. One day my family was talking about holiday plans, and the next thing we knew we were carrying out his end-of-life wishes. There was no warning, no time to say goodbye. And in addition to the overwhelming grief, we were all left with a sense of how fleeting life is.

Two days later, one of my doctors called and told me she wanted to refer me to a specialist because of something she noticed during my last exam. I’m OK, but it resulted in a month of questions and tests and uncertainty (and people with generalized anxiety don’t always deal so well with uncertainty). And those two events — the loss of my uncle and my own health scare — made me realize how much time and energy anxiety has stolen from me. Life is so short. How much time have I wasted giving in to that dreadful thing, letting it cloud so many meaningful experiences?

So I’m choosing to end 2017 by piercing that cloud with positive memories from the year.

My husband and I took an amazing belated anniversary trip to New York, and enjoyed perhaps the most amazing meal we’ll ever experience.

My best friend of nearly 27 years and her husband had their first child, who may actually be the most adorable baby to ever walk the earth.

I got a new job at my alma mater, one of the most special places in the world to me. Saying goodbye to my former colleagues was hard. I love them, and loved the work we did together. But I welcomed the new adventure, I adore my work and I’m blessed with some truly kind and talented new co-workers.

I took not one, not two, but three short beach trips with family and friends, including one with my uncle. I will treasure that time forever.

I cheered on my husband at the Chicago Marathon, and came back from a running rut of my own by beating my goal time at the Richmond Half Marathon.

I spent a memorable Thanksgiving weekend in Indiana, surrounded by family, food, dancing and boisterous games.

I celebrated my 30th birthday with most of my closest friends all in the same room. The fact that it was a Harry Potter-themed surprise party made it even better.

My two oldest friends gave me a basket filled with 30 things, each representing a memory or inside joke from our decades of friendship. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I watched my cousin get married, and embark on a new chapter with the love of her life.

Two of my closest friends wrote and produced their own play. I’m in awe of how talented they both are.

I saw countless movies with my husband, and made way too many Christmas cookies while blaring the “Dear Evan Hansen” soundtrack throughout the kitchen. It’s those little moments that I treasure most in our marriage.

And despite the feelings of loss and sadness that I still felt as Christmas and New Years arrived, I was blessed to be surrounded by family and friends every step of the way.

I’ll carry those thoughts with me into 2018, and think of them when anxiety sinks its teeth into me again. It will always be there, but it isn’t all that I am. My resolution for the new year is to tame that beast. A wise man named Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I resolve to not miss a thing — even when the beast tries to stop me.

One thought on “Taming the Beast

  1. kathynealen says:

    FYI, she is an adorable baby but you and her mother were also adorable when you were both little. (Not to imply that you are not adorable now)

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