Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental illness in the world?
Did you know that over 40 million people live with anxiety and a large majority of those people are under the age of fifty?
It has been said that the millennial generation is the generation of anxiety and depression and my story just might be the archetype for such a stereotype…
I used to think my story was special. I’d say things like "No one understands what I’m going through" or "Why does this kind of stuff only happen to me?" I thought my suffering was somehow unique and because of this, my problems seemed to be unsolvable.
The more I worried about my life and how messed up it was, the worse my anxiety got. I worried about everything back then and it eventually took a toll on my mental and emotional health. The background buzzing of anxiety was always with me and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t escape the feeling of fear and dreadful anticipation.
I can remember at one point my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t even watch TV to relax. I tried to rest my mind by watching something funny but I could never bring myself to laugh. As the characters moved about on the TV screen, I was lost somewhere deep in my thoughts.
Everything was so serious to me back then and all that mattered was being successful and winning in life (whatever the hell that means). As the prototypical Type-A person that I am, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself and simply could not accept failure or the thought of not being the best.
The harder and harder I pushed, the more my anxiety consumed my life. It seemed like no matter how many steps forward I took in life, it was never enough to keep my fear of failure at bay.
For 26 years, I was able to keep this fear of not being good enough "in check" (or at so I thought) until one day my mind and body had enough…
My insecurities were actually conducive to career success in corporate America. After college I moved right into a job in finance and started climbing the corporate ladder rather quickly. In my head, I had to show everyone how valuable I was by working the hardest and being the best.
The outside bravado I portrayed was not my inner experience however. I frequently thought to myself, "You better not slip up or people will know you’re a fake."
The distance between how I really felt and what I portrayed to others was huge! The larger the gap got, the more my anxiety and fear controlled my life.
Just like a cheesy Hollywood movie I think you know where this story is going...
One day back in December of 2015, while doing a presentation I’d done a thousand times before, I absolutely lost it. Whether "it"; was control over my fears or control over my physical body, once "it" started, "it" couldn’t be stopped.
My body seized up and I couldn’t breathe. My hands started to shake and I was sweating profusely. At one point my heart was pounding so loud that I could literally hear it beating against my chest. All the words in my head escaped me as I gasped for air and tried to regain my composure. An uncomfortable silence filled the room and before I knew it, the presentation had stopped completely.
As I looked around the conference room, I could see everyone looking at me with concern and a bit of bewilderment. It was in that moment I realized what was happening to me. I was having my first panic attack.
To be honest, I was scared shitless! I had never experienced a sensation like this before and the worst part of it was, the gig was now officially up! Now, everyone in the office (including my bosses) knew that I was an imposter.
I was convinced my superiors and peers would think I was a failure and I had no doubt that everyone was thinking I didn’t deserve the promotions and accolades I had received. Or did they?
The truth is, I projected those thoughts and what’s worse? I fully believed them.
In reality, I was the one who thought I was a fake. I was the one who didn’t think I deserved my accolades. I was the one making up all of the stories about what other people thought of me without ever taking the time to ask if that was how they truly felt.
On the way home that night I felt more dejected than ever. If I’m not the person who succeeds at everything, then who the hell am I???
Little did I know the seed of mindfulness had already been planted in my heart months earlier when I picked up Eckhart Tolle’s book, "The Power of Now" for the first time.
I had nothing to lose so I decided to begin studying mindfulness to a greater extent which eventually led me to the traditions of the Buddha. The more I read, the more I knew I needed to start meditating. The more I meditated, the more I realized that the stories I told myself my whole life were a lie.
The more I realized my stories were part of me but not who I was, the more of my true self I became. After months of meditating, I had the power to choose the ideas and stories I wanted to believe.
Today, with the luxury of hindsight, I can tell you that I look back on my panic attack as a true blessing.
Mindfulness has taught me that I am the aggregate of the thoughts I believe and the actions I take. This has been beyond liberating for me because for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m in control. I get to be who I’ve always been in my heart and once I felt this, I saw the innate goodness that’s within me.
We are all capable of amazing things and mediation lets us hone in on what we want in life and what we don’t want.
Meditation has made me more of me, and that has allowed me to live my life authentically. The more authentic I live, the less anxious I become. Thus, the cycle of anxiety is broken. My hope is that my story inspires those of you still looking for answers. If you are like me and suffer from anxiety and an insatiable desire to be liked, know that you are not alone. Many people are anxious but many people don’t realize there is a cure…. meditation.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I would love to hear from you and find out what got you onto the path of mindfulness.
Until next time,
Many many blessings :)