What I Heard Was: Life With Anxiety

A year and a half ago I was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I still haven’t fully come to terms with it.

I grew up around depression–all types. I was very aware of the fact that depression could take many forms and be expressed in multiple ways. I was, and still am, more rigid when it comes to anxiety. I think that anxiety has to look a certain way and I often think that the way I experience anxiety doesn’t “count.” (No, I don’t even know what I mean when I say that.)

For these reasons I have struggled to write or talk about my anxiety.

I have a grant application due tomorrow. It’s kind of a BFD. I finally finished up my first draft and sent it to my partner, who has won several awards and grants, to proofread.

Here’s what he told me, these are his exact words, “It needs work but it’s a good first draft.”

Here’s what I heard: Every career decision I have made in my adult life has been wrong.

Here’s the connection: The grant is due tomorrow and I was only able to get a first draft done today. I was only able to get a first draft done today because I work two jobs and have been busy af. I work two jobs because I almost lost funding after taking a semester off for a family crisis. Taking a semester off for a family crisis was clearly a terrible decision OR choosing a career that’s so unstable it could be derailed by four months away was a terrible decision. Either way, all decisions I’ve made in the past decade to pursue this career have been wrong because it lead me to a place where I didn’t have time to work on this grant as much as I want to and now I will not get said grant which means I have clearly failed at life.

Now that I’ve typed that all out I realize there’s a chance that even the long version doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t totally make sense to me either.

After my partner’s encouraging words, which my brain automatically interpreted as a doom’s day prophecy, I needed to lay in bed and cry for half an hour. It would have been longer but I had a physical therapy appointment and they charge you full price if you don’t cancel 24 hours ahead of time.

It’s probably obvious why this sucks. It’s not great to have your brain twist other people’s well-meant, encouraging words into scathing criticisms, but it sucks for a lot of other reasons as well. As a career academic with an anxiety disorder sharing my writing with anyone feels excruciatingly painful because there’s nothing they can say other than, “It’s perfect!” that my brain won’t make negative. To be honest, even when people say it’s perfect my brain usually finds a way to make that negative.¬†Unfortunately, writing alone isn’t enough to sustain an academic career. I have to share that writing with people and that’s scary as shit. When I don’t share my writing I hold myself back and that makes the voice of my anxiety, already telling me I’m a failure, even louder and more insistent.

What’s especially galling is that I’m proud of my ability to make connections between things that aren’t obviously connected. It’s part of what makes me a good scholar. I just wish it came with an off-button so that I didn’t feel the connections between “your first draft is done the day before the final draft is due” and “that’s the result of several years worth of career choices that lead to this day.”


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