When I was 6 or 7-years old, I panicked about the silliest things. My anxiety got pretty bad sometimes–Like that time I felt too scared to buy candy from the nice lady at the local convenience store. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, sorting out all of my different emotions was really tough as a kid. I cried easily (more than others my age, I think), and I was definitely super sensitive to the emotions of others and my own. It would take me a very long time to understand what to do with all of this.
After that memory, anxiety and depression would be my most familiar and frustrating companions. I’m not exactly sure why that particular memory stands out to me as among my first memories of social anxiety (in particular), as there were surely more. But perhaps it also involved my earliest experiences of general anxiety layered with more devious and self-critical thoughts and feelings, like shame and feeling convinced that I failed at the easiest and most mundane thing to do: buy candy.
To be honest, I really wish anxiety felt less like an enemy, and more like a friendly unicorn.
But they often felt like overwhelming, cruel and savage beasts I had to battle.
If I put a voice to what I felt, the words from that beast sounded ferocious:
“You are ugly,
“They will reject you”,
“You are not good enough”,
“you are not special”,
“they won’t see you”,
“they won’t hear you”.
Haunting feelings for a little kid. Ugly, critical words too.
Fortunately, my lovely parents who happened to be social workers and counsellors filled the bottom rack of my old wooden bookshelf with these incredible books called “Value Tales”.
These Value Tales captivated me with real-life heroes who were inventors, artists, writers, musicians, athletes, researchers etc.
Thriving Words and Value Tales
Like my favourite comic book hero, I still wore a red blanket on my back and flew off the couch, of course.
But these Value Tales revealed stories about real-life, regular people, who created tremendous, positive social impact for the lives and well-being of others.
Even when confronted with great challenges, failure, rejection and difficulties, these regular people persevered and persisted.
Think of the medical breakthrough of Louis Pasteur’s discovery of penicillin, the courageous legacy of Terry Fox’s cross Canada campaign against cancer, or Elizabeth Fry’s kindness and compassion for prisoners, homeless and sick.
By simply reading the very titles for these stories, I began to internalize new words like:
- “The Value of Believing in Yourself” (with Louis Pasteur),
- The “Value of Creativity” (Thomas Edison),
- “The Value of Kindness” (Elizabeth Fry),
- “The Value of Imagination’ (Charles Dickens),
- “The Value of Facing a Challenge” (Terry Fox)
Page after page, the stories I read would counter my darker voices with brighter words.
Thriving, life-giving words.
Am I Too Scared To Choose?
Now, I’ll be very honest and real with you:
Today, I still hear ferocious, haunting words echo in my mind.
They attack me unexpectedly.
Sometimes they come from intentional or accidental words said from partners or ex-partners, bosses or coworkers, family, friends, random strangers or cultural messages and expectations.
But most of the time, the hurtful words come from my own inner critic and psychological wounds.
Anxiety, depression, grief and trauma have somehow continued to find their way into my life story to haunt me.
But I also hear other words:
Thriving, flourishing words.
Words that empower me to write a different story:
A story where I’m making the choice to re-write my life narrative.
For example, do I define my life by my bad luck, some bloody curse, or being the subject of crappy circumstances and lousy people?
Or do I choose to create something different out of my stark reality, my adversity, pain, and failure, and fear?
It’s a tough choice that I am deciding to make every day. Sometimes every hour.
But oftentimes, I fail. That’s when I’m so filled with being scared, stuck, frustrated, sad, or in pain to see anything good come out of it. And that’s okay.
That’s because some days are worse than others. Some days are absolute horrors.
But there are also good days, and there are often better days. I will be kind to myself for those days when I fail and feel far too scared.
Yet, these are my wounds. And I would like to fail better, on those days.
And what I do with them is my choice.
This is my story, after all.