I used to just try to avoid anything that made me anxious. Let’s not kid ourselves, I still do most of the time. But recently, I’ve come to realize the utter futility of this effort. Quite literally everything seems to make me anxious in one way or another. It can be quite comical when I catch myself, sure that a day off with cease all my anxiety, and then I get anxious about taking a day off, or spend my entire time off worrying about going back the next day. I get anxious about the idea of leaving my current job, but anxious about staying there. I’m anxious to spend all my free time with friends and loved ones, but then anxious that I don’t spend enough time with them.
While it’s very disheartening and discouraging to realize that no matter what I do I’ll likely be anxious about it, it’s also somewhat liberating. Once again, I get to choose what I want to do without the influence of anxiety guiding my hand. I might as well choose things that I truly value and believe will result in a more fulfilling life. I don’t have to shy away from lofty, long-term goals just because working towards them gives me discomfort. Not working towards them would produce the same feeling.
After lockdown it became really obvious how important the relationships I have in my life are. Even as a fairly reclusive, introverted person already, it was agony to be isolated from my loved ones for such long spans of time. I realized that my time with them is limited and not guaranteed. They could be ripped from my life at any moment. Do I really want to waste the time I have with them? Will I really be happier looking back on my life knowing that I chose working out or drawing over the loving connections I’ve been blessed with?
I’ve come to look at a lot of my decisions this way instead. Which decision will I one day regret? Regardless of what I believe would make me happy in the moment, what will make me happy long-term? What do I value in life? For example, I’ve been trying to spend more of my free time with friends and family even though my OCD tries to tell me I’ll die if I don’t do the exact same pointless routine every single day. Yesterday, I thought I might go visit my grandma for a few hours. I agonized over the idea of diverting from my normal schedule all morning. I just kept reminding myself: These silly little tasks that you feel you have to do can be done tomorrow, next week, five years from now. You really have no idea how much time you have left to spend with your grandmother.
I ended up going to see her and was surprised to find my aunt there as well. I spent far longer at her house than I had intended and had an amazing time with them. If I had chosen to stay home, I know I would have regretted it the next day. I slept so soundly last night, knowing there was no better use of my time, and I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and filled with love. Now when my best friend asks me to hangout or an unexpected opportunity arises, I try to consider what I would regret. It’s ridiculous to imagine I would regret not staying at home by myself repeating the same cookie-cutter day over going out and connecting with people and making precious memories.
I have only been trying this method out for a few weeks, so it’s still difficult. But already I’ve managed to have some wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling days that I would have surely let pass me by in the past. I’m hoping continuing to practice this will reinforce in my mind how beneficial these experiences are. It might make me anxious to imagine going out with other people all day, but when I’m there, I know there is no where else I’d rather be.
I’ve also learned that being with people you love is a powerful balm for mental illness in itself. When I’m alone, my mind runs rampant. It is never silent. It focuses only on me and my problems/fears. This spiral gets bigger and stronger until it is all consuming. When I’m with my family and friends, my mind is finally quiet. I feel peaceful and at ease. My heart is open and over-flowing. My tendency has always been to hide away when I begin to feel overwhelmed, fearing that I can’t handle exerting any more of my social energy. Ironically, that is the very thing that will make me feel better. Being in the presence of people you cherish is a reminder of just how small and insignificant other concerns are. I feel supported and safe. Taking time to connect is refilling your cup.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what matters to me in this life. It’s easy to become distracted by productivity and material aspirations. We lose ourselves in the surface level tasks the world imposes upon us. None of that is truly important though. What’s valuable in this life is love, community, and connection above all else. Even when it’s scary. Even when it seems like you have a million other things you need to be doing. Life isn’t about having a clean house or starting a successful business. It’s about making sure the people you care about know how much you love them and savoring even the small, mundane moments you spend together. I refuse to let mental illness separate me from my true purpose in life: love. The only goal that truly matters, that I need to put in the forefront of my awareness, that I should etch the intention of onto my soul, is being with the ones I love. My time here is limited. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d want to be with my friends and family every moment until then. So why should I ever want to be anywhere else?