It was my birthday the other day, (yaay, older me!) and it got me thinking. (As per Tink tank. Lol.)
Seriously though, one of the effects of getting older, at least in ideal situations, is the desire to understand yourself, to answer the question: why is my life like this? This is not to say that every life is this accidental mess waiting to be cleaned up, repaired or regretted. After all, if Instagram is anything to go by, some people appear to be on cruise control, living their best life across the world. So really, it’s not just about the ‘quality’ of your life but understanding the factors that led to it.
Okay, this may sound like another self-help hogwash—and maybe it is. Still, as I marked another birthday, I found myself returning to this tradition—part dread, part hope, wanting to know why I am the way I am. This time, I decided to focus on my emotions. First because I’m in a very specific season of my professional and financial life, and no amount of reflection can change it. It’s just a season I have to go through and hopefully, come out better. But my emotions are more malleable, open to be wrestled, understood, unlearned.
I recently wrote about the need to manage overwhelming emotions because I have spent much of the past year in a whirlwind of feelings: anger, fear, love, lust, but the most recurring of all of them is anxiety. It’s not exactly a new thread in my life. I’ve often talked about being an anxious person, or someone prone to worry, but I had also seriously downplayed its effect in my life and how it was affecting the day-to-day quality of my life.
A friend of mine was trying to help (bless her heart) and she suggested practicing mindfulness. She also suggested having a conversation with my thoughts, excavating the source of the sorry, sort of like sitting in conversation with it. The only problem, in my situation, was that I’m often not able to point out what the problem is. There is no sense that a loved one is ill, or that I left the stove on, or that my novel is a complete disaster and will not see the light of day. (Though all of these things sometimes present themselves.)
Imagine having someone choke you. Like strong, man-hands wrapped around your neck. Imagine the feeling of fear and desperate tears lurking at the side of your eyes, or the idea that you cannot breathe, that your lungs are forgetting to work. That is how this anxiety sometimes feels to me. There are seasons where it exists in the moment, and others where it runs like background music for months at a stretch.
Like I said, I’m not here to glorify anxiety, or to say that my worry is worse than your worry. I, instead, wanted to understand how I got here, if not for anything, so I could learn the triggers. By thinking about it, posturing myself deliberately towards knowledge and healing, I stumbled into a truth that was unconsciously buried. That chokehold feeling of tension was something I acquired in my childhood.
Yes. Someone once said that all of life happens before we are three years old. The rest is either repetition or memory. It is such a profound way to examine your traumas and triggers. Interestingly, I also read an essay that children who grew up around an angry parent tended to struggle with anxious thoughts in their adulthood.
What this knowledge has given me is the permission to forgive myself. But also to keep in mind that if I learned this anxiety, if it was triggered through my personal experiences and cemented into my subconscious through sensory experience, it means I can also prepare my mind for how to respond to situations in future. It means I deliberately work to feed my mind with thoughts and experiences that counter those initial seeds. This is one way that patterns can be broken. By understanding the root of the issue, we give ourselves permission to uproot what has been sown.
What about you? How are you trying to process your feelings and emotions? That habit to splurge when you have any spare income, check it. Could it be a result of feeling denied and abandoned in your early years? Are your adult proclivities childhood patterns that you are simple repeating over and over and over again?