Everyone feels anxious now and then, it's a common emotion and reaction that presents itself when making important decisions, solving problems at work, or trying new things. But, for some people dealing with an anxiety disorder, these feelings are not the occasional passing scenario. Anxiety disorders affect over 18% of adults in the United States and very often it takes a toll on the lives it inhabits.
I don't think anxiety is something you have. It's something you are in. You are surrounded by it. And often it is pegged as a sign of weakness and your inability to handle small, seemingly insignificant situations the way that other people do, but it's not. It doesn't make you weak, if anything it makes you stronger by living day to day with this overwhelming burden.
There are all different types and triggers for anxiety and there's no set way to cure it, but I believe for some people cognitive-behavioral therapy, slowing down and recognizing and embracing what amplifies your disorder, can help you come to terms with it and eventually help you to be less consumed by it.
Emily is currently working on a personal project to embrace the struggle she faces with her anxiety disorder by expressing it through photographs.
I wanted to not only capture her emotions through images, but I wanted to ask a couple questions I had abouther personal experience with this disorder and how she hopes her project will teach her something about herself.
I know that you're doing a personal project on anxiety, what are some things you hope to gain from your project?
I hope to better understand what I'm dealing with and if it is something I bring on myself by the choices and thoughts I make or if it something deeper than my control. I also am hoping to gain a better understanding of myself. I shared something a while back that said "Lost myself trying to please everyone now I'm losing everyone while I find myself" and I shared it not because it sounded pretty, but because it is something that hit home so hard for me. I was a people pleaser up until a year and a half ago when I got tired of being run over and let down by those I thought cared about me. So naturally, I started thinking only about what's best for me and my family and not based on the opinions or actions of others. I may have lost some people that I cared about but I gained people who care about me, too.
In what ways do you see your anxiety hinder your day to day life?
Every. Single. Thing. From as simple as me making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to writing a check for a bill that's due. I can't make a simple decision. There are always a million other things to think about before making the final decision. I will mentally wear myself to the point of exhaustion over deciding what I want for dinner. It's stupid to think about really but I know no other way. It also makes my patience incredibly thin. That or it makes me so overwhelmed that I just draw myself in and shut out anything that would send my emotions overboard.
Are there any ways that it benefits you or has helped you grow?
As many cons as there are to anxiety, I have learned to see the pros to it as well. For instance, I am always, ALWAYS, aware of my surroundings. I could be talking to someone full speed but still see the man who dropped his briefcase on the curb out of my left eye about 30 yards away. I have such an overactive mind (to me it feels like) that I can memorize my entire settings in about 45-60 seconds. I've tested it. It's different being at home and running the test (hold a tray with 7-10 objects on it, study it, cover it up and try to remember every object) but in public, when your sight and guard is enhanced, it's a different feeling. I would use the word fear but it's not a fear of anything, it is simply a means of preparation for any given circumstance or scenario. Which can be a huge benefit from anxiety. Always prepared for the worst to happen.
Does speaking freely about it give you more control or power over it?
YES. It absolutely does. Speaking so freely about what I struggle with has opened doors to conversations with many others who are dealing with the same struggles and lead to a few friendships, too. Being open about myself has inspired others to be open and I can't tell you the amount of joy my heart feels from connecting to others with so much in common.
In what ways does expressing your anxiety through a photograph differ from explaining it with your words?
Well you know the saying, "A picture says 1,000 words". I could sit here and talk all day about how I feel but talking about it doesn't help you understand. Listening or reading about my struggles isn't going to paint the picture I'm trying to interpret. With my photographs, I am getting into my deep thoughts and feelings, making myself vulnerable and my scars open. I'm giving you a visual of what the inside of my mind feels like. I can show more emotion in an image than a few pretty words that will soon be forgotten.
What are some activities or actions you take to relieve these overwhelming feelings? What breaks the hold it has over you?
Getting out of the house. And turning my freaking phone off. As much as I love technology, I hate being on the phone. Sunday drives around my town or somewhere close by help me relax too because I can blare music and scream my little lungs out and not care about a thing in the world. Also, music. I know people say that music can speak to your soul but it literally soothes me. There is a song for every mood I am in. Also, friends that encourage me when it's a rough day. I have a very small circle that I can openly express myself in and they can move me in ways, I would have never been able to accomplish on my own.
What is your advice for other people dealing with this who aren't as ready to share their struggle with it, but wish to come to terms with it?
My advice is.... You are not alone. Your first step in coming to terms with your anxiety is knowing that you are not alone in this war. There are hundreds, even millions, of other "soldiers" fighting the front lines just like you. The hardest step is reaching out to someone, but know that if you have no one else to turn to, I am here. I know first hand what it feels like to be made fun of having anxiety, "Don't worry so much." "Oh you're fine, you're just thinking too much". My friends, it's easier said than done. Simple is the LAST thing on anxiety's list of traits, if it even appears at all. If someone reaches out to you about their anxiety, HELP them. Even if you cannot relate send them to someone who can. All it takes is one person that is willing.