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BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — Sometimes in life, we are completely vulnerable. For me it seems to be on a daily basis.
If I’m not experiencing confessional word-vomit, I’m being caught red-handed with some sort of self-help book or awkward item at Walmart. Somehow, I always run into a friend, and my weaknesses are exposed.
But do we allow the possibility of exposure to halt our progression and improvement?
During a recent trip to my local Barnes and Noble store, I watched as people joyously lingered in line with science-fiction books, shiny new NOOKs and overpriced bookmarks in their baskets. I nervously swayed, hoping no one would see what I had in mine.
“Hmm. Whatya got in there?” the stranger asked, boldly peering into the handbasket pressed tightly to my ribs — for obvious reasons.
In what seemed like an auditorium-worthy voice, he read the title aloud, “'The Anxiety and Worry' … um. Here, let me move your other book so I can read the whole title. Oh, workbook. So you’re buying a workbook on anxiety.” (Cue anxiety attack.)
One million defensive comebacks and cover-ups flashed through my mind, but all that came out was, “Well, welcome to my basket.”
Sure, this man probably assumed I was a Nervous Nancy and began wondering about my mental well-being — I mean so what if I accidentally took the basket with me all the way inside my car, tossing it on the passenger's seat? (That happens to other people, right?)
The first step to improving our lives is recognition.
My whole life I’ve been a complete ball of energy. With that comes intense emotion and a brain working on a heightened creative level 24/7. “What ifs” flooded my thoughts as a child, but began to drown me as I got older. When my brother-in-law passed away unexpectedly just seven months after marrying my sister, I felt like a dam broke, releasing and validating my worst fears.
Grief was normal and expected at that time, but it wasn’t until I got married that I realized I was still overcome by worry and anxiety. What if my husband died? What if my parents died — what would I do? Scenario after scenario consumed my mind as I lay in bed at night, listening to my snuggle-buddy sleep — peacefully and easily, I might add. Not chock full of nightmares like me.
After a few months of marriage, my sweet doctor-of-a-husband said, “Brooke, have you ever spoken to anyone about generalized anxiety disorder?” No, no I hadn’t. In the most loving way, he sat me down and told me certain fears were OK, but my sleepless, worrisome nights weren’t exactly “normal” and there were things out there to help me.
A new flood came over me — relief. I didn't have to worry all the time about whether or not my family would be here tomorrow. ... I didn't have to come up with step-by-step plans if my husband were to be shot in the leg.
A new flood came over me — relief. I didn’t have to worry all the time about whether or not my family would be here tomorrow. I didn’t have to lose sleep wondering if a tornado would sweep our home away. I didn't have to come up with step-by-step plans if my husband were to be shot in the leg. (And to answer your question, yes, I did in fact make a mental plan on the leg-shooting scenario.)
I could be free.
So in my efforts to decrease anxiety-induced heartburn and unrealistic fears, I decided to get a self-help workbook more than a year after my husband and I had that first conversation. I am finally accepting me, acknowledging that my brain is wired a little differently and that’s OK.
In "The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution" by Dr. David A. Clark and Dr. Aaron T. Beck, I was pleased to read I'm not alone: "More than 65 million American adults will experience a clinically significant anxiety condition sometime in their life, making it the most common mental health problem."
Surprisingly enough, according to the National Institution of Anxiety and Stress, well-known and successful people struggle with anxiety, too — Nicolas Cage, Donny Osmond, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln have joined the club. Whew. I feel better knowing Abe can relate.
So I say unto you, strange, overbearing customer: Thank you for reaching your hand into my basket, shifting around my books and exposing my insecurities.
And to you, world: Welcome to my basket.
As for step two, I guess I’m not there yet. The hardest part was accepting the fact that I have anxiety.
There. I said it.
Brooke Willardson Porter is a California native turned Oklahoma adoptee. She is a writer, editor and full-time wife to a busy pediatric resident. Join her worrisome scenarios and solutions at atleastitsnotasingle.blogspot.com.