Anxiety: Coming to terms with your anxious vulnerabilities

Disclaimer: I would be talking about a leadership position which I was very privilege to attain in school. I hope this does not come across as boastful. I know I was very privileged and not many people got the same opportunity as me. However, I must explain to you that there was more to it than met the eye. Thank you loves xo

Some of you have come across my writing on my Eating Disorder which I have overcome, and my anxiety which haunted me as the aftermath of my ED. With my physical restoration, I no longer experienced intense palpitations and crippling fear. But what I want to talk about was that period of time when my anxiety was better, but not exactly over.

I had high-functioning anxiety. This was something I wouldn’t have been so open to honest declaration, because of the fact that people around me expect me to be a completely strong little chap that can summon the strength of three buffaloes to do what I want to do. I used to be rather ashamed of the fact that I was still being gripped by anxiety. Paint this mental image within your mind- I was the chairperson of a youth humanitarian society in school and my love for service and for humanity was all but hidden from sight. I had the reputation of undeniable passion and an incomparable inclination to service.

That’s the truth. But in my view there are always multiple layers, textures and nuances to one common truth. Throughout my term in the humanitarian society, there has not been a moment where I was able to evade even a slight hint of fear and hesitation. I still remember the time when I was running for chairperson of the society. I was TERRIFIED. At that time, I was still struggling along in my physical recovery from the Eating Disorder, albeit already in a much more secure place than before. My life at that period was a tug-of-war between (almost defeated) ED thoughts and my passion to change the world. While I so intensely longed for the chance to serve the poor, needy and vulnerable, the demon in my mind still jabbed at my brain and told me, “get your priorities right”.

Eventually, I overcame my ED (another story, you could refer to a separate blog post J). On Election day, I delivered (to me) the most genuine speech of my life and got elected as chairperson. When the result came out, I cannot even begin to describe how grateful and intensely humbled I felt.

You see, my election made me feel inexplicably empowered indeed- but with my appointment, fear only loomed larger. For the first time in my life, I was thrust into the realm of leadership which I had not ever dipped my toes into before. With utmost veracity, here I go:

When an appeal for volunteers for a charity event came out, I would hesitate for 10 minutes (What if I can’t perform? What if I don’t make a difference? What if what if?), and my mind would be sent into a miniature whirl. Then I would sign up for it.

When I knew that the board had to gather for a meeting to discuss something crucial, which I had to chair, I would be gripped my tension for 30 minutes, and my mind would be sent into a full-blown court-style dilemma. Then I would send out the notification.

When I had to make my way to the community service centre to help needy students every week, I would listen to uplifting music on the bus to stave off the excessive worries, stand outside the centre’s front door, take a few deep breaths, tell myself “MY WORK MATTERS TO THESE CHILDREN” and head right through the door with a bright smile and liveliness in my voice.

You see, fear did not spare me at all even through my term as chairperson. But could you detect another striking commonality between the three situations I described above? I never let fear define the course of my actions. In fact, I was out to oppose it every, single, time.

And just to clarify, when I say that I didn’t let fear define the course of my actions, I do NOT mean that I was able to completely chuck fear aside and not let it AFFECT me AT ALL. I’ve cried, gone quiet, and had to take multiple “bathroom breaks”. So you see my loves, when I say that I opposed my anxiety, I do not mean that I had this magical ability to jam it out of my consciousness entirely with the snap of my fingers and a moment’s go-against-your-fear-determination. But the very fact that I pushed my very physique out there into the unpredictable world no matter how I felt that morning or how I thought I looked that day or what I did before setting off to school or what I thought others would think of me or… this very fact shows that I have won. And when I was able to do that, no matter how hard my day went, I got the chance to experience the world in all its capriciousness, insane expectations but also, its limitless beauty.

This brings me to my next point. You do not need to conform to a series of expectations that are placed on you. Take me for an example. I was an introverted leader. I enjoyed speaking before my club, but there were so many times when I preferred to let my other board members take the lead. I loved my club and our work with all my heart (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever loved something so much in my whole life), but not every time I got the chance to verbalise it. Instead, I conveyed my deep love for my club through my actions. Every single time I went against my anxiety to deliver an entire English lesson to a needy child, every single time I held the hand of an elderly auntie or uncle and conversed with them despite anxious thoughts trying to bombard my brain cells, every single time I stood before my entire club to deliver a convincing, spontaneous appeal for volunteers for a charity event despite my anxiety telling me “WHAT IF!!!!!!! you look like a total mess in front of them right now!!!! WHAT IF!!!!!”. Every single time I did my best to ignore my anxiety and focus on my goal, my undying love for my club and the community revealed itself. I was a designated leader, yes, but not one who would be commanding and yelling 24/7. I was a leader who spoke yes, but more so through the powerful touch of the human hand.

You do not need to fit a certain mould. You are you, with your own history, struggles and vulnerabilities. These characteristics are highly individual, and if you are willing to see it, they are what make you so beautiful and unique. It doesn’t matter what anxieties you face today which nobody seems to know about (and which nobody seems to expect from you), it only matters that you work hard to ignore the voices in your head and believe that your struggles will only make you better, stronger and kinder.

So you see, often the most unlikely people have anxiety. You could be the biggest genius in the entire world and you would not know the kind of trials and tribulations another person is going through. Often, the biggest challenges a person would face are invisible, but ever so real.

I have grown to embrace my vulnerabilities. Yes, sometimes I do feel the undue pressure to be “strong” at all times, without an inkling of struggle. But today, I have learnt to redefine strength”. To be “strong” is to push forward despite fear and anxiety, and not without it.

In fact for all of you out there facing these problems, you may even find that you grow stronger because of your anxiety.

Human vulnerability is beautiful. It is also profoundly enchanting and very, very normal. But embracing it requires courage. It requires strength to accept our vulnerabilities as something that builds us up, and not as something that tears us down. The moment I embraced my vulnerabilities, I embraced my experiences with all their flaws and uncertainties.

I embraced life in all its glorious potential and possibility.

Lastly, to those who are struggling with anxiety, I appeal to you to never give up. Try this method: whenever the anxious voices come up, ignore them. Yes, ignore them. It sounds hard but it’s possible. Ignore them and do what you do as if they weren’t there. Ask yourself “what would I do if the thoughts never came?” and do it despite the anxious thoughts.

Keep hoping, keep doing, and keep loving. You are already such a strong person, living with anxiety. Keep believing, and things will get better, you will get stronger. I promise.

Social Anxiety- The invisible tormentor

Dear loves,

My social anxiety used to be something of great embarrassment for me (when it shouldn’t) and it used to dictate my life. I missed out on so many of life’s beautiful moments because of it but right now I’m keeping it on a tight leash and I want to share with you how I do it. I feel that social anxiety is something that is hardly spoken about but it is so real nonetheless. Do note that I am not a psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist etc but I do have a general understanding of this anxiety disorder. So even though I cannot provide a specialist take on it, what I can provide is my personal experience. I also want to stress that everyone’s anxiety disorders vary in degree of severity so please do not feel confused or stressed if your story is vastly different from mine. Remember, each of us is a unique human being with a different story but one thing’s for sure- we are all beautiful in our own light despite our struggles.

 Social Anxiety- The invisible tormentor

A piece of my history that few people know about is my social anxiety. During my ED, I isolated myself severely. Meeting up with friends became an intense obligation instead of a respite. Previously a cheerful and talkative girl by nature, I had become withdrawn and self-conscious. In fact, signs of my social anxiety began to show up before my full-blown ED, when my personality took a dramatic change.

When I was in the depths of my ED, the fact that I was losing my friends and sinking into society appeased my Eating Disorder. Absolutely nothing mattered more than numbers on the scale. I hid from people as much as I could, and spent my post-high school break inside my room. I remember the time my friend (one of the friends that did not completely decide to give up on me) showed up right outside my house, asking me to hang out. I was furious, panicky and nearly broke down into tears (but not in front of her). When she stepped into my room and tried to speak to me, my entire body tensed up like a stretched out rubber band. I forced myself to smile, feeling this desperate urge to be a funny, interesting person in front of her. Every sentence I spoke made me feel like I was treading on thin ice which was about to give way. Through every second of the conversation, I feared becoming a boring person to speak to, I feared allowing pauses within the conversation, I feared “awkwardness”. My smile was so extremely wide my jaw felt tight and almost numb. I longed for any excuse to get out.

About a month later when I actually decided to recover, my physical condition was improving. But I was still an anxious, insecure person on the inside. As I nourished my starved brain, I managed to come to my senses and remind myself that there was so much to my life which the ED had tried to vanquish completely. I knew that the ED had almost taken my life. So yes, I was in a much safer and more stable condition than before.

But my social anxiety nagged at me so intensely it broke me down often. I had just entered Junior College and longed to charter a new chapter to my life. I wanted to get back the ancient version of me- bubbly, unreserved. I so desperately wanted to have a good conversation with anyone, because for the longest time I could not pluck up the courage to initiate a conversation and if I ended up in one, it always made me feel uncomfortable, scared and backbreakingly tensed up. I could not even speak properly to my Mum. I had an image of myself freely connecting with people, but yet I didn’t dare to even try it out. These sentences describe my social anxiety- The conflict between what I wanted to do/ felt like I needed to be able to do VS what I feared that I would fail in and therefore frightened me to the core.

I still remember to first few days of Junior College. I was terrified. And the presence of boys in school for the first time in my life certainly did not help, either. Every morning I woke up crippled by dread and terror. And on one occasion I remember locking myself in the toilet cubicle in school because my heart had palpitated so hard I felt like I was about to go into shock.

And the above events took place while I was slowly starting to get comfortable with eating and nourishing. I remember even stuffing myself with chocolate while I had heart palpitations because I was desperate for anything to calm me down. On certain days, I even felt helpless and angry. I would ask:

WHERE ARE YOU? YOU PROMISED.

But the thing is, nobody promises you anything in recovery. I thought that as I kept nourishing, I would revert back to my “old self”. I expected recovery to be the genie in the bottle that realised all that I envisioned, exactly as I wanted.

But no, recovery is not a genie. Except that it is so much better than a genie. This is what recovery did for me- It restored my damaged organs, pulled together my body’s metabolic systems, rescued me from a lifetime with painful osteoporosis, nourished my starved brain, and reduced the number of times I cried or fought with my parents over the very sustenance that keeps up alive. Recovery SAVED MY LIFE.

Recovery is the reason I have air in my lungs and a pulse. Recovery is the reason I have the ability to think and a heart to love. Recovery SAVED ME.

That is a tall order, and something I will never, EVER, take for granted.

And whenever I find myself filled with reproach at how recovery did not instantly cure my social anxiety, I can almost imagine recovery wagging a finger at me saying, “I saved your life my dear. I restored your strength. Now you have the ability to find your own way. Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.”

Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.

That’s exactly what I have been doing. And I have never been prouder.

Through my years as a Junior College student, my social anxiety did not entirely go away. But you know what the difference was? I challenged myself. Not without fear, but in spite of it. I pushed myself to sign up for community events, did community service, and even ran for a leadership position in the Interact Club which I joined. And whenever things didn’t go as well as I planned (e.g. I felt scared, nervous, tense, uncomfortable or even sick speaking to people), I would always recover from it and remind myself, “I am a fallible human being and that is beautiful. Right now, I’ve got to put that aside and move on. I’ve got so many great things to do.” This statement was like my insurance. As I stuck to this, I realised that I was gradually attaining peace with myself not through eliminating my anxiety, but in spite of my anxiety.

Today, my social anxiety has calmed down tremendously, even though it still injects fear into my heart from time to time. And I have not stopped challenging myself to step up, do what I like to do. Because I can enter any kind of battlefield, and come out filled with love for myself despite the outcome. And I will always pick myself up and do it all over again. That is how I slowly conquered my social anxiety. I fought my social anxiety with love and acceptance, not with desperate opposition. I understand that my experience with social anxiety cannot fit that of everyone, but I hope you glean some lessons of self-forgiveness and persistence from my experience. And in case you have forgotten,

Run along now, it’s time to map out this journey for yourself.

You are loved. Xoxo

Celeste

You matter, so damn much: Why you need to recover

Why do you need to recover? You need to because you must. During my recovery, I told myself constantly that I had two options- push forward in my recovery or die. When you are fully recovered and you look back on your years under the control of ED, you will not want to turn back. That is not to say that you would have a perfect life beyond your ED. You won’t. But the difference is that as a recovered person, you will learn to live with life’s imperfections and marvel at the beauty of diversity and difference.

You will cry, but you will also laugh.

You will fall down, but pull yourself back up.

You will sometimes feel inadequate, but there will be this subtle, kind voice within you that whispers, “it’s okay”.

And that’s the biggest thing I gained out of my recovery.

The ability to tell myself that it’s okay.

Because really, it is.

You will appreciate the impermanence of things,

The temporary sadness of loss,

But above all,

The beauty of letting go.

This, my dear, is why you need to recover.

Because to let go is to embrace freedom and happiness.

And in case you have forgotten,

You are so deeply loved,

And your happiness and ability to love yourself matter so damn much.

I hope you realise that.