Most successes in my life have been fuelled by anxiety. Sometimes, the anxiety was telling me I couldn’t do something. And that perhaps I shouldn’t bother. But then the next stage has always been an obsessive drive to achieve and to generally make stuff happen.
I can pinpoint three specific instances when this was the case. When I was going to university, when I met someone I was head over heels about, and when I was in the process of getting a job I really wanted.
The drive, determination and pure effort that I put into each of those life events were filled with anxiety, general worrying, masses of overthinking and a ton of self doubt.
But I know the warning signs and can sense when my anxiety is creeping in: the loss of control, the sweaty palms and overthinking becomes engulfing. But if you steer this way of being into something positive, the scenario can change. If the panicky feeling that inevitably sets in was focused in one direction, perhaps to fix something. That normally helps me. Specifically I remember a time when I was trying to get a job I was keen on…
At first, I was fairly self deprecating, and believed there wasn’t a hope in hell of me getting the job. But then my mindset changed. I had a firm word with myself and did the anxiety-riddled mental dance I always do with myself, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, why can’t you? Hmmm… maybe I can. I put everything I had into this whole ‘job getting’ project, which is an obsessive side of my personality. After weeks of planning, obsessing, and heightened anxious behaviour, I got the job. I truly believe that if I didn’t have these bizarre anxious tendencies I wouldn’t have got the job and I wouldn’t have gotten the grades to go to my university of choice all those years ago. And quite frankly I wouldn’t be neurotic old me.
When I was thinking about writing this piece, I considered whether any highly respected figures in history had dealt with elements of anxiety throughout their lives. Perhaps it helped shape who they became.
And, not surprisingly there are a few sprinkled into the mix. Notable figures include Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly had generalised anxiety. But during his presidency it wasn’t a recognised condition and he obviously adapted and found coping mechanisms of his own. Then I stumbled across Emily Dickinson, one of the most renowned literary figures of our time, suffered with an anxiety disorder (which may have been agoraphobia). Researchers concluded through records and letters that Emily restricted her interaction with other people to the point where she would rarely talk to or meet anyone. But these social restrictions focused her attention on writing. Mr Vincent van Gogh, one of the most famous artists to have ever lived has been discussed by psychology and psychiatric students around the world. His mental state has always been a slight mystery, but it was discovered in letters that he experienced ‘fits of anxiety’.
Anxiety is present in most of us. But we can be resilient and mentally fit enough to use our powers for good. Let’s change the perception of anxiety, because we need it - much like we need like fear, anger and happiness to make us balanced and whole.