Anxiety and the "50/50"
I developed significant anxiety in medical school. Looking back, I always had anxiety at a low level but never realized it because I assumed it was how everyone felt. But once I entered medical school and needing to learn so much information so fast and so perfectly, it escalated to the point where I felt it every moment. My husband and my parents can attest to a lot of meltdowns and tears along the way. As you can imagine, it only worsened in residency when I was taking care of live humans. Alone in the hospital in the middle of the night with critically ill patients, depending on me to know what I’m doing and not to make a mistake that could cost everything, well that wasn’t a great feeling for me. I did end up seeking help because I knew I wasn’t functioning great. Thankfully we had good psychosocial support in our residency program and I got the help I needed to finish. The anxiety didn’t leave me once I became an attending physician but it did quiet down a bit. But then I found the field I love, hospice and palliative medicine, and I now had anxiety about losing people I love. I worried all the time. So again, I sought help to learn to manage this so I could stay in this field I felt called to. And it did help, and I have been managing anxiety all along. But something was off, and I didn’t know it until I found coaching. Life isn’t supposed to be happy and peaceful all the time. We are always going to have a 50/50 experience of positive and negative emotions. Our circumstances can change and emotions may shift, but they are always going to be about half positive and half negative. This was really eye opening for me. I was no longer questioning why I was living my dream life but still dealing with anxiety, sadness, etc at times. Why wasn’t this the euphoria of having “arrived?” Because I guess that is what I believed would happen one day. When I became a doctor. When I got married to the most wonderful man. When I had my beautiful children. Then all the negative stuff would just magically disappear. But it didn’t. And in addition to questioning why I still felt anxious at times, I complicated it by thinking I shouldn’t feel that way. And feeling bad that I was feeling that way. Learning that this is the way it is supposed to be was so freeing for me. It seems silly to me now that this is what I expected but I don’t think I am alone in thinking that was what would happen.
I’m now at a place where when anxiety shows up, I am okay with it. It’s just going to be with me sometimes and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. I have learned to identify what is causing me to feel it and if it isn’t valid, I know how to shift my brain away from it to a thought and emotion that I would prefer to feel. For example, I will take 5 minutes and think about all the things I am grateful for in life, feel the feeling of gratitude, and shift into that emotion instead, because I like it. But if it is valid, I know sometimes I need to allow it to be with me and work through it. And some days, like last week, I just let myself be a hot mess and indulge in it for a while. But those days used to dominate and now they are much more infrequent. Once I realized and accepted (that part took a while) that life is always going to be 50/50, I am living so much more in acceptance and peace, even in times of high anxiety. Especially during these past 19 months, when I have felt fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc., I no longer beat myself up for feeling these things and I feel so much better. I know these emotions are here, I know how to process them, and I know how to access and feel the other 50% of positive emotions too. And now, most times, my anxiety is so much less than it ever has been.
I know many of you are dealing with anxiety. I think most of the world is right now. Just know you have a normal human brain and be kind to yourself <3