Anxi (aka Anxiety) and I have had a turbulent relationship. I thought we had broken up until I started my doctoral program about 3 years ago. After years of separation, Anxi decided it wanted to mend our relationship during my second semester. In the winter/spring of 2016, I found myself on the verge of panic attacks multiple times a week, sometimes taking hours before I stabilized myself enough to work on my projects. I kept getting sick and had days where I would stay in my room and lay in bed until I was calm enough to function. Yes, Anxi was back and ready to re-engage.
However, I wasn’t ready for our relationship to start again. I tried to push Anxi out, lock all my doors and seal any cracks that would possibly provide an opportunity for a visit. I considered taking medication as I had done in the past to help me control it. Yet, the thought of going through that process was draining. As I felt myself get worse by the week and Anxi’s visits becoming longer and more frequent, I realized our relationship had to change. I started going to counseling to figure out the reason for my relationship with Anxi and how to get rid of it. In my counseling sessions, we examined a plethora of topics, which helped me discover the reason for my Anxi’s increased visits and caused me to shift my perspective from trying to get rid of Anxi to considering how I could have a better relationship with Anxi. My counselor and I concluded that a number of factors intersected that caused the re-emergence of Anxi in my life, which included factors related to my past, the change in my environment, the multiple aspects of uncertainty, and my thoughts and feelings about myself as an academic. From processing and reflection, I realized Anxi had shown up to help me by placing me on high alert and prompting me to be ready for all circumstances. Unfortunately, this was also distressing to me.
As I sat in session after session with my counselor, I realized just how long Anxi and I have had a relationship. We had bonded at the early stages of my life and it now accompanies me wherever I go and with whatever I do. When the energy of Anxi is channeled positively, it helps me be more excited, engaged, initiative, and motivated. At the same time, it can also exhausting, debilitating, and time-consuming when I am not mindful of Anxi’s purpose. Slowly, with the help of counseling, I began incorporating tools or activities in my life to help my relationship with Anxi. I started exercising consistently and intensely, doing biofeedback and breathing exercises, and utilizing visualization tools. These activities provided channels for Anxi to release in a way that was productive for both of us. Even with incorporating these activities, the biggest challenge was learning how to allow Anxi to be there, sit with me, and then let it walk away. When Anxi showed up in situations, I wanted to hold on to it really tight. I had to learn that when Anxi shows up, I have to look at it and say “Thank you for being here. I know you’re here to let me know something is being triggered that I need to deal with or change. I will use this as an opportunity to grow.” Then, let Anxi walk away.
Learning how to say those statements to Anxi has taken practice and at moments I still find myself holding on. However, holding on happens less frequently, and I look forward to discovering my triggers and learning how to handle them.
I didn’t realize that I was going rekindle my relationship with Anxi when I decided to pursue my doctoral degree. It’s not a part of the common dialogue in academic circles from my experience. While our relationship has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had on my PhD journey, it has also been the most fulfilling. I have been able to uncover parts of myself and grow in ways that have been necessary for the betterment of my person. I have learned not to be ashamed of Anxi nor try to suppress it out of my world. Rather, I embrace Anxi and consider it a part of me. Counseling has helped me learn how to have a functioning and healthier relationship with Anxi so we can work together to make my life better. Anxi keeps teaching me lessons, and I keep listening and learning.