How the pandemic and a rare medical condition changed my relationship to anxiety.
By Jeanette Bednar | Updated May 12, 2023
My connection with my breath has been a never ending journey.
I have “breathe” tattooed on my arm and I get a lot of people asking what it says, why it says it, or simply agreeing. Nodding their head and sharing a “same,” or “thank you, I needed that today.” This cheesy, pretty basic, little tattoo sometimes makes people smile, stop and take a moment to breathe with me- in the middle of both of our busy lives. Two strangers, taking a second to connect.
My life is driven by connection. I care deeply about human nature, the way we treat each other, and our goals for the planet. I’m interested in understanding other people and their motivations, and the fact that so many feel stuck and purposeless. I’m interested in the tools that help people out of that - in the power of community.
The more I’m in conversation with people in this almost post-pandemic world, the more the theme of feeling lost is coming up. People feel stuck and it’s not because of a lack of drive or an unwillingness to do more. Every person I’ve ever talked to wants to be a part of something more meaningful than themselves: having a child, a pet, plants and nature, projects to work toward, a meaningful career, a partner, family. But most people are stuck in survival mode. In this volatile world, it’s hard to focus on anything but the next paycheck or the next big step in a career, or why you can’t get out of bed, get off Tik Tok, stop watching TV all the time, calm your anxiety, call a therapist, schedule a doctors appointment and just do more. Be more productive. Be more “worthy”.
The idea of being worthy, being good and being perfect has been a tool I’ve used for a lifetime. I’ve lived by motivating myself with anxiety. As a kid I didn’t have the vocabulary, didn’t have the emotional tools to understand what that weird overwhelming feeling was. Because I grew up in my own body, and surrounded by a lot of other anxious people, it felt normal to be scared about everything. Everyone is terrified of emotional connection with others, of kissing someone, and getting too close, right? Everyone is worried they’re not a good enough child, friend, student, person, right? Everyone is terrified of bad grades and competitive and jealous of their peers, yeah?
I used that fear to fuel my output. I had a simple way to deal with the dread - attach all of my self worth to education. I decided if I could manage to be a perfect student, there would be a guarantee of future success. The real world would be easy! Fun, even!
And then, I hit the real world. I graduated into the pandemic, I got COVID, and it triggered a lifelong medical condition that had been hiding in the shadows. My condition, Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome, affected my ability to do just about anything. It made the process of digesting food incredibly painful, I lost twenty pounds in the span of two weeks and lost a whole lot of joy. I had no energy and was unable to exercise, sing, laugh, cry, eat or even breathe without feeling pain. I’m one of the lucky few who got treatment for the condition. After a year long battle fighting debilitating pain, I’ve been well on my way to recovery. To getting back to normal.
But I didn’t want to go back to my old normal. After losing so much, I realized I didn’t want to be fueled by anxiety anymore. I didn’t have to be perfect. In my year and half of recovery I’ve had to learn to ask for help. To set boundaries and say no. To admit that I’m not perfect. What got me through this tumultuous time was community, therapy, and admitting: I am not okay.
I’m trying to shift my drive. I am motivated, but in an honest way. I practice yoga, in a more meaningful way. I stretch from a place of release, not to reach some arbitrary goal. I breathe for the sake of breath. Not for a grade, not because I think it leads to success. And when I hold my breath, I notice. I feel the anxiety and I try to ask it what it needs. What support do I need?
I’m trying to go inward for validation and outward for community.
Had my post grad life gone according to my plan, I’d probably be a little more “successful” right now. I might have landed a commercial or some wonderful acting job or had a little more money in the bank. But that couldn’t be me. It wouldn’t be me. It would be this idea of myself that I was projecting. This uncrackable wall of perfection. I’m so glad that’s not me.
As we all move forward with our lives, as we move out of a collective moment of depression, isolation, fear and stress, let's shift toward community. Let’s choose to be a little more messy, a little more kind, and a lot less perfect.