How the pandemic and a rare stomach disorder changed my relationship to anxiety.
By Jeanette Bednar | March 10, 2022
My connection with my breath has been an ongoing 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 breath with me- in the middle of both of our busy lives. Two strangers, taking a second and connecting.
A lot of my life is about connection. I’m a recent acting graduate, but my relationship with the entertainment business is complicated. I know I am an artist. I know 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 purpose, and the fact that most people feel stuck and purposeless, which is not their fault.
The more I meet new people in this weird, almost post pandemic, but still pandemic phase of life, the more conversations I’m having with people about feeling lost. It’s not from a lack of drive or because they don’t want to do more. Everyone wants something more meaningful than themselves: a child, a pet, plants, projects, a purposeful career, a partner, a family, community. It feels great to have things that are bigger than you. But most people are in survival mode. They can’t focus on anything but their next paycheck or the next big step in their career or why they can’t get out of bed, get off Tik Tok, stop watching TV all the time, calm their anxiety, call their therapist or schedule a doctor's appointment.
Maybe it’s more of a generational thing. These are issues I see with all of my friends and with myself. But I see it across the board, too.
I grew up with so much anxiety. Of course I didn’t realize it was anxiety at the time, I just thought it was how everyone feels: scared to answer questions in class, afraid of making food delivery phone calls, terrified of kissing anybody, or getting too close to anyone. I was scared of close connection and of a lack of connection. Always worried I wasn’t a good enough friend, or sister, or daughter. Scared of getting bad grades- competitive and jealous of my friends who did better than me. Whatever that means.
So much of my worth was attached to the education system. If I was a good student, I would be a good adult, get a good job and be successful. Grades and perfection were like a guarantee of future success. So long as I was maintaining straight A’s, convincing my teachers to like me, and having every student and person I met like me, then I would definitely be able to handle the “adult” world. I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings or make people uncomfortable with too much care and attention. I gave myself so much unnecessary responsibility: to carry the world and everyone else’s peace on my shoulders. And while we do have a responsibility to be kind to one another, this was just too much. I was letting everything in the world, everything outside of me, dictate my inner peace. When what I really needed was to let my inner peace dictate how I moved throughout the world.
The peak of my academic, “type A,” personality culminated at the end of my senior year of college. The pandemic hit two months before graduation and I essentially gave up. Or I thought I did. There was still a part of me clinging onto the “security” of letting an outside system establish my worth. I was still clinging onto that “drive,” as anxious as it may have been.
Shortly after graduating I was diagnosed with a rare stomach disorder- Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome. It made eating any amount of food extremely painful. I lost twenty pounds and a lot of joy. I had no energy and was unable to exercise, sing, laugh, cry or do anything involving the diaphragm without pain. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, I was diagnosed relatively quickly and able to schedule a surgery to resolve the issue. The recovery has been long, but I’m back to doing things I love.
I have a different type of drive now. I am motivated, but in an honest way. I practice yoga, but in a meaningful way. Stretching from release, not for a goal. Breathing for breath- not for a grade, not because I think it leads to success. My dreams have less to do with success and more to do with peace. Peace, joy and gratitude are my new goals.
All of these events have shifted my perspective on life. They forced me to go inward to find validation and outward to find community. Had everything happened according to my “plan”- had I graduated into a non-covid world with no stomach issues- I would probably be a little more “successful” right now. Some small successes like landing a commercial, or booking some wonderful acting job. But that couldn’t be me and I’m glad it's not me. I’m very much at peace with who I am and my accomplishments, because I am now very easily satisfied. Eating food every morning is a joy. Pooping normally is a joy. All the small things in life are all that I need. And anything on top of it? It’s just extra joy. Because my ultimate goal for an entire year was to get back to eating without debilitating pain. And so many people never get out of that situation. Too many people have chronic pain or other conditions they have to live through every single day. And that could be any of us at any moment. So show other people some grace and kindness— you never know what someone else is going through and you never know what you may be going through given some time. Life is too short for grudges and anxieties.
Of course, simply acknowledging that fact will not stop anxieties from occurring or bring back your motivation. It’s a slow and tedious process and not everyone is privileged enough to dig themselves out of a bad situation.
That said, it feels as though we are coming out of a collective moment of depression, isolation, fear and stress. The pandemic is still affecting people’s lives and many have been dealing with structural issues anyway, pandemic or not. But I sense a cultural shift toward community. Not everyone is on the train, but people are more open to the idea.
My wish is to remind people there is so much to be kind about.
Getting morning coffee? Tip your barista, or say hello, or just smile at them and make eye contact for a moment.
Have a new neighbor? Introduce yourself.
Friends moving? Offer to help before they ask.
Overwhelmed? Take a minute to let yourself cry.
Someone doing you a favor? Tell them thank you. With your own voice.
Like something about someone? Give them the compliment. Even if it scares you.
Miss somebody? Reach out. Reach out even if they haven’t responded to your last text. (Unless they’re ignoring you for a reason, don’t be creepy— you know if you have good or bad intentions, don’t mess with someone else’s peace).
Need a minute? Take a minute. Yes take a minute at work or in school- it's literally 60 seconds. Breathe without listening to any authority for just one minute.
No one is in charge and everyone is in charge. That is the nature of adulthood. Or at least adulthood from the perspective of a young person with minimal responsibilities. It’s a privileged position to be in. But then- why not take advantage of that privilege and share it with everyone possible? We’re still here, after all. We’re surviving a pandemic and a messed up world. Try to do something with that survival— not something big. Just something kind, and community based. It’s what I’m trying to do anyway.