Sometimes people see anxiety as weakness. Externally, it’s hard to see the barriers that anxiety puts up that we need to hurdle. What’s seen is often simply that a person with anxiety is having an extremely difficult time with something that most people don’t find that bad. At times I’ve had encountered with people who sincerely believed that I should be able to just do it. That it was weakness on my part that was holding me back. If I say it’s anxiety, they only heard that anxiety = weakness.
I always protested this mentality. It’s simply wrong. However, now that I am finding my anxiety dramatically reduced and I am more easily doing things that used to be so hard, I protest it even more. As much as I tried to protest it, I also internalized it. I thought of myself as weak all too often. That’s crap. I wasn’t weak then and I’m not weak now.
Let me tell you about horseback riding. There is a legitimate amount of nervous-making when pretending that you can control a massive, muscular animal (they *let* us control them, seriously). However, my anxiety was massive. Frequently learning to do new things was more about maintaining control over my body as intense feelings of fear coursed through me than about actually learning the thing. Cantering was a huge challenge. Not because cantering is difficult, but because it’s really hard to be loose when a terror knife is stabbing through my chest.
People say “well just do it anyway!” but it isn’t that easy. I have had many experiences of trying to “just do it anyway” and failing because my limbs refused to respond. I would feel fearful, take a deep breath, decide to do it anyway, send the commands to my limbs, and not move. I had to battle my anxiety just to have control of my body at all. And to ride a horse, to ride the way I want to ride, requires quite a lot of fairly fine-tuned control. I had to battle my anxiety and win, and I had to keep winning and keep fighting, and I had to have enough left over to actually do the thing and do it well.
Expletive’s sake, that’s HARD. You think it’s at all possible to do that when you’re weak? No! It isn’t! But I did it.
And now, now that it’s not so hard due to my anti-anxiety meds… I’m barreling forward in my riding. I do things that used to give me panic attacks with only a minor twitch of nervousness. When I get nervous about a thing, I can take a deep breath and just *do it* when before I would need to fight. The hurdles are so much smaller.
Just to make it clear, I am no stronger now than I was then. These pills I’m taking, they don’t magically increase my reserves of internal strength. I am the only being in the universe that can directly change that. No, my medication shrinks the obstacles. What used to be a brick wall is now just a regular hurdle. This means I have to spend far less effort than I used to in order to get through those obstacles, which means I have more strength and energy left over to move forward with other things. With the things I want to do.
Anxiety isn’t weakness. Anxious people are not weak people. Anxious people are probably strong, because it’s hard to learn to live with anxiety without also developing significant reserves of internal strength.
In fact, I’d broaden that. Fear, in general, does not make you weak. Dealing with that fear, moving forward even when you feel it – that is strength.