Tag Archives: strength

Strength Within Anxiety

Sometimes I write about strength and weakness, as perceived from within and without. I’m going to again.

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.

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“I am weak in every way”

I am increasingly getting ideas for blog posts by seeing what people are tying into their search engine that lands them on my blog. I find it fascinating to look at in general, but once in a while something catches my attention. Sometime after I wrote my I am not Weak post, someone found my blog by using “I am weak in every way” as search parameters.

I don’t know if this actually reflected that person’s mental state at the time. Maybe they were looking for something specific, maybe they were looking for song lyrics, but maybe they were not feeling very good about themselves and running a search related to that. I am going to write this assuming that it was the latter.

I want to talk about weakness a little bit. It’s such an insidious concept. The idea that I am weak seeps into my brain and becomes ridiculously difficult to dislodge. It seems to be part of an overall idea in my head that I am simply inadequate. That I am Not Good Enough; not as good as Everyone Else. Which is to say, I know what it is like to feel weak in every way. It is something that I struggle with more than I would like to admit.

There is something that I read about once, about how actually a lot of people out there struggle with feeling inadequate. Sad to say, it is, apparently, a fairly normal way to feel. One of the things that far too many people do is not actually compare themselves to those around them (not that you should be doing that). Instead, people create the idea of a person which is constructed out of the very best elements of the people around them. This imaginary person keeps an immaculate house, makes dinner from scratch every day, has amazingly behaved children or pets, is in a fabulous relationship, does all the crafts with a high degree of skill, is highly successful in their career and so on and so forth. I think you get the idea. I know I do this far too much. I feel inadequate because I am not living up to ALL of these rather lofty goals and ambitions. Yet in reality, most people only manage one or two of those things with a high degree of skill or success. That perfect person is entirely imaginary, and to hold ourselves to that standard is to set ourselves up for failure.

But as much as I try not to, I still do that. I think that I should have achieved [insert thing here] and I judge myself for my perceived failure to do so. I assume that I am wrong somehow to not have achieved various things, and that the only possible reason for my failure is that I must be weak. Because strong people manage to do everything, right?

Well, not really. People sometimes can put on a good face, but mostly people achieve what they achieve, and it just isn’t going to be everything. This is why I try to make an explicit point to remind myself of my strengths and accomplishments. I remind myself that the list of ALL THE THINGS is impossible, and I look at what I have done and what I am good at, and I try to feel good about it.

Which is not to say that this is easy to do. Sometimes I look at my accomplishments, but I don’t feel good about them. Sometimes I feel good about them, but still feel like the list should be longer. And sometimes I just can’t see them at all. Sometimes I am drowning in depression and just getting my head above the waters to take a breath is more than I can handle. Reminding myself of my awesomeitude is just not in the table at that point.

And you know what? That’s ok. It happens. It would be nice if it didn’t happen and maybe someday I will find a way to make it not happen anymore, but in the meantime it’s a thing I deal with here and there. I can either angst and agonize over the fact that sometimes I feel awful, or I can accept it when I can and leave my energy and attention for other things. So I choose to accept it. I am who I am.

And I am not weak.

And neither are you.


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On ‘Potential’

I find I suddenly have lots of things I want to talk about. This one is hard for me – it deals with things I find personally hurtful, as well as things I feel shame about, and the intersection thereof. I have no idea if I’ll manage to do it justice, but I plan to try.

I get told that I have potential. I am never sure what it means. Potential to do what? Potential is such a vague word for people to be throwing about as casually as they do. During my screening for Asperger’s, a friend said about me “she could do so much more!” I’m sure she meant it as a compliment. She was talking about this ‘potential’ people like to gab about.

Specifically, she was talking about the fact that I’m smart. And it’s true. I am smart. Not only that, but I am very confident in my intelligence. If I focus (and potentially have someone to teach me) I can learn all sorts of things, and learn them well. So in that way, I guess I have potential to do… something. Maybe.

Do I?

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Yeah, I have brains. Know what else I have? Severe social difficulties that I am only just beginning to really understand. Sensory defensiveness that interacts with my social difficulties in mostly unpleasant ways. Difficulties in understanding “normal” speech patterns, like metaphors or people’s insistance on phrasing requests as offers (why do that do that? It’s so frustrating!). Things other people think are rude I think are polite, things other people think are polite I think are rude. It’s very very hard for me to navigate the world, so at this point I mostly don’t do it.

Throw that stuff in the mix and it suddenly becomes more difficult to assess my ‘potential.’ Even more so because this is an extrovert’s world. Society has focused on optimizing for a population that is more or less the opposite of me, and I often feel like there simply isn’t room for me and my weirdness. Could I do ‘more’? Yeah, probably. If I had help, if I could find a niche, if I could still spend the vast majority of my time away from people or the risk of people. And admittedly, if I could find a job doing something I enjoyed that didn’t threaten my sanity the way interacting with the world usually does, that would be pretty darn cool. That is really hard to find, though. I haven’t managed it yet. Add to that, it always feels like a statement that what I do simply isn’t enough. Without getting into it too much, that is a trigger for me. Maybe I don’t do things that society says are the things we are supposed to do, and it’s true that I have internalized that message, but I still do things, I still challenge myself, and I still learn and grow.

The easy answer is to not socialize with people who say such things, right? Except it seems so common. I find myself worrying about with people I already know, and especially with people who are new. I cannot be anyone other than who I am, and I’ve tried enough times that I’m pretty certain of it by now.

Hm. I think I’ve reached the conclusion point of this post, but I am having trouble figuring out how to wrap it all up. I guess for me, I am going to try to avoid talking about potential. If I see a kid who did something awesome, I think I’d rather just focus on the awesome thing rather then throw in an extra “you’ll do so much when you grow up” type statement.

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Just an article I want to share: Changing perceptions: The power of autism.  In a way, it’s personally inspiring.  I will probably never be a scientist, but I don’t have to think that I can never be anything.

A few excerpts:

Since joining the lab, Dawson has helped the research team question many of our assumptions about and approaches to autism — including the perception that it is always a problem to be solved. Autism is defined by a suite of negative characteristics, such as language impairment, reduced interpersonal relationships, repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. Autism’s many advantages are not part of the diagnostic criteria. Most educational programmes for autistic toddlers aim to suppress autistic behaviours, and to make children follow a typical developmental trajectory. None is grounded in the unique ways autistics learn.

Even researchers who study autism can display a negative bias against people with the condition. For instance, researchers performing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans systematically report changes in the activation of some brain regions as deficits in the autistic group — rather than evidence simply of their alternative, yet sometimes successful, brain organization.

I no longer believe that intellectual disability is intrinsic to autism. To estimate the true rate, scientists should use only those tests that require no verbal explanation. In measuring the intelligence of a person with a hearing impairment, we wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate components of the test that can’t be explained using sign language; why shouldn’t we do the same for autistics?

Dawson and other autistic individuals have convinced me that, in many instances, people with autism need opportunities and support more than they need treatment. As a result, my research group and others believe that autism should be described and investigated as a variant within the human species. These variations in gene sequence or expression may have adaptive or maladaptive consequences, but they cannot be reduced to an error of nature that should be corrected.

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