Standing in the crowd, watching the carnival pass, everyone waving and laughing. I shiver, I don’t belong. It’s feeling like I standout and everyone is wondering “what are you doing here?” people around and behind me , people on the floats as they pass all looking at me and saying “you don’t belong”. I flee to the local bookshop where I find shelter amongst the books, my friends.
Anxiety is isolating, in taking up it’s role to keep us safe it puts up barriers and while these barriers prevent us getting hurt and achieve their objective they work both ways and we find ourselves trapped within. The result is that we become more and more isolated from the world and as we become more isolated that anxious part of ourselves sees more and more threats and so we become still more isolated, and stuck in a spiral of anxiety and isolation.
I spent a large proportion of my life being invisible, avoiding being noticed. I feared being judged, so I glided under the radar, at school I never got in trouble but never achieved anything, I put on a happy smiling face to the world and retreated to my books. I had a couple of close friends but they never knew how I felt and struggled, I didn’t understand myself, you just watch others getting on with their lives and you wonder “ how do they do that?” and you just feel miserable because you can’t. So you retreat a little bit more. I navigated life trying to find the path of least resistance and as an adult after a bit of struggle I found a job that fitted, a job that minimised my anxiety dealing with people. Most of the time just me and my computer. That part of my life held things together for me. It was important because it created a bubble of security. Outside of work the isolation continued, I move house for work and lost those connections I had. It was like between work hours I went home and hibernated.
When we become so Isolated from the world and so scared of it, what can we do? We are stuck there because it seems impossible to do anything else? How do we escape this pit of anxious isolation?
Change comes with the belief in change, that it is possible. Our problem is with our view of anxiety and our loneliness, our problem stems from our view of ourselves, our belief in who we are? “We accept the love we think we deserve.” film-The Perks of Being a Wallflower. We get our validation of ourselves externally and this is particularly influential when we are young. if we learn we aren’t good enough or we’re bad or not capable, we can carry that belief through the rest of our lives.
To start turning things round one thing we can do is to make friends with ourselves, treat ourselves as we would a best friend, be kind and gentle, be forgiving of our failures and acknowledge and celebrate the successes, be your own cheerleader, get to know what really matters to you, what your values are. One of the greatest things that has helped me is curiosity, being openly curious without judgement. Exploring who I am, getting to understand myself beneath the anxiety, the values I stand by, and through that understanding comes the confidence of knowing and accepting myself. We can often fear the dark corners of our minds, the dark thoughts we have but when we shine a light on them that monstrous shouting fades to a whisper, it’s just a voice that wishes to be heard.
When dealing with the world and other people our anxiety attempts to shield us, it puts us on alert and is continuously judging others intentions we gain tunnel vision focused on our fears, what do we miss when walk to the shops head down focused solely on achieving that one goal successfully? What opportunities to engage with the world do we miss? If we can step out of those anxious thoughts for a space and broaden our view of our surroundings, if we can look up and out and become more aware, we notice more, our world becomes richer. Be curious, the more we follow our curiosity the more the world opens up and anxiety falls away. Through our anxiety we often desperately pursue what we desire, only to fail or find it doesn’t do what we hoped but if we stop and just become aware of where we are, what we need may be standing right next to us without us noticing. If you find yourself in a group of people, instead of worrying about what to say and being scared making a fool of yourself, be curious, ask the person next to you about themselves, be interested, people like to be asked about themselves and you never know you might have things in common.
Loneliness is conquered by making connections with people and things that matter to us. Anxiety creates a barrier that makes these connections difficult to create and maintain. Good relationships build our confidence and sense of self worth which diminishes the power of anxiety but to create them we need to create the space for them to occur and develop. To do this we need to change how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves, accept ourselves as we are, to value ourselves as we are and rather than being rapped up in our day to day struggles open our awareness and be openly curious about the world around us. When we change our perspective our world changes with it.