The Pros of Numbness

As I approach my flight to the UK, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my desire to see the world, like I wrote in my last post, consistently conflicts with my anxiety issues. My study abroad adventures are just around the corner, and that means my excitement is through the roof. But this is kind of a bittersweet situation for me, because travelling comes with a lot of emotions, and emotions mean anxiety.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that yeah, emotions – but they’re good, right? Travelling is exciting! You’re young, you can handle staying in hostels and living on nothing and it’s an enjoyable emotion, right?

Exactly.

This is one of the hardest parts of anxiety that I have to explain to people. When I was younger – think pre-teen angsty phase – I would often tell people, or write about, how I was convinced that feeling nothing would be better than feeling what I felt.

People would always kind of smile at me, shake their head, “you don’t really mean that, honey.”

But here’s the thing – it’s been 7 or 8 years now, and I still stand by that statement.

Now, calm down, I don’t truly want to go and feel nothing all of a sudden. And I think it’s interesting that this is a big complaint people have with antidepressants – is that they mute all your emotions, not just the bad ones.

And I think that is miraculous.

Because here’s the thing – anxiety doesn’t just affect some parts of your life or your thoughts or your feelings. Anxiety claws into the deepest, darkest crevices and the easiest ones to reach. It’s not just that the bad emotions are magnified – all emotions are magnified. It’s like trying to breathe in a room slowly draining of oxygen. It takes hold of everything, and it’s undeniably overwhelming.

Here’s the easiest way I’ve found to describe any feeling I may have. As soon as you start to feel something – whether it be panic or fear or sadness or happiness or excitement, it starts to encapsulate all your thoughts, reminders popping up around every corner – be it something stupid you said or did, or the fact that there’s something awesome coming up that’s right there, you can almost touch it, but it’s not there yet. It’s like drowning in a pool of your own emotion, gasping for breath as thoughts bubble into every corner of your mind. It’s frustrating to try and concentrate on anything else when all of your energy is tied up with this one emotion, whipping through “what if”s and “but”s or “then”s.

It’s exhausting.

Meditation has definitely helped with this. I’ve started to recognize that sometimes, you have to let yourself drown – even as my internal lifeguard is screaming for me to jump in and yank myself out again. You have to learn to float, submerge into the pool of feelings. Because no matter what you do, it will be overwhelming. Your heart will race, your thoughts will clatter, your world will fade. Because it happens. That’s what anxiety does. And it won’t go away – but it will get worse, the harder you push.

So I’ve had to just let my thoughts run a little wild when I think about travelling. Let my panic seep into my bones. And just be at peace with that.

But does that mean these emotions are enjoyable? Almost all of the time, no. Emotion, for me, gets to the point where it’s pretty much too intense to function. There’s just too many of them. They press in everywhere, and when you feel the panic of unmanageable emotion in your throat, trying to convince yourself to let it happen is the epitome of non-instinctual.

And I’ve tried to push them away for a really, really long time. I eventually figure out how to pound them into manageable sizes for me to process, but believe me, that takes weeks, months, and years.

I’m not at a point yet where I could honestly say I’d rather feel everything than nothing. I think I’ll probably get there eventually, but when the intensity of your emotions overwhelms your will or ability to function, it doesn’t seem that bad. It’s definitely a learning process – because I’m ready to get to the point where I can actually feel things without fear of passing out or having a panic attack or not being able to concentrate. But we’re getting there, and for now, I’m learning to drown in my excitement for London.

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