My pulse quickened, thrumming painfully at the base of my throat. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. I had just rounded the corner in a parking garage to find a long line of people waiting to pay their fees. Sirens wailed in my head, making it hard for me to think. It was obvious someone had planned this. Someone had broken the machine intentionally, leaving all these people trapped inside a concrete prison. Any minute now, there would be an explosion and all of the heavy cement levels above me would come crashing down, leading to slow and agonizing death.
It was a real possibility, right? I mean, how often have we all heard about public places being targeted with bombs and by shooters?
It could happen, it could actually happen, my "gut" screamed at me, as I sat in the driver's seat, my hands tight on the wheel, my chest already feeling like there was a 400 ton weight on it.
I made it out of that garage unscathed, but nearly every day I seem to find myself in a similar terrifying mental struggle. I know, it sounds ridiculous -- laughable even, but this is anxiety.
There are a million quotes out there that tell you to trust your instincts, which is usually good advice. But it’s not so easy to "trust your gut" when it’s screaming DANGER! every eleven seconds. General anxiety brings many difficulties to my daily life, but one of the hardest for me is being unable to differentiate what feelings are purely based off of fear and which are coming from intuition.
It feels like some kind of sick game, like my brain likes to play Russian roulette. So what the fuck do I do? Are my only options to trust my gut and live in a constant state of fear, or do I ignore my instincts and allow myself to get into a situation that isn’t safe?
You see, as annoying as it is, anxiety is really just a self-preservation tactic. It’s over-exaggerated and often unrealistic, but it stems from the instinct to protect myself at all costs.
Which is not a bad thing. On occasion, my anxiety tries to take the form of intuition to make sure I’m listening. It gets really confusing, but I am slowly learning how to tell the difference between the two.
Writing down my feelings and documenting my own behavior has helped, because I’m able to revisit my experiences and use them to compare what's currently happening.
Recently, I had to choose between two job offers (a good problem to have). I spent a while weighing my options, but ultimately I knew which decision was right for me all along. I felt it in my gut. The feelings I experienced weren’t chaotic and unsettling. They weren’t causing a panic and making my brain run a million miles per hour. I felt oddly calm in my decision. I tried to remain open minded and even called on some friends for advice, but I already knew what needed to be done. That's intuition.
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Anxiety is a real bitch, but it's taught me a lot. It's taught me to listen, to pay attention. What I'm learning most is I can trust myself.
Ashton is a full-time nanny and a doula in training in North Carolina. When she isn't trying to convince a kid to eat vegetables or researching the magic of placentas, she likes to hit the beach with her boyfriend or cuddle on the couch with her dogs. (Sometimes she cuddles the boyfriend, too, if he's a good boy.)