A year and a half ago, while working with a counselor, I was given a test meant to catch any major mental illness. If I was a sociopath, narcissist, had major addiction or depression, this test was supposed to let me know. While I don’t tend to put a lot of merit in tests, I was curious to see the results. An appointment or two later she said, “Micah, these tests indicate that you have a fairly high amount of anxiety.” I was surprised. While I had been through some fairly significant life shifts, and some emotional ups and downs, I felt cool, calm, and collected. Because the test results indicated otherwise, I realized I had better pay attention and figure out what was really going on. As I looked within, I discovered certain patterns of living that weren’t serving me. Here are some of those patterns and tools I’ve learned to live more authentically.
The plague of positive thinking
While people keep gratitude journals and practice gratefulness in beneficial ways, this is exactly what I was doing that kept me from addressing what didn’t work in my life. I am a person who can always see the positive. I can make lemonade out of horse shit. Positive thinking allowed me to dream big, overcome obstacles, and create opportunity for myself. However, this way of seeing the light and ignoring the darkness was really detrimental for my emotional life. I would ignore my own needs, accommodate others, and avoid hard conversations. I wouldn’t request what I really wanted from a relationship and would just “make do.” I realized that my rose colored glasses were not working; I committed myself to really examine all things more closely, exploring both the possibility and the challenges in each situation.
Disconnecting from my life
One reason I didn’t recognize my own anxiety and the strong emotions beneath my anxiety is that I can be masterful at disconnecting from all that is painful. By separating myself from the painful things in my own life I found a way to stand on the other side of the room from “the sadness” making it more difficult to see and accept it as “MY sadness.” I am still learning not to run away from and ignore my strong feelings, instead taking a step closer to them and examining what they have to show me.
I learned my emotions by their proper names
When I started this process I had just a few emotions: anger, sadness, frustration and joy. As I kept paying attention I realized there was also fear, shame, hope, contentment, disgust, and a bunch of others tucked in the corners. I started to notice when, where, and why these emotions were arising and what they felt like in my body. Some of them had to do with the situation at hand and a bunch more had to do with the past experiences I had lived. Instead of running away from these strong emotions I am learning to step towards them, sit in them, and sit with them. I am working to see these emotions less like the enemy and more like someone worth getting to know – embracing the way they make me squirm and trying not to run away. “Oh hey there fear, what are you doing around these parts?”
I stopped hiding
Shame stops us from letting others into our yuckiest and most confused places. The antidote for shame is vulnerability. So I decided to get closer to those friends who cared for me the most. At first, being so very honest was fairly terrifying, but when I discovered that my friends weren’t judging me it got easier. When others acknowledged their own struggles I didn’t feel as alone. When I spoke more honestly our bonds only grew stronger. It felt possible to reveal more of me to the world.
I am thankful for that test that I didn’t really believe in at first. I think it was right. I was anxious and sometimes I still am. So much of my personal anxiety was from not tapping into my true emotions. My personality has equipped me well to avoid all things painful and I have had to relearn a different way of being in order to continue to grow.
Author: Micah McLaughlin is a Naturopathic Practitioner specializing in the integration of the body and mind. In 2008 he founded Continuum Healing, a holistic health clinic located in Grand Rapids, MI. He is also the cofounder of the Grand Rapids Wellness Collective.