Assume everyone has anxiety

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An editor hasn’t gotten back to you a few days after you sent an email? When this happens to me, I start to panic that they don’t like me anymore. I’m too annoying. Because I’m open about my mental health, I look crazy and they don’t want to associate with me. My last piece was shit and they don’t want to work with me anymore.

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Me when I don’t hear back from an editor for a few days. Photo from Amen Clinic Photos AC.

For days, my mind will run wild. And then they’ll answer. Everything is fine.

I get like this with so many social interactions. A cashier is rude to me? Someone cuts me off in traffic? A friend doesn’t return a phone call? There’s something wrong with me.

But, I’ve also been on the other side of this.

I’ve been the editor who doesn’t answer for days because my anxiety gets so bad, it’s hard to bring myself to refresh my email feed, painful to answer the important emails and absolutely not possible to respond to anything that isn’t essential.

And then the anxiety clears and I’m back at it.

I’ve started taking a new approach to life where I assume everyone is feeling as shitty as I feel at my worst. The cashier needs a smile. The driver needs me to let them go without repercussion (I’ll keep that fist shaking in my head). The friend needs compassion. And the editor just needs patience.

When I first started opening up about my anxiety, a lot of people told me they had no idea it was something I struggle with. People have been in the same room as me–played a game with me–while I was having a panic attack and didn’t even notice. I realized there could be people around me whose minds and hearts were racing, but who didn’t look the part.

Deciding to treat everyone like they have anxiety, I first thought I’d be tiptoeing around, as some people say they feel like they need to do around me. Then I realized that what I need isn’t tiptoeing; what I need is for people to hold their tongues on snarky comments, and be calm, quiet and kind.

Imagine if we all acted like everyone around us was having a rotten day. I think society would be a better place, don’t you?

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Until it’s gone

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The saying “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” is usually meant to indicate that someone wonderful was lost and only then do you realize how incredible that person was.

I’m learning the flip side of that phrase. Sometimes you lose something and only then see how fucking awful it was.

I always thought of myself as being shy and awkward, even nervous to talk to people who I knew. A family member recently told me they had always interpreted my behaviour towards others as anger and other crappy emotions I wasn’t properly dealing with. That’s a polite way of them saying they thought I was a jerk, which I know I totally come across as.

Last week Tuesday afternoon, a small and shaky plane landed in Boston with me inside, flinching and closing my eyes at every bit of turbulence. With one of my closest friends beside me, we walked to get our baggage and meet a friend of hers who I had recently begun speaking with on Facebook but who I’d never met in person. The Meg Crane way of meeting someone new—especially after a rocky flight—would be to avoid talking at all costs. The Meg Crane who was in Boston was teasing her host and starting conversations.

It turns out, I’m not really shy and awkward. I’m brimming with social anxiety and low on self-confidence. At least, I was.

This isn’t the first instance of me approaching a social situation without overpowering fear, but it is the first time in my life that I am regularly okay speaking to other human beings who I don’t know well.

The flights home were frustrating due to unhelpful staff and confusing airports, but there were no signs of anxiety. My breathing was fine, my heart rate was pretty normal, and I wasn’t worried at all when I was paged to talk to staff or when my carry on was searched.

My fears of looking like an idiot have all but melted away, and now I see how much that was impacting my life. I didn’t know I had awful social anxiety until it was mostly gone, and life on the other side is beautiful.

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Just climbing at Wally Beach, trying not to get slivers in my ass.

Shout out to my Boston host, Jen Abbe, an amazing photographer who made me pose for photos. This gem was taken by Céline Land, my travel buddy.