When the Motivational Posters Stop Working

girls marnie - being inside my own head is exhaustingIf we see someone stressing out over something completely trivial, the first response is to tell them to relax and not worry so much. If we see someone unhappy and complaining about something that doesn’t seem like a big deal, the first response is to remind them how much worse things could be. They should be happy about all the good things in their lives.

We are constantly bombarded with “inspirational quotes” telling us that we are in charge of our own happiness. That if we cannot see the beauty in the world and appreciate the fact that we get to start a brand new day each morning, then there is something wrong with us. Just waking up and breathing is enough to be happy and carefree. By stating that happy people are choosing to live that way, it’s basically stating that unhappy people are making a conscious decision to be depressed or stressed about life.

What people fail to realize is that for some of us, it’s impossible to be completely happy. We want nothing more than to see the beauty in the life we are given and not stress about insignificant problems. Unfortunately, our minds will not allow it.

I suffer from mild anxiety. I refer to it as mild because it doesn’t affect my life on a daily basis and I have (thankfully!) never suffered from a full blown panic attack. But it is still a problem that I have had to deal with for years now.

Sometimes my anxiety will pop up in almost comical ways that my sister never fails to tease me about. Several times in the past I have had to call home to have someone reassure me that I have in fact unplugged the straightener. It’s gotten so bad where on days I straighten my hair, I will text myself stating that I did unplug the straightener. I have to include a picture of the unplugged straightener because a text is not enough proof, I need hard evidence that I will not be coming home to a burnt house after work.

In October 2013, right after my grandmother passed away, I convinced myself that I had HIV. This was a less comical side of my anxiety that I did not reveal to many people. Despite the fact that it had been over a year since my last sexual partner (and we always used condoms), my mind latched onto the idea that I was infected and it wouldn’t let go. For weeks leading up to my test, I had a pit in my stomach that would not go away. When the results came back negative (like a deep part of me knew they would), my mind relaxed for a bit before it found something new to obsess over and analyze to death.

The worst part of anxiety is that there is a part of me that realizes how ridiculous I am being. I don’t want to spend my life stressing about things that are probably never going to actually happen. I don’t enjoy not being able to sleep at night due to shortness of breathe. I don’t like having a normal day and then all of sudden my heart start pounding and being overcome with a feeling of anxiousness for no real reason.

When I see quotes and people making it seem as though a happy, stress-free life is easily unattainable, it makes me feel as though there is something wrong with me. And not the “I may actually be suffering from a mental illness” wrong but the “I’m just a miserable human being who can’t appreciate what she has” wrong. We may have become a lot more accepting about mental illness but there is this underlying tone that people with depression or anxiety could just get over it if they really wanted to.

Even I feel like this sometimes. I grew up with a mother who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. I myself have issues with anxiety and a brain whose thoughts I sometimes have no control over. Yet, I still sometimes think, “This is your body, your mind. You are the one allowing sadness and anxiousness to control you.”

But just how when I’m panicking over something that I know deep down is never going to actually happen, I also know that deep down my anxiety is something I will never fully be able to get rid of. There will never come a day I won’t be filled with dread anytime someone says they want to ask me a question or talk to me about something. I’ll never not think a friend or family member is kidnapped or dead if they don’t respond to my texts within a reasonable time. And I know I’m always going to live with the fact that every once in a while my heart will start racing and I will be short of breathe for no apparent reason.

So all those inspirational quotes and motivational posters are wrong, but they do have some truth to them. Sometimes we can’t just choose to be happy. Sometimes simply choosing not to stress isn’t an option. However, the only thing I can hope to do is control my anxiety. It’s always going to be there but I can work on ways to manage it. And I’m slowly working on ways to lessen my anxiety that don’t include wine and Klonopin (even though both are great options when things get too bad, as long as they aren’t abused).

Focusing on my breathing when I feel like my heart is about to beat out of my chest helps. Deep breathing is key to slowing down my heart rate. When I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack, going for a ride can ease the anxiousness. I think it has something to with my mind having a task to focus on instead of worrying.

The number one thing I’ve learned that helps with my anxiety (and maybe it can help any of you who also suffer with anxiety) is to try and pinpoint what it is that’s making me so anxious. Sure, sometimes I feel a panic attack coming on and it seems like it’s out of nowhere. But trying to focus on what’s making me anxious and what’s brought on the feeling of dread, helps to make me feel like I have a little bit of control over something that normally feels utterly uncontrollable.

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14 comments

  1. Right on. I admit that motivational quotes, while inspiring and everything, don’t necessarily apply to everyone. Some also run the risk of being generic, even didactic, which isn’t helpful for those who go through stuggles every day. I agree with you that we can’t “choose” to be happy, but we can find opportunities to get there. Happiness is not a one-stop process like the quotes make it out to be, but rather a process that we undergo every day. Good thoughts!

    1. “Happiness is not a one-stop process like the quotes make it out to be, but rather a process that we undergo every day.” My thoughts exactly. You don’t just wake up one day, say “I’m gonna be happy from now on,” and then suddenly you’re happy. It’s a process.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing, girl! I think we all deal with some level of anxiety at various times in our lives. I know that there was a point in my life right after I graduated from grad school where I definitely struggled with “finding the happiness”. I was receiving rejection letter after rejection letter from jobs and the bills were stacking up. It was hard to believe that anything good was going to happen in the time that it needed to happen in, but like you, I had to take a step back, evaluate the things in my life that were truly good and amazing, and breath. Just breath. I have a hard time dealing with things that are out of my control, but I’ve realized over time (and through learning the hard way) that you can’t and won’t have control over everything. Accepting that and learning how to deal with that in a positive way (running, reading, eating just alllll of the cookie dough) is what has helped me the most. Great post, hon!

  3. Thank you! I have also had issues with the idea of “choosing to be happy”. It always felt like my anxiety was my fault completely. And while controlling it is a different (and necessary) thing, sometimes all the logic in the world does not stop you from being anxious.

  4. I get this too! I suffer with anxiety and it’s not as simple as choosing to not feel like that. Yes, it’s always good to try and see the positive but it isn’t that simple especially when your mind is on high alert and has convinced you something is wrong! Nice post x

  5. You described my whole life right here. I tried so hard to be that easy-going, “go with the flow” kind of person, and finally got to a point when I realized, who am I kidding? I don’t know if it’s all my anxiety, my personality, or maybe the anxiety has shaped my personality, but disrupted plans irritate me, disorder of any kind drives me crazy, and the worries I have about things that don’t matter are ridiculous.

    1. It’s so much harder to try to pretend to be something that you’re not anyway. I too have come to terms with the fact that I will never be as easy-going as I’d like to be.

  6. I am a pretty big believer in choosing happiness. I think this is because I am an optimistic person. However, even I get in slumps where I CAN’T choose to be happy. It’s harder than it sounds.

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