Much to my dismay, I’ve been feeling a familiar brand of anxiety. I haven’t talked about it much, but it feels like I should so I will. In November of 2014, I started feeling intense anxiety. I would make it through work and then rush home to my dogs. We would all three sit on the bed, and I would hug a pillow and stare into space. It was the only way I could get comfortable.
After some spontaneous crying jags – in which I’d be feeling perfectly normal and engaged in a pleasant conversation and then tears would steam down my face – I finally sought help from my favorite doctor. I’ve been his patient since I was a teenager. And he always listens. By the end of the month, I was over the crying and I could function without a pillow pulled to my chest.
Somewhere between the day I put the pillow down and my first day of work at a temporary office position that December, I started thinking about the things that weren’t working in my life. I wanted to fix a few problems so I wasn’t dwelling on them anymore. I thought that if I removed certain issues from my life, then I could keep the anxiety at bay, maybe forever.
The biggest issue was my student loan debt. A year earlier, I’d declared bankruptcy, which eliminated almost all of my consumer debt. I’d experienced excruciating anxiety around that event, as well, but without the tears and the pillow. I thought that if I could become debt free, I’d feel more free.
I started my temp gig and considered starting a blog to track my progress. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I chose a name and bought the URL. I got my paychecks from my temp gig and sold a few things on Craigslist and made my first “monster payment” toward my student loan debt. I signed up for Twitter and found other folks who were aggressively paying off their debt. I read their blogs. I commented on their posts. They commented on mine. And before I knew it, I was a part of a very supportive community.
I made HUGE progress in 2015. And it was a banner year. I hiked. I traveled. I accepted my dream job. It was incredible.
And I don’t remember one day of the intense anxiety at all in that year.
In the second month of 2016, I paid off the student loan debt for good. In the fourth month, I bought a house. It needed some immediate cosmetic work in order for it to feel like a place I’d live. I put a good chunk of money into it. I even lived as a nomad for almost a month while the floors were refinished.
Summer ended and school started. I kept paying attention to the house. Since I wasn’t blogging about debt anymore, I felt lost on my website. I kept trying to decide what to do next. I made a lot of lists. One day in early November, it dawned on me that I didn’t have to keep my financial life and my literary life separate, and it might benefit me to let go of a site that I liked but never worked on. I decided to merge my separate selves. It felt like the right thing to do.
Thanksgiving came and went. Over the long weekend, I sat on my sofa with my dogs and I read books. I watched television. I wrote essays. In my kitchen, I cooked meals and washed dishes. In my utility room, I did laundry. In my house, I felt at home.
And then, not a week later, anxiety comes for a visit. It’s not as intense as it was in 2014, but it’s definitely present .
At first, I tried to excuse its presence. It’s been a strange few weeks, and even stranger in my city after a campus attack. Everyone feels unsettled. It’s also getting darker earlier, and I am a poster child for seasonal affective disorder. I’m also out of my heavy dosage Vitamin D.
I recently bought a digital subscription for a friend. She emailed me to ask what she owed me, and I replied, “It’s a gift!” It dawned on me, then, that maybe, just maybe, the anxiety isn’t something to excuse. Or endure.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s a gift.
After all, it was the anxiety that led to Dream Beyond Debt. I sat with the anxiety and I listened to it. It revealed that something in my life needed to change, and when I took action to change it, I had one of the best years of my life.
So maybe, just maybe, there’s a gift in this anxiety, as well. Maybe it’s trying to tell me something. My only option is to listen. Listening has brought great things before. And in that tiny shift, my anxiety isn’t something to fear. It’s not a nuisance. I may even be feeling excited to see it again.
Because it can lead to good things. It can be a gift, if I’m open to receive it.