Are you someone who is working very hard for a long time when it comes to managing their anxiety, but nothing seems to actually work?
This valuable post is by Erin Mahone.
As someone living with generalized anxiety disorder and working with clients managing anxiety, I’ve become adept at understanding the difference between fear and anxiety. They feel the same; in truth, anxiety wants us to believe it’s fear. Fear is a reaction to an actual threat. A bear, a mugger, a swarm of bees—these are things that it makes sense for us to fear.
Anxiety is the gift of being terrified, not knowing what of, and having it never go away. This nagging sense of dread can make us do ridiculous things if we don’t find adequate tools to keep us from spiraling.
When I began my career, I felt I had a lot to prove. All of my colleagues were very experienced, intelligent, and generally intimidating. I really loved the organization and I wanted to be a valued member of the team.
On the morning of a big meeting that I was facilitating, it felt important for me to look very professional. Most of the time we were a pretty casual office—but on that day I dressed up. I decided on a particularly flattering pair of black slacks and paired them with a chic print blouse. The only problem was my bra options for this particular shirt were limited because they were all lace creating lines under the shirt. The only smooth bra I had was from before I was a mother of two—it didn’t really fit. In a haze of desperation, I put on the old bra, went down to the toolbox, pulled out the duct tape, and taped the thing to oblivion. The girls had never felt so supported.
The day wore on and it came time to set up for the meeting. I pulled out all the supplies, loaded them onto a cart, and I also carried a large stack of papers. I got onto the elevator and was met by two of the women in my department. We were chatting when all of a sudden one of them got a strange look on her face and said—in a voice that felt extremely loud—“Do you have duct tape on your boobs?!?”
I look down to see that my shirt had come undone and there they were for all to see. I blushed vigorously, explained that I obviously needed to go bra shopping, all while frantically buttoning my shirt, still holding the stack of papers. My co-worker laughed, “Now that brings new meaning to holding it all together with duct tape.”
I was the butt of many a joke that night but the meeting went very well. The next day a select few dropped by my office to congratulate me on the meeting and to share a light jab about my unfortunate mishap. I find that so much of my life has been spent trying to look like I’ve got it all together and often I do appear that way—but whether literally or figuratively—so often I really am just holding it all together with duct tape.
After sharing this story at a recent presentation someone asked “Didn’t you have a camisole?” I did have a camisole yet my brain was so overcome with anxiety that I was beyond reason. I was blinded by perfectionism. Many years later I discovered what has come to be the central point of my work: Not one person on this earth was born with an instruction manual. Nobody knows what the hell they are doing.
Doctors lose patients, lawyers lose cases, branding experts create atrocities like “Puppy/Monkey/Baby.” In 2016 the smartest people in the room told us that Hillary Clinton would be President, and in 2012 the smartest people in the room told us Mitt Romney would be the President. The most educated, accomplished humans are just showing-up every day doing the best they can.
Sometimes it’s enough and other times it’s not. I could have locked “The Duct Tape Story” in my arsenal of shame and fed the monster in my brain that tells me I’m not good enough. At some point though, I got tired of being afraid that people would find out that I’m not perfect and instead I just came out to bask in the light of my imperfection.