When I encounter competing deadlines (and subsequent fears of inadequacy), I have trouble seeing past the experience. It helps to talk with my PhD mentor as these concerns build — when the waves of anxiety crash so violently that I feel pulled under and sleep fails to arrive. She listens when I’m struggling and continues to remind me that I’ve gotten through these situations before — sometimes in response to my distressed text messages sent in the midst of looming projects.
I hold onto others’ words and faith in my abilities when I doubt myself. I adapt conversations I’ve had with the supportive people in my life — therapeutic figures, PhD mentor, and close friends — into monologues I can reread (and eventually internalize) when I’m feeling stuck.
“I don’t want to push you to see this image of yourself — a strong, competent woman who’s been through and dealt with a lot this year — but I see her, and I suspect other people in your life do as well. Someday you will too.”
“You will get through this. Just one day at a time. And those of us who support and care about you, we are here for you as life keeps happening.”
It’s helped to have people in my life I can talk with when I’m feeling stuck. I’ve had a lot of these conversations via text and email, probably because I can write the gist of my concerns and ask for help before I stop myself from doing so. I have an easier time transferring my worried thoughts to written words rather than trying to insert these concerns into real-time dialogue.
Before I started talking with other people about my muddled thoughts and feelings, I journaled nearly every day. When I started therapy, I brought these pages with me as a way of sharing what I felt unable to verbalize. These days, I’ll ask my friends and mentors to read sections of my poetry notebook when I don’t know how to say what’s been going on in my head. In doing so, I invite my conversation partner to meet me in the midst of my worries.
When asked how I’m doing these days, I often reply, “I’m managing.” I’m reminded of the passage in A Wrinkle in Time in which Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit describe tessering. I feel like that ant sometimes as I navigate these felt and known realities: I’m making progress in my academic and social-emotional world, even when I feel stuck and afraid of the future. I imagine myself falling apart, but then I don’t. In the midst of these fears, I do the next thing and act as if I will be okay.
I’m trying to let go of the idea that I’m supposed to be calm amongst anxiety-provoking scenarios. Long before I learned I met diagnostic criteria for GAD, I described myself as a worrywart. I’m currently living in a perfect storm of interpersonal and academic stressors, and yet I’m grateful for the people I’ve found who know my struggles don’t negate my abilities. That community helps me tesser.