I hated it so much I remember waking up on holiday one night and just wanting to grab a knife and cut out that tight, stifling, all-encompassing feeling of fear that held me in its grip 24/7. It kept me stuck, it blurred my view and basically ruined my life.
It wasn’t until I began taking anti-depressants that I could function again. But then every other year I’d try to come off of the pills for the sake of wanting to be normal, of not needing the chemical happiness and be just like everyone else. I felt stupid for needing them, so every time I felt slightly better, I’d discuss getting rid of them again with my GP.
For a while I’d be fine; happily enjoying my new, fresh, pill-free life.
And then, after some months, the anxiety came creeping back in through the cracks, through the gaps, through the holes in my self-esteem. And I’d be devastated, having a go at myself in the mirror: ‘I’m not going to let you back in, don’t even think about it – go AWAY!’
And of course, in no time, the anxiety took back all control and I was back to square one.
The last time this happened I was reading 'Wherever You Go, There You Are' by Jon Kabat Zinn. There was a chapter on self-compassion in there and I realised that by not taking the pills, I was actually doing myself a disservice. Why didn’t I just allow the help from this wonderful invention and give myself what I needed in order to be able to live normally?
I started taking them again and don’t regret it for one bit. It allowed me basically live my life again and to tap into that self-compassion more and more – until the point where I saw that I wasn’t happy in my relationship anymore and was missing every kind of fun in my life.
An inevitable break up led to a sea of possibilities in which I could ask myself: now what?
I felt the need to be in a place where I felt good, seen and loved and for me that had always been Italy. I moved there a year later. My life evolved quickly and my happiness increased substantially. And on my second birthday there I gave myself the gift of lovingly letting go of the pills that had supported me towards this point.
This point where I had chosen myself, my own happiness and my own freedom – and I was loving every minute of it. I haven’t felt the need for the pills ever again because I was doing what fulfilled me. This doesn’t mean I’ve never felt anxious, afraid or a big tight knot in my stomach over the past years. But by working on myself, doing my coaching training and experimenting loads with getting out of my comfort zone.
I’ve learned to see fear for what it is: a feeling.
The thoughts our minds come up with create a feeling of anxiety that we want to eradicate by thinking it away. What happens here is that we fight our mind with our own thoughts. That’s like hitting yourself in the head and expecting to feel better. And that doesn’t really work obviously.
What does work is developing a sense of awareness, through mindfulness practice for example, and seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are: changing phenomena that come and go in our lives. The moment we attach ourselves to them, dive in or pick a fight, they feel important and their egos blow up instantly.
Whatever you pay attention to grows.
You actually feed your mind’s rambling by trying to convince it otherwise, you actually intensify your feelings by trying to shoo them away, you actually become unhappier by forcefully trying to be happy all the time. Suppressing, avoiding or eradicating your thoughts and feelings generates the opposite.
So what’s the alternative?
Space. Give them the space they need and just allow them to be there, in whatever form they present themselves. Let them go – not by willing them to go – but because you don’t hold on to them anymore.
Do the things you really care about, focus on them fully.
Acknowledge the so-called negative thoughts and feelings, but don’t let them dictate your steps. Let your values guide you and do what you really feel like doing. Only your actions will show your sabotaging thoughts and crippling feelings that it’s you who’s in the front seat – and not them.
So the funny thing about fear is that it’s there – and it always will be – but it doesn’t have to stop you from doing anything anymore. It’s just a feeling and once you’re able to hold it in your awareness and just let it sit there, you can move onwards regardless of your fear.
And that opens you up to anything, since the only limit you’ll have is the sky itself.
Sophie Kruijsdijk is a life coach who helps ambitious women move from fear to freedom with her unique coaching programme Take the Leap.