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Part of Me

I read Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin, and there was one thought in the book that stuck with me.  The book is a series of emails back and forth between two siblings.  Harry admits that he’s feeling anxious because he can’t write: “It seems the more I want to make things, the less I am able to … When I want to write, I find I can’t even read.  It’s truly paralyzing” (p. 75).  He describes his anxiety as “an unfortunate distraction.”

Matilda answers, “I wonder if my life would feel empty without anxiety, like a central character from my life was suddenly absent.  Like there’d been a death” (p. 77).

If a genie popped out of our sugar bowl (it’s the closest thing we own that vaguely resembles a magic lamp… by which I mean that it doesn’t really resemble a magic lamp at all because it’s just a normal sugar bowl, but it has a lid.  So there’s that) and told me that I couldn’t make my own three wishes but he’d remove all of my anxiety, my knee-jerk answer would be, “hell, yes.”  I am an anxious person (cough, I’m sure you haven’t noticed) and my anxiety controls portions of my life.  I would love to be unshackled from my fears and worries.

But.

When I read this passage, I thought about how I would feel if I went through life without worries, without fears, without that underlying sense of dread that is part of my DNA.  I wouldn’t feel like myself.  I’d be like one of those casual, relaxed J Jill models, lounging against the wall with a dreamy smile on my face.  What wouldn’t get accomplished because I didn’t have my anxiety constantly driving me forward?  What wouldn’t get noticed because I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings?  What avoidable events would occur because I didn’t put fear-based safeguards in place?

All of those things seem like a small price to pay for daily worrying.

Because it’s one or the other: I don’t get all the benefits of anxiety with none of the drawbacks.  You can take anxiety as it is and use it well, but in doing so, you also have to experience that anxiety ramp up and residue.

Anxiety is a part of me.  It’s part of my personality and removing it would change who I am at my core.  I wouldn’t be Melissa.  I’d be… someone else.

I liked that idea from the book of a character missing.  I would be Seinfeld without George.  Friends without Chandler.  Those shows wouldn’t feel the same.

Would you get rid of a (mostly) negative personality trait?

12 comments

1 Raven { 07.19.17 at 9:42 am }

I have OCD which is essentially a hyper active anxiety disorder. However, until I was about 22 I didn’t even know what anxiety felt like…it took years for my OCD to manifest. Pre-OCD I was a give 110% to everything, NO REGRETS, no worries kind of girl. Then, one day, everything clicked into place and so began the vicious cycle of OCD/anxiety. Now it is a part of almost every minute of my life. I remember who I was without anxiety – I was free spirited, brave and natural…but with that came ignorance (or, rather, naivete), insensitivity, a degree of selfishness and recklessness.

I am much more wise, kind, aware, sensitive and gentle post OCD diagnosis and I truly think that is, in part, due to my anxiety (or, rather, the experience of the struggle with anxiety). As much as I miss the free spirit I was before anxiety, I wouldn’t trade the other positives I’ve gained for it at all… so I think I will keep my anxious self because, while exhausting, it is definitely worth it.

2 Karen { 07.19.17 at 9:48 am }

This totally goes along with the “what ifs” I’ve been thinking about! A good portion of my personality was changed when Amy died. If she hadn’t died, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I’d maybe have a completely different life.

And I LIKE the life I have.

So even though I love to consider who I would have been if she hadn’t died, if a genie popped up from my sugar bowl (actually, I’m not sure I even have a piece of china with a lid. So likely my genie would come from a Mason Jar or a tupperware container!) and offered to take it all back… geez, I don’t know.

I suppose I’d want to see first what my life would look like first.

(Heyyyyy, maybe that could be your wish – to see what it would be like without anxiety. Then you could make an informed choice!)

I do agree with you – you get good AND bad with something you consider a negative personality trait. With anxiety, I like to think that the flip side of it is that you really care. And caring is a really good thing, because it means you can really touch people that way.

3 Working mom of 2 { 07.19.17 at 9:52 am }

I dunno…I’d like to enjoy life, which sometimes I feel I’ve never really done, what with the worrying

4 torthuil { 07.19.17 at 11:19 am }

I don’t think I’d get rid of the anxiety altogether, but I’d like it to be in the background, not controlling my thoughts. Which is something I’ve managed to do, anyway, a lot of the time. I don’t see the emotions themselves as the problem, it’s the degree to which they are distorting other aspects of my personality. And I know that happens because there are things I do and experience that give me freedom, and when I experience that sense of freedom I understand how different things were before, how anxiety or some other cobwebby attitude was limiting my life.

5 Sharon { 07.19.17 at 2:00 pm }

I don’t know. Someone close to me suffered with severe generalized anxiety all his life. It was such a constant thing that he thought (like you) “this is just me.”

And then (for reasons too long to go into here) he went on medication to control the anxiety. It has been a few years, and he has expressed to me on numerous occasions how much happier he is without it. Happier in a way he never knew he could be, because the anxiety was so pervasive and long-standing that it was like a part of him.

This is not to say that he never worries — most of us worry from time to time — but now his anxiety does not consume the majority of his thoughts or dictate his reactions to things.

6 Sharon { 07.19.17 at 2:02 pm }

Oh, and to address your question: I have always been quick to anger/annoyance, and if I could change that trait in an instance, I would not hesitate.

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.19.17 at 3:34 pm }

Hmmmm….I think I would keep even what I call my “negative” qualities because, as you point out, they are ME.

However, you’ve made me ponder what the payoff is for some of them.

8 Noemi { 07.19.17 at 3:43 pm }

I don’t know. I have suffered from clinical depression since I turned 16 and while it absolutely makes up a huge part of who I am, I’d get rid of it if I could. Has it made me more empathetic and compassionate? Sure! But it also made it impossible to maintain meaningful friendships in the ways I wanted, and left dark marks on so many years of my life. Now my depression shares space with anxiety, oh and there is also ADD. I read some people’s blogs and they just seem so… much more content than I am. I think I’d rather be like that. And maybe if I weren’t always navigating mood disorders I could be.
I also think my kids and husband would be happier if I weren’t made to cycle through the lows of depression and the aggravation of anxiety. It effects them negatively and I hate that.

9 a { 07.19.17 at 3:57 pm }

What makes you think that it’s anxiety and not some other component of your personality that drives you to accomplish things? My husband lives with anxiety, and sure, it makes him busy all the time. But it also makes him make poor choices when he knows better. It makes him withdraw from society. It makes him impatient and suspicious of other people. Are the trade-offs worth it? I don’t know. (Note: He thinks the same way you do – that his anxiety is what makes him get so much done. Conversely, his mother, who is also filled with anxiety, is always doing something but never accomplishes anything. Anxiety just puts you in a constant fight-or-flight state – your response is a separate part of your personality.)

10 Turia { 07.19.17 at 6:04 pm }

So I am also a very anxious person. Q is not. But Q is much more concerned with the kids’ safety than I am because he spends less time with them (so he worries much more if they cough when eating or look like they might fall off the couch). I am not sure that you would be less vigilant if you didn’t have your anxiety.

As for me, I think I would choose to lose the anxiety. I have terrible imposter syndrome and Q doesn’t and I always marvel at how much easier it is for him in our work sphere because he doesn’t have anxiety constantly trying to drag him down with negative thoughts.

I also think it would be nice to be able to sleep on planes or in cars and not stay awake paralyzed with the fear that if I fall asleep I will wake up when the vehicle crashes.

11 jjiraffe { 07.20.17 at 10:47 am }

I think it depends on the severity. A debilitating mental illness is not the same as a personal quirk that makes someone who they are. Sometimes anxiety is a life-ruiner.

12 Deathstar { 07.20.17 at 12:30 pm }

I think that life without anxiety would be like a super power. I do not think anxiety makes you who you are or adds some special dimension to your personality( not in the sense I think you mean). I don’t think you would be any less vigilant, aware or motivated without it. I think life would just be different. What powers your pilot light would generate from a non fearful source, that’s all. Being a Buddhist has alleviated a lot of fears that hold me back but I can’t help but daydream about what life would be like if I could unshackle myself from my insecurities and doubts and really let loose!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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