Girl Talk: Anxiety attacks!

Girl Talk: Crippling indecision, anxiety & getting wisdom

"'Happy is the man who... gains understanding.' " Proverbs 3:13

A few nights ago I suffered the kind of anxiety attack that left me gasping for air, unable to sleep and wishing my dad was there to chase the baddies away (Husband dutifully rubbed my back). It was a mounting attack, two weeks in the making (or maybe a lifetime!) that had its roots in one of my major shortcomings – the inability to make a choice.

You might expect that a girl nearing 30 had made enough decisions to amount to the kind of life experience that would help her discern when something is going to be beneficial and when it is not. Well, not in my case! (Or, apparently, in the Duchess of Windsor's). At least, not when it comes to big-picture, really important stuff.

Oh, yes, I can pick a meal off a menu in a nanosecond, walk into a store and out within 15 minutes with an outfit, purchase a song off iTunes or settle on which film to see on impulse, buy a birthday gift without a care – I am finely in tune with my sense of style and taste to the point of being utterly relaxed about it.

But other decisions I am much less confident about. Part of this is due to perfectionism – those Choose Your Own Adventure stories of our youth? I would read both outcomes. Editing down beauty product to feature on an editorial page? Let's shoot everything! Editing down a month's worth of books to four to review? Lock me up in a padded room and deny me sharp objects.

I have mostly cruised through life taking the path most expected or wherever the wind swept me – I have fallen into most of my relationships with men out of convenience or a fleeting flirtation with their physical form with little regard for their suitability; I have drifted into very nice jobs mostly on my ability to string a few charming words together; and my approach to financial management has been laissez faire or short-term at best. I think I missed the classes in school titled How To Be a Proper, Responsible Grown-Up.

I don't think I'm a stupid girl, but I also don't think I'm particularly wise, either (Fergie could relate). Though I'm morally quite sound and firm, when it comes to the big-ticket stuff – my happiness, relationships and health – I often trip over myself on the way to taking the wrong path. And often that wrong path is the one lined with the promise of pleasing other people or Living to My Potential (it certainly hasn't been lined with 500,000 pound bribes!).

In today's post-feminist world I, like many women, am spoiled for choice – there are just so many options! A while back, I penned a piece for Cleo about ambition for which I spoke to Courtney E. Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, who said:

"I believe that this generation of girls was raised with the message, "You can be anything," and somehow heard "I have to be everything." This mistranslation was in the modeling--our mothers were, more often than not, total superwomen. We watched them and learned that femaleness was about being caring, powerful, dynamic, beautiful, and yes, pretty damn exhausted...

The quest for effortless perfection is making us achieve at unparalleled rates (we outnumber men on college campuses by 2 million!), but it's also causing unprecedented rates of anxiety, depression, and eating disordered behaviors. We have largely lost sight of happiness in a haze of our own insatiable ambition."

Most recently, a career option (or two) has presented itself and I've been near-paralysed by it: wanting to do the right thing by my prospective employer, but also aware of my own needs and the conviction I have about keeping this here blog bubbling along, as well as my marriage – nothing ruins a relationship quite like a stressful job! – and developing other professional prospects. How many balls can I juggle before they all fall down (ring around the rosy, a pocketful of posies...)?

A friend of mine once advised "bite off more than you can chew and chew it". In some ways I agree with this idea of diving right in and taking on the world when doors are opened. But I really wonder whether it's worth killing yourself in the process (not literally, hopefully). A couple of wise slightly older friends of mine have been quite influential in the development of my thinking in this area – three of them have recently cut back on work commitments in favour of family and down-time, or simply because it no longer felt right.

We can't all be go-getting, Gucci-clad power women tackling project after project on the climb to the top (of what, I'm not sure). Nor can we all emulate the "portfolio" careers of women in the public spotlight (everyone from J.Lo to Garance Dore), who often have extra help on the home/work front. And how terribly boring the world would be if we did.

"Everyone is evolving to portfolio careers or slash careers, depending on your favorite nomenclature, " says Courtney. "Life should be measured--not on dress size, salary, or awards - but on joy, fulfillment, and relationships."

It's sort of ironic that someone who can talk in front of hundreds of people and not feel intimidated, who doesn't blink when having a needle injected, should suffer this kind of crippling anxiety. One thing I know is I'm not alone (in addition to friends, the Bible is absolutely littered with stories of angst) and I will reach safer shores and still waters, hopefully with some newly acquired wisdom in my pocket, and without losing my pants...

"'Do not permit yourselves to be fearful...' " John 14:27

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Talia Cain said...

Erica! Stop reading my mind. Pls kthx. I am battling with this at the moment, competing wants (travel, looking into a new career, debts, etc etc - too complicated to bore anyone with!) and it leaves me paralysed with fear of making the wrong decision.

I hope it all turns out as it should for you.

Lara McPherson said...

This is all sooooo familiar to me right now.
I am at a point where I need to make some real decisions about where I want to go and I am conscious - for once - of making sure I do what I really want to do. This has meant leaving a well paying job to pursue my dreams, but doesn't mean every little decision that gets me there is easy... On the contrary.
I am not at all surprised to find so many women I encounter in this exact position at the moment. How is it that being able to do what we want and to decide our own fate is causing so much stress?
I stumbled on a book called Affluenza which I found really interesting. It pinpoints exactly how I'm feeling, goes a way to discussing how to deal with this situation, and stopped me feeling guilty about whinging about having too many choices.
I hope it might help anyone else who is in the same tight spot.
Thanks for the post. Always helps to hear that others are tackling these problems too.

Dannielle said...

Oh my, it's like you've been reading my mind! I've just started a new life path and am paralysed with the fear that I'm going to do the wrong thing!

Thank you for sharing, I hope your decision becomes clearer.


Anonymous said...

Affluenza is a great kick up the butt! So is A New Earth (if you can make it through) and The Happiness Trap.
All talk about the importance of living in the moment and not worrying about what others think (because mostly, they are thinking about themselves and NOT you, anyways...)
Thanks for your honesty, Erica - and for saying what so many other feel :)

Lizzie said...

Seriously - how do you know to write Girl Talk on a topic every week that is wildly appropriate?? :) Thanks for the personal insight and reminder. I constantly keep having to tell myself to relax and not make choices in a state of panic!

Anonymous said...

I hope that whatever is worrying you goes away soon and that you make the right decision for you. (In saying that, I don't want you to give up this blog - I love it!)
I read a quote on the website the Wellness Warroir that you posted about, it said "Don't worry. Everything is going to be amazing."
I think that quote is really good and it helps me when I have anxiety (which is often.)
I Hope you feel better Erica.
Also a quote from the bible "Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day have enough trouble of its own." I love that quote too!

Miss M said...

just my little two cents: nothing is forever. why not try this new opportunity and see where it takes you? you have nothing to lose. you have a three month trial period right? it's for you as much as the employer... why not give it a go and trial the job for three months? you might love it! or hate it. but just take a leap! my favourite saying is "jump and the net will appear". always works for me!!! and remember - whatever decision you make it will be the right one for you! believe in yourself xxx

Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman said...

Oh Erica. I hope you're doing a little better now. *hugs*

It's funny. I don't think I actually believe in "wrong decisions" - or at least, I believe that every decision can be modified in the future to be the "right" one, so long as it fits in line with your values.

From what I know of how much you do already, my thought is that you're probably already biting off as much as you can chew - I wouldn't take on more if you want to stay sane or happy.

As for which of the many paths that lay ahead is best for you? I find my gut hasn't led me in the wrong direction yet. What "feels" right usually is right.

Anonymous said...

I think it all comes down to our identity. I'm reading a great book at the moment called 'Can I have and do it all please?" by Chris Caine.
She says:
" I must make sure I have a constant awareness of who I really am, outside of all the different things I do - At times, we can take our eyes off who we really are through Jesus Christ, and look instead to our function, title or what we do. ..take the time to stop for a moment, focus on God's voice and remind ourselves who we really are..."
When our identity is in Christ, a lot of that anxiety will fade away...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Erica. I so needed to hear this right now!

Camilla Peffer said...

It's really great to know that there are other women out there feelings the exact same way I do right now. The other night I too had an anxiety attack (finance related). The majority of my attacks are driven by a feeling of inadequacy, like, why haven't I published a book? Am I doing enough extra-curricular activities? Did I really only just a Distinction and not a HD?! Measuring happiness is hard. But I'm starting to learn that running through life at a billion miles an hour is no way to live.

Kaitlyn said...

Erica, I love how honest you are with your readers. I have just have just finished a pretty grueling recruitment process, but instead of enjoying that have already lurched to the fear that comes from waiting to find out the outcome - and realising what that outcome will mean for my life. I think the comments here make it so clear that we are not alone - I don't think it makes us bad, just human.

I also love you quote from Courtney - I believe that this generation of girls was raised with the message, "You can be anything," and somehow heard "I have to be everything." - it is so true of how I see things, and how I believe that the world is too hard on feminism. Speaking of which, have you checked out Courtney's writing @ Feministing - it is always this insightful, she is a pretty amazing chick!