ambition anxiety self-care

On a chilly day in 2018, I walked out of the hospital and took a deep breath. I hadn’t zipped up my coat or wrapped my scarf around my neck before stepping out into the winter air, so eager I was to get out of that building and on with my day. I squinted at the sun as a cold breeze slid up my sweater and around my neck, feeling like life itself awakening me, inviting me back. Relief coursed through my body as I inhaled and exhaled with more hope than I’d been able to muster in months.

Walking into the hospital, I was prayed up and confident. But after being called back into the mammogram room three times for more photos, my courage wavered. After watching several women come in after me and leave before me without complications, I sat waiting for an ultrasound and possibly more tests, wondering what they saw and how to feel.

I wondered if I’d made myself sick with all my dreading and worrying. When you know that your thoughts create your life, and you also know that you’re thinking about awful things most of the time, you worry about what you’re attracting.

Pondering all the possible outcomes, I braced up. There were only two choices: love or fear. I thought: Whatever they tell me, I’ll be brave, I’ll have faith, I’ll choose love.

A week before, after discovering a sore, dense area in my right breast, I set up an appointment with my primary care doctor. She examined me then scheduled a mammogram for a week out.

For that week, I lived like each day was sacred, too sacred to spend in the labyrinth of anxiety and depression I’d been lost in for the last couple years.

“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” – Paulo Coelho

It’s hard to say, but I think I started losing hope in 2016. I’d been self-employed since 2013 and I was finally hitting my stride. That January, I declared it a year of abundance. I hosted more writing workshops that year than any other year. I was invited to speak at more conferences and groups than ever before. My kids were growing up and I was able to be at home with them while doing work I loved. But I was building my dream life on a shaky foundation. In my haste, I was more concerned about the finished product than the framework.

My ambition was loud and urgent and I was eager for results, so I didn’t make time for healthy habits and self-care. I just charged ahead, avoiding any structure that might dare to slow me down. When I started feeling overwhelmed, I thought maybe I should go to therapy, but I didn’t make time. When my thoughts got darker and more troubled, I knew how to redirect them, but I allowed them to seduce me. When sadness began to close in, I thought maybe I should be careful, slow down, but I didn’t. I refused to repair or even look at the cracks in my foundation, all I wanted to do was build. That year was abundant indeed, full of experiences, opportunities and warning signs that I ignored.

The act of creation can be addictive and become a single-minded obsession, especially when your livelihood is dependent on it. By 2017, I was burning out. The work had become my savior. I worshipped it and expected it to wash away my sins.

“Anxiety is part of creativity, the need to get something out, the need to be rid of something or to get in touch with something within.” – David Duchovny

Fueled by ambition and anxiety, I thought if I became a successful writer, I would no longer feel average. I would no longer struggle with anxiety. I would achieve financial freedom. I would find my wholeness and worth through this work. In my mind, it was all or nothing and it had to happen right away.

Anxiety and depression will distort your thoughts. Self-care cultivates positive feelings that recondition those thoughts. Everything I thought I knew about these things, I had to relearn. I’ve been reading and writing about mental health and self-care for years, but my knowledge didn’t help me when I wasn’t putting it to use in my own life.

Here again, I faced two choices. Continue to walk in fear that the next step I take would push me over the edge, or walk in faith that by doing the right things to keep myself well, I can keep the anxious episodes away and thrive.

In the past, my ambition was at odds with my wellness and that needed to change, starting with my habits.

“Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.” ― Leo Babauta

Self-care is any practice that feeds your mind, body and soul in a satisfying and healthy way. It could be a habit that clears your head like taking a walk in the morning or a boundary you set with your loved ones to protect your time alone. Being honest with ourselves, we have to do the inner work to find out what practices we need most, so when we come face to face with our fears, we can remember our center and rely on it. Healthy habits keep that center strong.

When I walked out of the hospital that day with a clean bill of health, it was like a spell had been broken.

At the very least, there was a shift. Marianne Williamson said, “A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love.” When I thought I might be facing a life-or-death fight, I could not afford to indulge in any doubt or dread or catastrophizing, I needed to raise my vibration for the challenge in front of me. This shift in perception put my priorities in place. I decided on a spiritual definition of success: to clear any and all energetic blocks that keep me from feeling good and creating abundance in my life.

Difficulties come and go but self-care keeps us rooted in purpose instead of circumstance. We have to prioritize our healthy habits all the time, not just to get through a crisis. Even if anxiety is a weak spot for me, I can choose to take the best possible care of myself. From there, no matter what comes, I can fight my best fight.

Originally published on Medium.