I’m going to admit it – I’m in love with Elsa from Disney’s new movie, “Frozen”. I think she’s an amazing character who has a lot to teach kids about achieving their potential despite what anyone says about them and their abilities. Plus, she’s played by the incomparable Idina Menzel, which means that I was going to pay attention even before I knew what the movie was really about. Lastly, I have always had an interest in Norwegian culture, and the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” was one of my favourite fairy tales when I was little. For me, Elsa is the best Disney princess – and one of the strongest and most feminist.
But a big reason why I admire Elsa so much is because I’m pretty much just like her. I’ve written before about how I “conceal, don’t feel” emotion and that led to self-harming. I have written about my anxiety, most specifically, my emetophobia, that completely takes over my life sometimes and ends up being much bigger and harder to deal with than it should be. And Elsa’s that way – she has to learn to let go so that her anxieties don’t end up causing a big mess. That’s still something I’m learning how to do.
I started with stomach pain and nausea, at random times, back in October, when I travelled to London to visit my best friend. It was one night of feeling sick, and then it passed, so I figured that it was a one-off thing. Over the next four months, though, it started to get worse and worse, and more frequent. I was on medicine for my gastritis that didn’t appear to be doing anything, so I took myself off it, thinking it was just making things worse. Finally, this week, I gave in and went to the doctor for this nausea and stomach pain that was happening every single day. He diagnosed me with a potential ulcer, most likely caused by anxiety.
Winter is a hard time for me. I suffer from panic attacks and a general hatred of the dark and cold, despite the fact that I actually think winter is a beautiful time of year. The fact is, having emetophobia means that I am terrified of the very thought of nausea and vomiting. I am also overly obsessed with germs, diseases, and the transfer between human beings. I regard everyone as a potential threat. I end up being unable to eat a lot of foods because they activate my gastritis – which is already activated by my anxiety. It’s not a surprise to me that I potentially have an ulcer. I have been steadily more anxious since Christmas, and my anxiety has branched out from being terrified about being sick (triggered by the fact that I got the stomach flu last winter at this time) to being terrified about anyone finding out that I’m terrified about being sick. It’s a vicious, horrible cycle.
But I have found, through discussions with loved ones and friends, that the more I “conceal, don’t feel” my anxiety – the more that I pretend everything is fine and try to blame my symptoms on something else – the more my symptoms make themselves known. And then I catastrophize. What happens if I do get sick at work? What happens if people at work think that I’m lying or trying to get out of my duties? What happens if everyone thinks I’m insane? What if, what if, what if? It’s no wonder my stomach is eating itself raw!
So, I’m learning to let go. If that means I need medication, okay. I’ll have to be okay with that to be better. If it means I need therapy, again, okay. I need to take care of myself and get myself under control so that my anxiety doesn’t end up not only making me sick, but pushing everyone else around me away from me. Living with this phobia and these rituals and obsessions are hard, but they don’t have to control my life. I can be like Elsa – find a happy medium. I can be wary without being terrified. I can be careful without forgetting to look up to see where I’m going. I can learn to let it go.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve found my pulse quickening at my stomach warning me that the lemonade I just drank is not good for someone with an acute case of gastritis. I’ve felt my throat close, my nausea get bad, sweat break out on my forehead. But I’m concentrating on letting it go. Because it was a mistake and this too shall pass. My anxiety doesn’t have to be the winner. I can move on with my day without worrying about what potentially, and probably won’t, happen.
And I realize that when I make a concentrated effort to let it go, I enjoy my life a lot more. I went shopping yesterday and didn’t think about germs on surfaces once. I didn’t compulsively wash my hands 20 times yesterday – I kept it to necessary times only. And I realized that I like being happier – I like being someone who doesn’t have to worry. Who doesn’t have to be hyper-vigilant. Take it from me: hyper-vigilance is exhausting.
It gives me hope that I’ll be able to fling my arms wide one day and not care about them touching a dirty surface. That I’ll be able to eat strange food without worrying about where and how it was cooked. And that I’ll be able to feel a “wrong” feeling in my body and not immediately think that the worst will happen.
I think – I hope – that by the time spring comes, I will have learned to let this anxiety, this fear, and the strength of this phobia go.