“Quiet people have the loudest minds.” ~Stephen Hawkin
I have wonderful family and friends and have always hoped that I would pass along a helpful legacy. Lessons for them to remember, memories to smile about, and love to lean into during hard times. For years, though, it seemed like the biggest thing I was passing down to my exhausted wife, flustered and at times terrified kids, and friends was my struggles with anxiety.
As my anxiety grew and the panic attacks came, I grew apart from those I needed the most. Hard for a son and wife to connect to a dad that acts like a bear coming out of hibernation. Grumpy and pissed off. Looking for a fight. Friends being ignored because the alcohol was effortless and it made no demands.
My home was not what it should have been, but unfortunately it was what I made it. Expecting the teen to be an adult just like my parents expected of me. Home to a wife who feels she can barely hold the family together and walks on eggshells when she really needs comfort. Friends cut out because they refused to be an on-call counselor.
But things changed. As I healed myself through intense counseling and self-care practices, I started to close that gap in family relationships and build a bridge. A bridge built on self-care and self-love. I started to reconnect with friends and be a better listener. I learned that I could give love only after I loved myself.
The struggles with alcohol and bullying that I once cursed became a blessing. I discovered they gave me plenty to share and a potentially wonderful legacy of strength and love. My struggles made me a better dad, a better husband, and ultimately a better friend and person.
These three reasons are why I am grateful for my anxiety.
More coping skills to share
Like a master carpenter passes along his woodworking tools, I now have lots of self-care skills to pass along to my son for his anxious times or my wife for her high-stress job. I can teach them how to meditate or suggest daily journaling. I can instill a love of Mother Nature.
Perhaps the biggest thing I can now show those I care about is how to ask for help. I was terrible at this and often used alcohol to try and avoid the feelings of being totally overwhelmed and dull the anger. Through my journey, I have learned to ask for help, with the first step being going to a counselor.
Share your skills and experiences with your family and friends. You did not go through this anxiety-driven hell to not make a difference.
Greater awareness of stressful triggers
Many of my youngest son’s triggers are like mine. Neither one of us are big on schedule changes and get overwhelmed when things get extremely busy. Because I see these triggers in me, I can now see them in him.
I can offer my wife a proactive hug or a warm “love you” before the tears and dig into the self-care toolbox that we have created. I am there for her more than ever because I am now more aware. Growing up, no one saw my struggles and I wish they had.
My anxiety brought me in greater attunement with the emotions of my family and friends. Pay attention and be there when they need you and the triggers are there.
Growing up my parents constantly told me to “just relax.” This advice makes me sick to my stomach because it simplified something they did not understand. A token phrase unattainable in the midst of the emotional storm.
I know my wife and kids and just about everyone would love to be stress-free. But “just relax” is a meaningless phrase when our bodies are trembling. Understanding anxiety is a runaway locomotive, I can be more compassionate and understanding.
I learned to just listen instead of freaking out hell bent on firing off nasty emails. I don’t have the answers to fix everything that goes wrong for those I love, but I have the love to support them in everything they do. I discovered I may not be able to solve the issue, but I can stop myself from adding to the emotional turmoil with threats and gaslighting moments.
I never wished to be nearly incapable of functioning at times because of anxiety, but it happened. I always wanted to be the best husband and family man possible. The one who didn’t make the angry Grinch seem like Mother Theresa on the holidays. I ruined many a festive occasion with my lashing out.
Now I believe my legacy is of change. Change not in the ability to love but to show love. Thankfully, my family and friends never stopped showing theirs.
About Martin Gagnon
Martin Gagnon, a certified meditation and mindfulness instructor and founder of Mellow Mainer Meditation, recognizes the stress relief of meditation and outdoor activity. His organization combines one-on-one meditation coaching and guided nature excursions. More information about his services can be found at www.mellowmainermeditation.com. An avid hiker and nature enthusiast, Marty loves to spend time outdoors. He also loves blues music and watching old Bob Ross episodes. Happy little trees are cool.