I’ve been a worrier for years, but in recent times, I’ve learned that it’s okay if I can’t make things go my way. In fact, there’s very little outside of myself that I can control. Realizing and accepting this has been a blessing for me, as it’s put me on the path to more peace in my life.
How Did I Get Here?
I grew up in Southern California with two parents and five siblings. Two of them were half siblings that I saw every so often, but the rest I shared a household with. I have always been a quiet, introverted person, and somehow life thought it would be funny to make me the oldest of three extroverted, rambunctious young people. Not only did I have to cope with living with siblings so radically different than myself, but my family life was further complicated by dysfunctional parents. Though he did try to be better, my father was an angry man with a lot of unresolved emotional issues. My mother was protective of us, yet passive about my father’s verbal and physical abuse.
On top of all the growing pains that teens usually go through, we also had to deal with my father’s anger and the constant arguments between my parents. As a consequence, my brother and sisters got into the habit of taking their frustrations out on me, the quiet overweight one. I was constantly walking on eggshells and hiding myself to avoid being verbally or physically abused by my family. Eventually this manifested as depression and anxiety.
As an adult, the patterns I learned stayed with me. I worried constantly and suffered mightily with depression. I got married at a young age to a man who was very much like my father in temperament. With my husband, it seemed I could never do anything right, which sunk me even deeper into depression and anxiety.
My worry problem became very clear to me when I would talk about my problems (read: scenarios I invented in my mind) to some of my more level-headed friends. Sometimes they’d just chuckle and tell me to stop worrying so much. Do I really worry too much? I would wonder. Eventually I concluded that I did, but I had no idea what to do about it.
Over time my marriage got so bad that I was falling apart at the seams. Not a week would go by that we didn’t have a major blow-up about something. My anxiety got so intense I had to file for disability insurance and take time off of work. I could barely function. But I determined that during my time off, I would figure out how to get my life back.
I went to therapy for a while, which was helpful, but then my husband lost his job. I no longer had insurance, and had to stop attending. I looked online and found a weekly self-help group that was held at a nearby behavioral health center run by Los Angeles County. I started attending the meetings. The group leaders and other members were very welcoming. I went in not knowing what to expect, but the things I learned really helped to steer my life into a more positive direction.
Distressing But Not Dangerous
There was a book that we read in the group called “Peace of Body, Peace of Mind” by Rose VanSickle. From that book I learned various tools, which were short statements meant to take you out of worry mode and put you back into reality. One of the first tools I learned was “Nervous symptoms and sensations are distressing but not dangerous.” It meant that even if my heart was pounding, my limbs felt numb, and I was sure that I was going to pass out, I wasn’t in any real danger. That thought alone kept me from mentally working myself up into a state that I didn’t need to be in.
Beginnings of Healing
What made that self-help group so valuable to me is that it taught me how to deal with my thoughts in a more practical way. It was my first exposure to the idea that I could control my thoughts. It would be a few more years before I could come to the next part of my development, which was being able to move on from the past occurrences that had instilled so much fear in me. I would go through even more trauma, heartaches, and pain that would make my emotional problems almost unbearable. That included a divorce, a string of emotionally abusive relationships, and ultimately being estranged from my father.
I was also betrayed in big ways by people I’d really trusted. Looking back, I believe that I was destined to go through those things because I wasn’t dealing with the root cause of my emotional problems.
Trusting Something Bigger Than Myself
Like a lot of black Americans, I grew up in a Christian church. But as I got older, I found the doctrine I was raised with was too staunch and no longer served me. My faith had always meant a lot to me, so losing it was a big blow to my life. I’ve spent over a decade trying to fill that void with something that made more sense. I was an agnostic for years, though I explored different belief systems like Buddhism and Santeria.
Although I did have a desire to connect to something spiritually, it wasn’t until I was at the very end of my rope that something clicked into place. My mother had decided to move with me overseas, and six years after she and my dad split up, she got married again. He swept her off her feet in a big way, but then turned out to be a manipulative abuser. A year after their marriage, he kicked me out of our home in order to have more control over my mother.
That was a very dark time in my life. I was still suffering from depression, so I found it very hard to live on my own. I had been taking antidepressants but with all my new expenses, I had to choose between buying the medicine and buying groceries. I was barely making a living as a freelance writer.
After being “exiled,” it was a series of seemingly random events that lead to me finally being open to surrendering to God again, even though I’d felt betrayed by the Divine for so long. One day, after a particularly difficult exchange with my landlord, I simply said out loud “I need for you to be there. I really do.” And I seriously meant it. After that, I came across a newsletter I’d forgotten I subscribed to. It was a spirituality mailing list I signed up for when I had been really into “The Secret.” Reading it convinced me that I was being taken care of, and that my prayers hadn’t gone unheard.
Looking back, I realize that people and things had been showing up in my life just when I needed them. I started to see order in seemingly random or lucky occurrences. I started to feel protected. I was given a choice between worrying and trusting in something bigger than myself. I had no other options. So I chose to trust.
Not long after that, my mother’s awful husband moved out of the house. I moved out of my apartment and returned home to be with my mother. Ever since then, I’ve been in a time of intense growth. I no longer worry like I used to because I see my life in a different context. I view my life as a series of lessons to be learned, and if I don’t learn something the first time around, I’ll go through it again in one form or another until I do. It’s like what Oprah says:
“Your life is always speaking to you. First in whispers. It’s subtle, those whispers. And if you don’t pay attention to the whispers, it gets louder and louder…
That’s not to say that I don’t worry at all. The difference now is that I’ve learned to close my eyes, breathe, and say “God, I trust you to work this out.” My confidence that everything will work out has been boosted by feeding my mind with positivity.
I started listening to teachings and talks by people like Michael Beckwith and Lisa Nichols. Before that, I had been a self-help junkie and was really into people like Tony Robbins, Les Brown and Steve Pavlina. I also limit the amount of time I spend on social media and have pretty much given up on reading and watching the news.
I saw an online therapist for about a month after I got kicked out, which was very helpful. I’m thankful for the internet and also the great people who have helped me both on and offline to make my life better.
Something else I did was to get back to rebuilding my self-esteem. I recently returned to school to earn a business degree and am revamping my freelance writing business to make it more profitable. I’ve also undertaken the daily process of forgiving myself for the past mistakes I’ve made. I’m also forgiving people who have contributed to my worry habit; not because they deserve it, but because I want to have peace of mind and move on from the past.
You Can Heal From Worry
My best advice for overcoming worry is to work with a therapist. Mental health professionals have unique insight into the human mind that can be of great help to you.
If you can’t afford a therapist, find alternatives that work for you until you can. I’d to suggest journaling with journal prompts designed to help you heal from the things that lead to your worrying habit.
And, if you feel so inclined, ask God or whatever you consider to be the Higher Power of the universe, to open your eyes to life and all its possibilities. Ask for help in healing from your past, and finding things to be happy about and grateful for in your present. I truly do believe that if you give attention to these things, you’ll find that more of them start to appear in your life.
Though I can’t make any guarantees, I can promise that life can be wonderful and bigger than your worries. If you’re ready to take that journey from worry to peace and joy, I can say for sure that it’s possible to get there. The transformation that you undergo along the way will be well worth the outcome.
Tiffany Howard is a freelance writer and “results-driven copywriter and blogger”. You can visit her website here: http://hellotiffy.xyz/