In February of this year, we launched an internship program called the SPARKing Change Leadership program wherein we hired 10 interns to join the SPARK team on a 10-month immersive learning and growing endeavor where they have a chance to explore their innate resilience and uncover their deepest potential. They are learning about their SPARK- the space in each of us that houses our resilience, well-being, potential and love. The space in which our creativity, innovation, solutions to problems, ideas, common sense, intuition, connection, and compassion comes from. The space that is always available to us, regardless of the happenings in our outside world. Throughout the program, our interns have a variety of opportunities to share what they are learning- in their own words, through their own unique insights.

This week, Emily Johnson shares her experience with anxiety and how she sees it through a whole new perspective. Her words are beautifully written and a great reminder that we are always okay, even when experiencing anxiety, we aren’t broken and our SPARK is always there.

Please enjoy.

Understanding My Anxiety – I don’t have to fix anything because I’m not broken.

Ordering dinner at a restaurant. Asking the receptionist at your doctor’s office for Wi-Fi. Answering a question in school. Making an appointment on the phone. Some of the most mundane acts that I thought people just breezed through so I thought it was so unfair that I couldn’t. I would try my best to avoid everything that made me uncomfortable and when I couldn’t it felt like I was putting myself in a life or death position. For the most part I would just get nauseous and feel shaky but when it came to things I really loved I would have a full blown panic attack. The people close to me that knew about my anxiety would always tell me one of two things, either “get out of your comfort zone and you will stop experiencing anxiety” or my least favorite “you can’t stop being friends with me because who will make phone calls for you.” I held these statements to be true but surprisingly it didn’t help, all it did was just make me feel like I had to hide my anxiety.

One of the first lessons I learned at SPARK was the perfect introduction for me because it finally allowed me to understand why I was so anxious all the time. I never really stopped to wonder why I would get a panic attack thinking about auditioning for the school play and instead settling with being in the ensemble. I just thought I was broken and that was the most miserable feeling in the world to me. “Why can’t I be normal” would repeat in my head every day. Then I got to practice teaching an activity where you write down something that you really want to accomplish and all of the things holding you back. I wrote about auditioning for the school play and after some reflection realized what was holding me back were what ifs, “what if people laugh at me,” “what if I think I’m good but I actually suck.” The last part of the activity which is my favorite part, is I got to write all of the amazing things that would happen if I auditioned anyway. I finally realized that I no longer needed to keep people around just because they would make the phone calls for me, I could do it myself. Of course I’m always going to think “what if they judge me, laugh at me, and hang up on me, but I know now that’s a what if. If I do make the phone call then I accomplish the goal of getting an appointment scheduled. So I guess the other statement people would always tell me about getting out of my comfort zone was true, right?

Wrong, and it was just a month ago when I realized that I didn’t need to get out of my comfort zone to be okay. I along with the other interns at SPARK were shown a video about a woman talking about her experience with panic attacks and anxiety whenever she would get too far away from her house. She thought getting out of her comfort zone enough times would allow her to be okay but she realized that even if she stayed in her comfort zone she would still be okay. The thing is back in high school when I stayed in my comfort zone I was okay, I still loved my life and had fun in high school despite not being the lead. Those two statements that people told me all of my life were wrong. Yes I do get out of my comfort zone sometimes but other times I let others make that phone call for me but I’m okay. Anxiety doesn’t just go away, there are going to be times when my anxiety is going to be high but I know how to help myself get in the right headspace. Even though I have anxiety I also have something else now. The knowledge to not think I’m broken anymore, not because I was “fixed” but because I was enlightened.