I have suffered from severe anxiety since I was a child and let me tell you, it is a bitch. Something that I didn’t realize, initially, is that anxiety and guilt are best friends. Much of my anxiety is attached to the notion that I have done something terribly wrong, whether I actually have or not. Incidences of wrongness that I have exhibited in my past continue to haunt me to this day. Something that I remind myself of whenever these memories creep up on me is that the guilt caused by anxiety is fake news.
In elementary school, we held a yearly celebration of our school spirit aptly named, Spirit Day. It was fun, but during my fourth grade Spirit Day, I did something that continues to make me feel guilty. Some boys that I was friends with were standing around and laughing at a disabled boy, who I had never met. When I walked over to see what was going on, they showed me that when they pulled a leaf from a nearby tree and handed it to the boy, he ate it. They continued to laugh and I laughed with them.
I relive this shameful memory, often. It is something that I have never been able to forgive myself for. My anxiety fuels my guilt and my feelings spiral, until my only focus is what an awful person I am for what I have done.
But here’s the truth: I was nine years old and children can be incredibly insensitive. There is nothing that I can do to make amends for this. As we grow and mature, we will all have things that we have done that breed guilt and that’s okay! (It is humanizing and a good indication that you are not a heartless psychopath.) We must learn from these mistakes and if given the opportunity, apologize. Anxiety has a bad habit of latching onto the things that you are most embarrassed by and have no control over and magnifying them until all of the good things that you have ever done are erased; you can only see this one incident that, in the grand scheme of things, most likely does not matter.
Maria Bamford is my favorite comedian and she said something on her album, Ask Me About My New God!, that has always resonated with me: “‘I’ve done some other, horrible, unforgivable thing.’ There are 6 billion of us. Google it: someone has done exactly what you’ve done and is currently on a book tour. You’re never alone!”
When having feelings of extreme anxiety and guilt, it is important to remember that anxiety is an asshole and as Maria says, someone else has done much worse. Keeping a healthy perspective is incredibly important when battling anxiety, the guilt it brings, and it’s manipulated version of reality. Always remember that it is never as bad as it seems!