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By Daniel Scharpenburg

 

I have an anxiety disorder.

Most people can’t tell.

Or maybe I’m kidding myself and everyone can tell—I don’t know.

It’s obvious in the quiet moment when it seems I have nothing to say. Or when you’re telling stories and I’m just listening intently instead of waiting for my turn to speak (I hope you appreciate that I am a good listener).

I don’t do small talk very well and I’m always the quietest person in a crowd.

It started when I was a kid. It got worse when my parents died and for years it just kept getting worse and worse. My anxiety could have destroyed my life.

I learned how to manage it with meditation. That’s why I started meditating and that’s what led me into Buddhism. It took me a very long time to get to where I am now, and it was difficult.

To say I beat my anxiety would be wrong.

It’s always there and I know it will never truly go away. Sometimes it’s debilitating and sometimes it’s mild, but it’s never gone. I used to think I could get rid of it entirely but I know now that it is part of who I am.

I have anxiety.

If I don’t look you in the eye when I talk to you, you’ll know that’s why. And if I do look you in the eye, I hope you’ll feel special.

It’s why I don’t like to go to social events alone. I feel like I need someone there with me. I don’t get out much, but that’s fine. It’s also why I probably wouldn’t go anywhere without an invitation.

If you’re having trouble getting to know me, please be patient. Although that only applies in real life, because I don’t seem to have any anxiety on the internet.

Now, I wonder if someone is thinking, “You have anxiety? Don’t you teach?”

That is true.

I have been leading meditation classes for a few years now. I’ve taught in my home, in a Buddhist temple, at wellness centers, and at campgrounds. I’ve taught a variety of different people—many of them strangers. I’ve done all of this because I love what meditation has done for me, but that’s more like a  hobby.

I teach in my day job too.

I teach new people how to do my job and now I teach other instructors. I spend hours and hours helping people learn and adapt to the work environment.

That’s a lot of getting up in front of people and pretending to be comfortable and confident, isn’t it?

Why am I writing about this? Because to me teaching isn’t just a thing I do. It isn’t a regular task or a chore.

It’s an achievement.

This comparison isn’t fair, but to me teaching is like climbing a mountain. I do it at work and in my spare time. I teach about topics I love (spirituality) and topics I’m neutral on (work) and I think I’m pretty good at it.

I spend hours and hours in front of people talking for one reason only—to prove that I can.

Because people with anxiety like I have usually don’t do this.

But then they probably don’t usually write about it either.

 

Photo: thescienceofreality/tumblr

Editor: Dana Gornall

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Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher in Kansas City. He gives teachings Monday nights through the Open Heart Project, an online meditation community with over 20,000 members.

He went through facilitator training at the Rime Center in Kansas City, where he took Pratimoksha and Bodhisattva Vows. He was trained as a teacher and ordained in the Tsaotung Ch'an Tradition through the International Ch'an Buddhist Institute, where he took the Brahmajala Precepts.

Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and Youtube
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