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.
Editor: Dana Gornall