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The Never-Ending Game of Mercy

I remember as a kid playing the hand wrestling game Mercy with my older brother. Inevitably I would cry “mercy! mercy!” as he twisted my hands, and he would taunt me in that special brotherly way, “New rules! We changed the name of the game, the new password it isn’t mercy, start guessing!”

That is how I feel today. Like I am screaming “mercy,” and the universe is saying, “Nope, we changed the rules; new password needed.”

The collective anxiety is at a fever pitch. An increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations as we enter the holiday season, combined with an unknown election outcome here in the states, has left me and most people I know in a state of anxiety. Never mind that we were already screaming mercy back in August—the hits keep coming.

So often, I feel like I am the reality checker for my clients. Living with High Functioning Anxiety means we have impossible standards for ourselves. We tell ourselves we must be happy, be grateful; it’s not that bad; why are we struggling so much? It’s no big deal.

Here is a reality check. It is hard right now. It is anxiety-producing. Everything is 1000 times harder. You are not broken. You are not weak. You are not ungrateful or a loser. You are a human living through a very challenging time.

There are two parts to reducing anxiety:

  1. Acknowledging what you are experiencing without judgment: allowing yourself to FEEL what is under the anxiety, not pushing it down or belittling yourself for it but allowing it.
  2. Stress management techniques: deep breaths, stretching, practicing mindfulness or meditation, slowing down, going for a walk, getting into nature, etc.

We are generally good at practicing part 2, but that isn’t enough if we haven’t first practiced part 1. That’s because practicing part 1 is hard and, in many ways, unnatural. Our bodies and minds tell us to keep going, soldier on, minimize minimize minimize. Occasionally, the message of keep going, it is not that bad, is helpful. But ignoring our experience and dismissing our feelings isn’t a long term strategy. And for those of us with High Functioning Anxiety, we treat it as a long term strategy.

We have learned to avoid the parts of ourselves we disapprove of, walling ourselves off and becoming more and more robotic and anxiety-filled. It is exhausting.

Things shifted for me when I finally started listening to myself—really listening. I realized maybe the answer wasn’t going to be found out there; maybe I needed to start getting to know me: warts and all.

When my Monger would start talking telling me I was weak and not coping well, I said to myself, “What if I am?”

I realized that my anxiety tells me if I pretend it isn’t true, it must not be true. It is the same logic as a two-year-old who thinks you disappear when she closes her eyes. It sounds absolutely crazy as I type this, but I see it in my clients all the time.

When I ask, “What if you aren’t coping well?” they look at me aghast. Then I follow it with, “that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. You are human. And from time to time, humans don’t cope well.” Then I list off all the stressors they have in their life. “homeschooling, COVID, elections, life, relationships, grief,” They respond with relief because they have been operating out of the ignore, and it will go away strategy, which isn’t working. Inevitably they say, “You are right! I didn’t see it that way! That makes sense.”

Today I give you permission to be you. To be tired, stressed, exhausted, hopeful, lazy, busy, overwhelmed.

You aren’t doing it wrong. You are human. Humans are complex. Humans are imperfect. Humans are messy. So let’s be human together.

The next time you hear your Monger criticizing you for not being strong enough, ask yourself, “What if I am weak?” and give yourself room to be human.