Life with Anxiety

Life with Anxiety

Perfect representation of how it feels to have anxiety, for me.

I speak very openly about my social anxiety. It isn’t something that I can keep to myself because if I don’t mention it, people think I am standoffish or elitist or unpleasant. I don’t want to be any of those things, so it is easier to proclaim that I am antisocial and let those judgments roll in than anything else. I find my life entirely ironic, since part of my career is speaking to large groups of people at length, and largely about myself. As someone who does not enjoy talking about herself and does not enjoy crowds, this is the craziest lifestyle I could have chosen.

Sometimes when I address a room and let everyone know how shy I am, someone after the talk will approach me to say that they, too, are shy (or introverted, antisocial…insert whatever word applies to you here). It is like a coming together of a brethren or sisterhood. There is mutual understanding about the trials and tribulations that we go through.

My particular form of introversion allows me to speak at groups of people as long as I am supposed to be there and I have a particular message that I believe the people in the room want or need to hear. As long as those stars align, I can talk all day. In fact, I’m not even shy. I don’t get nervous. I feel like I’m talking to my people. But, if you put me in a room with a bunch of people I don’t know and no one is expecting me to stand up and talk (yes, I am describing a party situation), I have no idea what to say. My face turns red and my hands get sweaty (my husband is always complaining about my damp palms). I turn into a ball of anxiety. My heart beats out of my chest. I feel like crying. I locate every possible exist, even if it means me running into the staff kitchen. I will, just watch me.

A question I receive a lot is simply: How do you do it?

Image by Rebecca Bentliff

Some ask with true interest for themselves, others out of curiosity, and others with an air of disbelief in their question since I don’t fit the stereotype of a shy person. If you don’t know me personally, it does seem like I’m lying about the extent of my fear. But then there are the people in my life who have watched it evolve. For example, before I go into a speaking situation, if I have the good fortune of being with my darling friend Lindsay Adler, she will always take my hand and look into my eyes and ask me, so genuinely, if I am okay. She knows. She cares so much. That is how my sisterhood is with me. They know that while I seem okay on the outside, my insides are cringing.

It has gotten better with time. There was a time when I wouldn’t speak to anyone and the thought of a whole room filled with people would send me into a panic attack. But then I learned the most valuable lesson perhaps ever in my life.

No one cares as much as you do.

Ryan Muirhead introduced me to this quote on the topic by David Foster Wallace:

“You will become way less concerned with what other people
think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”

Memories fade quickly for people who aren’t living them. I have learned that no one cares about how I’m feeling or looking or acting as much as I do. No one. We are self-centered. I don’t mean that in a bad way in any sense of the word. I mean it honestly. And when you realize that you are a character in someone else’s book, suddenly it doesn’t matter if you look silly to them. You have your own book to worry about, your own character to write, and I would rather write myself an awesome story instead of making sure I fit perfectly into someone else’s.

In 2012 I went to Amsterdam. I was set on creating an image in the city center. I wanted to overcome my fear by taking a self-portrait, in a nightgown no less, in front of anyone who wanted to watch. And I did it. Not only that, I went further to ask the onlookers to model for me. I got about 25 of them to oblige. Some said no. Others looked skeptical. But most said yes, and not only that, thought it was really freaking cool.

This is my new reality. This is my new narrative. I no longer see myself as a shy person crippled by self-doubt. I am without fear. I am without anxiety. At least that is what I tell myself. There are still moments – too many of them – where I find myself in a room filled with people and don’t know what to say. I start to hyperventilate and I can’t breathe and I want to cry. I run away. Those moments feel terrible. I feel defeated. But more often than not, even if it takes a little prodding, I do it. I stand my ground and I grow from the experiences.

This year I am making it a priority to do more public photo shoots. I want to connect people not only through the art I’m creating but through the process of creating art. It is the same process as doing something out of the ordinary. After all, the worst that will happen is I’ll be someone’s silly dinnertime topic. The best? I will change the way someone thinks for the better. I’ll take my chances.

I hope to see you in some public place as I embarrass myself doing a photo shoot. And if I do, don’t worry about me. I lost the ability to be embarrassed long ago. Just join me and be a weirdo with me. Trust me, it is way more fun than the alternative.

Do you suffer from anything internal that holds you back?

The more we share our experiences the more others will feel less alone.

I recognize we all struggle with something in our lives, and we are all seeking to be more passionate, creative and inspired. That is why I created the Promoting Passion Convention, so that all of us who are trying so hard to harness inspiration and find motivation can come together like family.

Promoting Passion 2017 is happening near Buffalo, NY from September 8-10, 2017. There are very limited spaces left, so join us now if you can!

Promoting Passion Convention


28 thoughts on “Life with Anxiety

  1. This is absolutely fantastic. I also turn bright red, get sweaty and freak out when I have to speak in front of people, even if it is just a small group. The panic can be crippling. I try as often as possible to convince myself that it is all in my head and live in the now, meditation helps, as does mindfullness. Little tricks that I have come across like EFT or counting out things around me when it comes on suddenly. I like the challenge idea, I think that would help tremendously.

    1. I love the things you are doing to cope. I find mindfulness to be amazing as well. Something I’ve also recognized recently is that IT IS OKAY to feel that way. I used to be so ashamed, but now I let myself feel it. I try to share now when it’s happening, try to actively move my mind from anger about the situation to a light brightness instead. Thank you so much for sharing Kristy.

  2. I love this blog, Brooke! I have anxiety and depression, and I take self-portraits as well. I get asked how I can do them, especially from my friends that know that I deal with a lot.
    I am very shy as well, except when I talk about my work or living with anxiety and depression, when those come up I feel oddly fine to talk about it all. If I have to talk to a group of people or just be in a crowd I normally feel like I just want to hide in a corner and hope no one notices me.

    The work I create is always extremely personal and emotional, it is something I have gone through in the past or something I could be going through right now, I get told a lot that I am strong or brave for creating them and putting them out there for everyone to see. For me, it helps me get through or better yet heal that piece of me that is struggling with something.

    I was so hoping to be able to go to the convention this year but money didn’t work out as I hoped. And you are soooo close to me ( I am in Ontario ) I know will make it to one of them, I feel like I am meant to go to one of your promoting passion conventions =)

    1. Nikki, I love that you create through it. That is wonderfully inspiring. I’ve just recently started to do that as well. I pick up my camera and run for the hills (literally) when I start to feel too anxious. A few weeks back I found myself on top of a mountain in Palm Springs, anxious and joyous all at once. Now that is a lot of emotion! The convention will work out someday, I know it! <3

      1. It is a lot of emotion, sometimes I feel drained afterwards, just because it’s so emotional sometimes, but in a good way if that makes sense!? I think you will find creating work when you are anxious and more so emotional work will help you in the future!!
        Yes, the convention will work out someday and I can’t wait! <3

  3. Hello Brooke,

    I find it very refreshing to hear this from you, particularly as you are such a big inspiration to me.

    Speaking as someone who has suffered from depression from the age of 13 (though much less severely now), I find it interesting how my illness has shaped my work. Because of my illness, I find it very difficult to inspire and motivate myself when I am in a bad place and it is a constant battle to keep my depression from suffocating my creativity.

    Although my depression means that often I don’t have the words to express how I feel, photography has allowed me to express it visually and therefore, in a way, my illness lead my to explore my passion further. I find self portraiture in particular to be very helpful and it reminds me that despite my illness, I am powerful and creative and absolutely alive.

    Lots of love,
    Ruby x

    1. Ruby that is so inspiring to hear. Creating through the pain of it. We are all so powerful, it is astonishing. Congrats to you for embracing that!

  4. I am a very outgoing person in a way. But when it comes to my artwork, I’m not so much. Few people I know in person even know I do fine art composite work (or try at least) some know about my photography, but only my nature and landscape work, I am even fine with portrait work. But the fine art is just different for some reason.
    I love the idea of doing a very public self-portrait, and inviting bystanders to join in. I will definitely give this a try someday.

    1. Very interesting! Maybe because it is so personal. I love seeing what you do, though. Can’t wait to see that public portrait! 😀

    2. I know exactly what you mean, Fit BMX! I am a rather confident, outgoing person in the majority aspects of my life, but when I first started posting my art on social media, I would experience severe anxiety. I still feel that from time to time if I post an extremely controversial or disturbing image, but most of the time, I have grown to just not care what anyone else thinks 🙂

      1. I think it is because it is very personal, kinda the side of me no one really sees or knows about.
        I have actually come close to deleting photos after posting them but them stop myself. The one place I always felt completely okay posting a photo, was posting it in one of Brooke’s FaceBook classes. 🙂
        Thanks for you reply Leslie, it means a lot to me. 🙂

  5. I would like to tell you that anxiety has always been part of my life. Whenever I do something new, whatever it is, it provokes an anxiety in me. In the past, this anxiety was much greater than it is today. I practically caged myself in this anxiety! However, today it is not so much like that. Brooke and this beautiful community have helped a lot for this change. Before, it was unthinkable to go to the street to take self-portraits, or speak in public, or travel alone into the unknown … Today I do it with some normality. Yet, that does not mean that I no longer feel anxiety when I do because I still feel it. The difference is that I can control this anxiety more and accept it as normal! And I do this, believing myself and putting everything I am into the smallest thing I do, just as Fernando Pessoa (a Portuguese poet) said. Who gives everything of itself, more is not obliged. Simple like that! Although there is an anxiety that I do not control for anything! Whenever I meet my lovely friend Brooke, here comes the butterflies to the stomach! LOL!

      1. To tell you the truth, I’m going through a difficult phase in terms of creativity and inspiration. It is being hard to overcome this phase! But I know I can do it and so I’m calm about it. I have read these thoughts and I must say they thrilled me. That’s why I want to give you all a big and sincere hug. xx

  6. Wow, so I just finished writing one of my dearest friends an email. One of the topics of that email was the anxiety I experience while creating. I, too, am often in my head. The conversation usually has a common thread of fraud. Even when I was a full time teacher, I used feel like a fraud. When my school year was over, and went so successfully, I was sure the following year would be met with the ‘real’ Julie’s skills coming out, which would result in no student learning and complete failure. My art stays hidden in my studio due to the anxiety I feel about presenting it. While in college, my profs would beg me to submit my work to galleries, shows, competitions, and I’d say, ‘No, thank you!’ Anxiety just crippled me and in many ways continues to do so today. Your quote from Wallace is quite powerful; words to live by. Thanks for this great blog, Brooke. You are a remarkable woman. I’m always blessed by what you offer in your blogs.

    1. Imposter Syndrome, yes yes yes! I think most of us suffer from that. I know I do from time to time. Sometimes I’m on top of the world, and sometimes I feel like I’m going to let the whole world down. Thank you so much for sharing, Julie!

  7. Oh Brooke. This made me cry. As someone who is still coming to fully understand what my anxiety is and why, I just had to sit back and take this in. Personally, I’ve been going through some heartache and it’s difficult for me to create some days, but other days I’m fine. This post reminds me a lot of how uncomfortable I feel in school, getting in front of people for a class presentation and getting the sweaty and shaking sensation. However just like you, when I am supposed to be there with a message, I feel fine. I actually tutor and run group classes (in Spanish!!) online, and I am a happy ball of energy. The quote about no one remembering has brought me so much comfort. You have no idea how bad I want to go to promoting passion, I am extremely scared about Promoting Passion. I am only 21 years old, and it looks like there is not anyone near my age attending so far. I keep imaging things going wrong for me, and it scares me. However I really want to do this for ME and overcome this. I am trying. I really want to meet you and Joel Robison. I really hope I can overcome my anxiety of being too young and come meet you guys <3

    1. Sam, YES! We must create, it is in us. And it heals us. I think you’ll be surprised at the PPC family – we’ve got a 16 year old coming (her third time!) and, you’ll find, age means nothing there. Nothing at all. It runs the gamut completely and no one thinks anything of it. You won’t be out of place in the least, I promise you. And if you do feel that way, just come and see me. My hugs don’t discriminate against age 😉

      1. Awsome!! Thank you for listening to my rant! 🙂 Glad to hear that.

        I have lots of stories to tell you!! And hugs to give to!!

        Thank you 🙂

  8. Thank you for always wearing your heart on your sleeve, Brooke. This was an important post. I’ve had tremendous battles with depression and anxiety and it definitely feeds all my creative pursuits. I took a hiatus from being a performing musician due to a challenging pregnancy and the resulting handful of an infant/toddler, during which time my anxiety flared up to a crippling extreme. Now almost 4 years later (eek!) I’m gearing back up to face my new performance fears and I find that it helps to remind myself, just like you, that these feelings are ok. And not just ok. They are natural and the same physical symptoms indicate excitement. So I remind myself of how excited I am to perform and share my music and how satisfied I’ll feel at the end of the show, having done it. That attaches a positive to something uncomfortable and every time it gets easier. The only difference between anxiety and excitement is how we choose to think about it! Our subconscious minds, it turns out, are very trusting and open to our suggestions. 🙂 We have the power to heal our own minds. Knowing that is beautiful and gives me hope. Thanks for sharing and creating and continuing to be an inspiration to so many!

    1. Kori, I commend you not only for sharing and recognizing your own struggle, but for getting back in the game and finding your happiness. That is an amazing thing that inspires me so much today. Hugs and love!

  9. I used to be painfully shy until after high school and then I outgrew it. The thing that helped me is that I always assume that everyone I meet is no different than a brother or a sister. Now it seems like I talk too much. But it is because I am so open. I still deal with feelings of self doubt because everyone wants to be liked. But now I am more apt to throw caution to the wind and not let it prevent me from doing what I want. You have proven that we all have moments of self doubt. It is just being human. Thank you for being you and sharing your heart. You are always awesome in my book.

    1. Cindy, thank you so much. You are so fantastic. What an amazing what to approach life – brothers and sisters, yes! I love that and I’ll keep that little tool in my pocket for sure! <3

  10. Brooke. I love this post and your work outside of being an amazing artist is a reason I’m incredibly excited for the conference this fall. I have suffered from anxiety and depression I’m realizing my whole life. Basically, I’m afraid of loss and loosing those I love most. Why wouldn’t they leave me? Many others have in the past, its only inevitable. However, I refused to admit it and recognize it. In fact, I hid it from all around me and attempted to mask it as something else, even to myself. Only recently when my wife almost left me because of it did I finally take a step back and look at myself and realize there was something wrong. Only took my 34 years to see it. And whenever I felt it, I would bury myself in art. Or even attempt to learn a new form of art. Anything to find an outlet to describe what I was truly feeling without actually saying it. Music was my first outlet. Writing, playing shows or just getting lost in other peoples songs. Songs that described how I felt. They must understand what I’m feeling if their singing about it. Then I found photography and now digital art. But thankfully, I found myself and I’m able to admit it now. My marriage is in the process of rebuilding and my wife now understands me and what I am going through, and thankfully, willing to help me. She realizes its not me being overbearing, but just afraid. We know it will be a long road for us and for me, but I’m happy to be finding myself again. And I’m excited to meet others during the conference that have similar demons and find ways to grow and express ourselves.

  11. I have supported loved ones with mild to severe anxiety disorder (mother, husband, son. My son is my hero because of how he handles the experience of having an anxiety disorder and social phobia among other issues. He lives independently and is a pretty happy person. He is one of the most forgiving people I know and has had plenty of practice as others have not always been kind. At times, leaving his home is an act of bravery, yet he works through it. He occasionally asks for help; but more and more, he is doing things that used to be impossible. I deeply admire all who live with a brain disorder. Things that many take for granted can be a daily challenge for those with anxiety,depression, bipolar disorder and other conditions. I love your work, Brooke, and am very grateful that you have overcome the challenges so that you can share your gifts, talents, and beautiful art.

  12. Brooke, thank you so much for sharing this with all of us! You’ve inspired and motivated me since the moment I saw your work for the first time. So many times I wanted to tell you how much I admire you but I never could go past the fear of what would you or others think of what I have to say. I am very anxious right now while writing this, but when I saw this post I knew that it was time to overcome this illogical fear and just do it. I am anxiuos all the time for everything new or scary that I have to do. I am also scared about beeing at a party or just with a large grup of people that I don’t know or not very well, by myself or where there are few people that I know, always anxious about what I could say or do. I used to panic just thinking about talking to the phone with someone that I don’t know really really knew well, but now because of the job that I recently accepted, where I have to talk to strangers and use the phone a lot, it’s getting a better. I am trying to overcome my anxiety by doing over and over again those things that scare me to the point that I can’t breathe. One big fear of mine is to share my personal photography online, beacause of the fear of rejection, because maybe people won’t like what I do. It has been a real struggle for me between the fear of what others think about me and the fact that some days I feel so energyless I don’t even want to get out of my bed. This past two years I’ve learned so much from you and other beautiful people and I’ve come to some conclusions: one will almost never feel like it to do something 100%, some days we’re at 50% or lower, other days maybe 90%,and those are very good days, so it is better to just do what you really want to do than just waste your time waiting for good days. As a goal for this year I want to create images that I actually post for others to see, interact more with people and enjoy more what I do and what I have, rather then thinking about the things I don’t or can’t have and beeing sad about it. I would love to meet you some day in person, this year was not possible, but I know that one day I will make it to one of your workshops. And thank you for everything you do, you’re a wonderful person Brooke!

  13. WOW! I admire everything about you so much. I too suffer from social anxiety. I’m in a panic just typing this LOL! Have suffered my whole life and I am now 61yrs old. Nobody knows and most of the time I put on a reasonable act. On the very rare occasion I have tried to talk about it they simply do not understand to what extent I suffer and how crippling it is. My husband knows I suffer from anxiety but even he does not know or understand to what extent. I even suffer with my family and the couple of friends I have. Reading this I am in awe! OK, been sitting here for a minute thinking should I post or should I delete? LOL!

  14. I’m so surprised, though honestly I shouldn’t be anymore, to read this post today, randomly and it so perfectly fits my situation. I’m not sure what I suffer from, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got some bipolarness going on and I’m way too much in my head, overanalysing, trying to prepare mostly for the worst because I’m so scared. I go from extremely happy to extremely stressed out very often, there is no middleground, just one or the other. Which is something I’m used to by now, but sometimes it’s really exhausting, because I have to constantly be mindful of my thoughts, of how I’m feeling and try to find balance.

    I have darkness inside of me and I know it will always be a part of me, which is why I try to channel it by taking selfportraits. It started out as therapy really, something to keep me busy, but now I enjoy it so much, it genuinely makes me happy.

    I have been contemplating for a while now whether to share publicly or not. The few friends I’ve shared it with are really supportive, but my confidence is low most of the time. Still I have this hope that someone might see an image of mine and will feel understood. Like I feel when I see your images or read your words. And so I’m taking the plunge in a few days. Because what’s the worst that will happen? That I have to deal with negative comments. One positive comment will outweigh the bad and at least I will give myself the chance to grow and deal with new situations.

    So this blogpost couldn’t come at a more perfect time for me. Because I’m anxious, I don’t like my body, and I take selfportraits. Not because I’m a vain person, but because that’s how I can create best. Because I can be shy and uncomfortable and weird and still want to reach out. There. Weirdos for the win :p

    Thank you so much Brooke!

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