Mental Health

A Portrait of a Worrier to Warrior

You are the author of your story. Anxiety doesn't get to control your outcome.

As early as junior high, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. What I knew was: I worried. I pressured myself to succeed. I sweat profusely without explanation. This was a portrait of a worrier. This was what life felt like for me.

I strived to be perfect as I was determined to prove to my teachers—not myself—that I was smart when working against a speech and language learning disability. If I fell short of my standards, I was hard on myself. Making a mistake meant that I was a awful person, and it disqualified my good-heartedness. I felt like I always had to say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

My parents, teachers, and therapists would tell me: “You put way too much pressure on yourself. You are being way too hard on yourself. Grades are only a number.”

My high school math teacher endearingly wrote on my hall pass one time, “Megan, the Worrier.” I laughed, smiled, and thought that it was true. But, despite good intentions, the words of my parents and teachers only encouraged me to embody the behavior they described. I started to feel that “a worrier” was who I was, and there was nothing I could do to change it.

These worries started to become an obstacle to my happiness, because, when I wasn’t worrying, I was dreaming. From the time I was six years old, I dreamed of becoming an author. I dreamed of becoming a leader and speaker. When I played on my swingset, I tried to reach the clouds in front of me and catch those dreams. They were far off in the distance, but I never let them go, even to this day. But this other part of me, these worries, told me a different story. They told me I would not pull each dream down from the clouds.

In college, these feelings started to manifest as even more disruptive behaviors. This mental feeling being uncomfortable going to campus would become a physical feeling. I couldn’t leave the house without being afraid of throwing up. It wasn’t that I felt nauseous, it was that I was afraid of feeling nauseous. It was impossible to eat on campus. Anywhere I went, my purse or backpack contained one absolutely essential item: a plastic bag just in case I ever got sick.

While superficially, my behavior might have looked like an eating disorder, I knew I was not anorexic, but I also knew I couldn’t continue the way things were. I needed help. I met with a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder.

The feelings didn’t go away after my diagnosis, but it felt much better to be able to put a name on what I was experiencing. It was a start.

It was as if the psychiatrist’s recommendation of referring me to a new therapist was an invitation for me to take the next step laid out before me. I met with my new therapist, wary of the portrait of Jesus on her wall, but the subject of God—an uncomfortable subject for me—was not the focus of my portrait of myself that I painted for her. Instead, I created a portrait of a young woman was fearful, helpless, insecure, and hopeless.

She listened, and told me that the girl in my portrait is not “Megan, the Worrier,” but “Megan, the Warrior,” who is strong and does not need to identify herself generally anxious. She made me begin to feel that I was a Warrior as she told me, “You are the author of your story.” For the first time, I felt I have control to I take action to write my story.

Get to know Megan and read more about her story by visiting her blog, I AM..


Also published on Medium.

Megan Cahill-Assenza earned her Bachelor Arts and Science in English and...