Let's Talk About Anxiety: Jessie Hutton Nelson
Everyone gets anxious, so why does talking about it feel so icky sometimes?
Anxiety is apparently the most common mental disorder in the world according to the World Health Organization, but then, that right there might explain why talking about it is so stigmatized. After all, who really wants to admit they’ve got a mental disorder to their bosses, coworkers, clients, or even friends and family? Those words haven’t historically opened many doors or brimmed with positive connotations.
But, we’re on a mission to change that, because all of this internalizing and individualizing is clearly not helping. Our Let’s Talk About Anxiety series is all about sharing anxious encounters and pushing the conversation into the open so we can problem solve together and take back that power anxiety holds over us when we feel alone.
For the next three weeks we’ll be sharing stories and discussing anxiety. Unabashed and unfiltered. So read what others have to share and join in on the discussion on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram so we can create a living document that shows just how powerful working together can be in the fight against anxiety.
INTRODUCING: JESSIE HUTTON NELSON
Jessie is the badass behind @kithandcommon, an Inclusion Consultancy that helps organizations build internal cultures that are inherently inclusive; because when people feel accepted and supported, that’s when they flourish most.
It’s so fitting that this would be Jessie’s calling, because as someone who’s lived experience is gender fluid and who has had to come out twice in their life - first as gay and then as transgendered - who could be better poised for this incredibly important work?
Now, as they grow their own business, anxiety has become something Jessie is well versed in, so they wanted to share their story & their experiences, so maybe not everyone has to live with that monkey on their back.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOU WERE, OR HAD BEEN EXPERIENCING ANXIETY?
Anxiety is something that has more recently presented itself in my life. I have, of course, experienced feelings of anxiety in moments throughout my life as most humans do. The anxiety that comes with a first date, or a project at work, a new social setting etc. But until recently those were moment to moment. It is really just in the last year that I have experienced ongoing anxiety. The type of anxiety that pops up for no particular reason – the type that seems to follow you around like a shadow.
HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU REALIZED IT?
When anxiety is new, when you are meeting it for the first time, it can be hard to label. It took me months to recognize the symptoms and experience of anxiety in my life. One of the benefits of having labelled it, however, is this ease of giving a name to the once unknown. Labelling the pit in my stomach, the loss of appetite, challenge of falling asleep, lack of motivation to complete work and all the other pieces that come with my anxiety didn’t reduce my experience of them, but it did provide some comfort in knowing why these things were occurring. Being able now, to label anxiety for what it is when I am experiencing its symptoms has provided me greater access to tools that can then help to reduce it.
HOW DOES ANXIETY MANIFEST OR FEEL FOR YOU?
The most obvious way that anxiety has manifested in my life is around food. I become incredibly anxious when I have to think about what I am going to eat. My mind starts to race around what I will eat, how much I will eat, and when I will eat. Specifically, I struggle with the feeling of hunger while having no appetite, and this is where the anxiety begins to grow.
My mind begins to analyze and question every detail of eating and my relationship with food. I then quickly begin to think about what my body needs and compare it to what I think I deserve to eat. The feelings of anxiety that form around food seem to be directly correlated with my self-worth. I think about how much work I have accomplished, what else I have put in my body that day, whether I have exercised; I relate my allowance of food to my self-worth and accomplishments.
This becomes a vicious cycle because I then become equally aware of the dangers of this relationship I am building with food. The anxiety of being anxious to eat feeds itself. At my lowest, the result can often be a cup of coffee in place of a meal or reaching for a food that feeds my adolescent comforts.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOUR WORK OR BUSINESS?
The interesting part of the anxiety I experience is that I am relatively high functioning, although there have been some impacts.
I find it challenging to get out of bed some days as the thought of all that I want to accomplish can become paralyzing. Anxiety can be very impactful to my sleep patterns and so can leave me feeling tired and drained of motivation. I find that it can be challenging for me to start work as the idea of what I am trying to accomplish can feel too big and too overwhelming to know where to begin, however, I find that once I start my anxiety is significantly reduced.
When I am in flow with my work, when I am really in the groove of things and have some momentum going is when I find myself at my best, my anxiety is at its lowest and I feel like I could take on anything.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU EXPERIENCE IT?
My relationship with anxiety ebbs and flows and is dependent on a few factors. If I have lots of work and things on the go that are keeping me busy and motivated then my anxiety is reduced; I think in part because I don’t have time to be anxious and I have more opportunity to get into a flow state with my work.
I felt it a lot during December as that is my slowest month. The holidays take priority, companies are coming to the end of budgets and closing their years out, so work slows significantly for me. Add the social stresses of holiday engagements, social events, family time and travel and you’ve got yourself a recipe for anxiety.
My relationship with anxiety is still new enough that I am not yet aware of all the triggers, so right now it’s about listening to my body and learning to recognize when anxiety is presenting itself and then learning how to mitigate it.
DOES IT INCREASE AT CERTAIN TIMES OR WITH CERTAIN EVENTS?
Something I am learning to do as I build this relationship with my anxiety is learning to recognize when it is showing up and being aware of what might have contributed.
As a person who identifies as gender fluid and who lives with body dysphoria, I have spent a lot of my adult life ignoring the parts of my body that I do not relate to, and one of those is my period. I am currently building a relationship with my period and learning to accept it as a part of the way my body functions and learning to give myself permission to embrace that function without it defining my gender identity. A new awareness for me is that my anxiety increases about a week before my menstrual cycle and having identified that correlation has significantly helped in my self-empathy and self-care. I can more easily give myself the love and grace I require in those moments because I am learning to love and embrace my body rather than blaming or shaming it.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND HELPS YOU?
“You’re not going to die”. That’s my personal mantra.
One of the best ways I have found to reduce my anxiety is to walk straight into the eye of the storm. If something scares me, or immediately triggers an anxious response I tend to take that as an invitation to jump head first.
That is a very general answer and certainly does not apply to everything that triggers my anxiety, so I take the time to step back and assess the root cause of the anxiety and the value of keeping or removing the trigger. If the root cause of the anxiety is self-inflicted, i.e. I have created the fear, then I tend to lean into it – like a public speaking engagement or taking on a project that is new for me. I expose myself to the trigger so that I am constantly reconditioning my primitive brain to know that the fear is not real, “You’re not going to die”. However, if I assess the root cause of the anxiety and the value of keeping or removing the trigger as intrinsically harmful with little to no value in keeping it, I work to remove the trigger.
Great examples of this are accounts I follow on social media or people I spend time with. If they trigger my anxiety and keeping them doesn’t add value to my life then I remove it. In CBT there is a common practice of exposure therapy in which the person experiencing anxiety is exposed to the trigger. In essence, this is what I hold myself to – I recognize the anxiety, I assess and identify the trigger and its value and then I act to either further expose myself to it or I remove it.
HOW DO YOU FEEL AFFECTED BY MEDIA AND SOCIAL MEDIA?
I grew up in a world where I didn’t see myself represented on social platforms. People who identified as gay weren’t on television or in movies, in magazines or any other social platforms, and when they were, they were used as a ‘token’ and their message was highly stereotyped. They were caricatures and often had very one-dimensional storylines.
As a person growing up closeted both in attraction and gender identity I learned very quickly through social cues and implied social norms what I was expected to do and who I was expected to be, so I have been highly affected by our social world and social culture. I was around six when I learned that questioning my gender wasn’t socially acceptable. So, I self-oppressed and self-shamed. It wasn’t much longer after that when it was made clear that my attraction identity also wasn’t widely accepted, so again, I pushed that down and locked it away.
It has been many years of unpacking those feelings and forgiving myself for my internalized oppression of self-identity and self-expression. As impacted as I was when I was younger, the amazing benefit to that experience has been the ability to choose something different now, because I have the tools to do so.
The experience of coming out twice in my life, both as gay and trans has provided me with a great deal of self-awareness. I have had the great fortune of getting to know myself better than most people because my circumstances required it. In order for me to know how to best care for myself, I had to do the work of becoming intimate with who I am and what I need to feel seen, valued and heard in the world. Because of these experiences I don’t often find myself comparing myself to social standards – I actually aim to disrupt them, to challenge them and to put out into the world what I needed to see when I was younger, in the hopes that a kid like me has the opportunity to see themselves in a world so highly connected through social platforms.
IF YOU COULD BRING ONE THING TO LIGHT ABOUT ANXIETY, WOULD WOULD THAT BE?
It is important to me that no one ever feels alone in their experience, whatever that might be. One of the most important elements in the work I provide through KITH+common is that we are all connected through our differences. The one thing we all have in common is that we are all different, which is a pretty cool thing to have in common, “I am different LIKE you, not different FROM you”. When we can connect and engage through our differences, we have a much easier time accepting others as they are. What I hope that my work always conveys is that you are not alone, that you are enough and that you are welcome to come as you are.