I want to share my life story here, not because I am looking for pity, praise or approbation, but because I think it's sufficiently compelling and might help others either deal with their issues better or put things in perspective.
I grew up in Eastern Europe. There was a difficult and complicated family dynamic with several generations living in the same small apartment. Conflicts and fights were quite common. My Dad had a drinking problem during my early childhood. My mother was a very anxious, hypervigilant, ambivalent person. Unfortunately for me, I went through a series of severe colds and infections as a young child, which resulted in frequent hospitalizations in harsh and barren hospitals, without a chance to see my parents for weeks. This was a perfect substrate for developing separation anxiety as well as deeply repressed anger at my parents.
Later on, in middle school, I became a subject of incessant bullying because I was the only Jewish boy in my class. My survival strategy was to come up with various distractions or diversions, to entertain the mob of kids and draw their attention elsewhere. (BTW, it's amazing how stupid the mob can be).
At 15, I was sexually assaulted by a random stranger ( A guy in his early twenties).
A year later, my family and I came to the US as refugees. Despite my limited English, I immediately embraced the culture and the American ethic of hard work and perseverance to follow the American Dream. I enrolled in college and decided to become a doctor, although my mother laughed at this idea.
I studied very hard. At home I couldn't study until everyone went to bed (there were 5 other family members in a 2 BR apt), so I napped until midnight and studied during the night. Later on, when I became a sophomore, I worked as a parking valet at night, and had barely 2-3 hrs to sleep before going back to school. I pushed myself to the limit because of my hunger to succeed, and occasionally a literal hunger, and within 5 years of being in the US, I got accepted to NYU School of Medicine.
My dream of becoming a doctor came true.
And now, I had to work even harder, because I had to compete with kids from Ivy league schools. The anxiety and fear of failure was almost too much, but I kept going.
I finished medical school and then went on to a residency and fellowship in surgery.
Finally, I went on to open my own practice, the dream that I cherished during all these years.
Through all of this, I had to contend with cancer in my family (both my mother and father), destruction of my practice by superstorm Sandy, and a slew of other things.
And in the final analysis, I am not sure I would have accomplished all that without having my anxiety, and obsessive thinking.
I think that my life experiences, while painful, served as the fuel that propelled me to keep going and to succeed.
I hope that others would be able to harness their anxiety too and use it to accomplish themselves and become happier.
I wrote this very concentrated and abbreviated version of my life in about twenty minutes between seeing my patients.
I could have also added that my Mom mortgaged her condo to secure a line of credit to finance my nascent practice, so had I failed, she would have been quite literally without a home.
Five years later, within a span of one month, I lost both my practice (to Sandy), and my father (to diabetes-related infection).
Behind this story however, lay many years (almost twenty), of punishingly hard work, tremendous emotional, financial, and personal sacrifices, all leavened by anxiety, self-doubt, fears of failure, self-imposed mental torture, insecurity, and occasional panicky feelings.
Yet, I have come to believe that the hardest, the most difficult, challenging and painful experiences in my life were also life's most precious lessons.
It is they that forced me to peer into the deepest recesses of my soul to discover my true self.
It is they that molded and hardened the gelatin of my emotions and gave me the courage to push and keep going when consumed by doubts and fears.
It appears that best part of ourselves is revealed when we are pressed with our backs against the wall, when we are facing desperate situations. And paradoxically, it is those painful life experiences that seem to carry the day and give us the strength to fight and not give up.
So, perhaps, we should view our anxieties as a blessing in disguise, as uniquely rich and powerful gifts that when mastered, will open the door to a happier, more successful and meaningful life.