As a little girl, I struggled with anxiety. My anxiety looked different through each phase of my life. Sometimes, my anxiety would look like a massive weight in the pit of my stomach, while other times, my anxiety would look like asking a million questions until I was out of breath. No matter what the anxiety was surrounding that day, month, or year, I would always hear the same phrase; “It is what it is”. I had therapists tell me this when I was a kid. I would discuss all of these irrational fears of worry that my parents would go missing or that I would be left somewhere. I would worry myself to tears and not know what to do about it. “It is what it is, Kristen”. Hearing the same thing got old after a while.
Jump to 10 years later, my anxiety had turned into some disordered eating which lead me to extensive care. I started to hear the same phrase, “It is what it is, Kristen”. I heard this a lot when it came to eating. When I didn’t want to eat the food set in front of me, someone would mutter that phrase. It started to drive me crazy. I let this phrase affect my mood most days until I finally told my therapist how it was making me feel. I opened up about how angry it would make me when everyone would say this to me. She asked me why it made me so mad and I responded with, “It’s making me feel stuck. It’s making me feel like I have to settle with where I am at in this moment and I don’t want that”. She responded with, “So it is what it is until you do something about it?”. I sat there wondering how I hadn’t thought about it that way before. I tried to remember my childhood and how I felt back when I was told that phrase back then. I had always felt stuck and like people did not believe that I would get out of whatever the worry was in that time of my life. If only people had added on to that phrase, “it is what it is… until you do something about it”.
When I heard it said this way, my mindset switched. I challenged myself to beat what I had been told my whole life. I didn’t want to settle with how I was feeling. I had made an excuse for myself for so long that it is what it is, and that’s how it always will be.While I know that this phrase looks different for everyone and that some find it helpful, I find myself smiling whenever I hear it today. Such a small comment was making such a big difference in my life until I changed perspective. It’s funny how adding a little bit on to a comment can change the whole meaning. I think about this a lot in my work as a therapist today. We often feel stuck in our emotions and feel that there is nothing else for us. I am thankful for “It is what it is” because it made me view my anxiety different and pushed me to look for more than what I had in the moment.
Written by: Kristen Grimes, Masters level intern