I was going to start this off with some generic apology for not having written in a while, but then I realized I wasn’t really sorry to anyone except myself. So, I’m sorry to myself for not writing much for the last… really long time.
While I’ve faced various mental and emotional struggles for the majority of my life, it wasn’t until I was 19 that everything seemed to slide out of place.
I was sitting in my psych101 class, my backpack filled with necessities for my upcoming first solo trip out of town, when I realized I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt like a steel band had been wrapped around it. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get enough air into my lungs. My body began shaking, convinced I was not getting enough oxygen, and of course, the more I focused on it, the worse it seemed to be. The sensation worsened progressively as I neared my destination, until I was in bed that night wondering if I might actually die from this.
It’s been just over four years since the onset of this symptom of anxiety, and while I’ve obviously survived the near constant presence of it, my mind and body still like to feed off of one another until I’m convinced that I’m dying. I’ve tried just about all the tips and tricks out there to calm down. All they tend to do is not work, therefore increasing the anxiety, because maybe the fact that nothing works means I really am about to perish! It’s really a quite spectacular cycle. A solid 5 out of 5 stars, I must say.
The most common theme within my dreams is of running away. Well, usually flying rather than running, but I am almost always fleeing. Sometimes I know what’s chasing me, sometimes I have no idea from what I am trying to escape. Always, though, am I struggling to make any headway. Like many people, I mostly swim through the air when I’m flying. It’s rare that I fly without great effort and exertion. Some part of my sleeping mind knows that air is not like water and therefore is not likely to be swimmable, but I try so, so hard. My arms and legs frantically try to keep me afloat. I try with such desperation to gain height and distance between myself and the grasping fingers of whatever is below me.
I’m not really one to analyze dreams and find hidden meanings, but I know myself well enough to know why I continuously have this issue during sleep. I am the type of person who avoids facing my problems. As a teenager, I pushed them back behind those of my loved ones. It’s easier to solve a problem that isn’t yours, after all, and I clung to this “duty” until I couldn’t anymore. In its absence, I’ve filled my time with distractions and my mind with what ultimately amounts to white noise. When I allow myself to consider my problems, I feel like I am standing in the path of an oncoming tsunami wave. It’s easier to turn around, close my eyes, and pretend its not there.
The issue here is that I know that that wave is still coming. I know that the water will find me, and I will be swept up in its icy hold. I remain constantly at attention, then, bracing myself for the impact I know is coming, mentally and physically preparing myself for the onslaught. Sometimes I allow myself just enough time to wonder if it was really a massive wave I saw, or if maybe I had overestimated the power of it. Could I have been mistaken? I could turn around and take another look, but what if! What if it is the enormous wave that I suspect it is? And what if it’s right there? What if the moment I turn and look is the moment that it hits me?
Oh, the what ifs. They are viciously sharp fragments of glass I’ve scattered around my bare feet, leaving me terrified to take a single step. I stand, paralyzed by fear, terrified of moving, afraid to even open my eyes and check if there’s any danger at all. Because what if there is?
The most recent symptom of my anxiety is overwhelming nausea. I so often sit with my head on my knees, taking in those breaths that never feel deep enough, hoping that I won’t throw up yet again. On the bright side, my bathroom has remained remarkably clean because of how much time I spend there wondering if I’m going to be sick. I’ll take what positives I can get.
I’m tired. I’m tired of being afraid of everything. I’m afraid of failure, of success, of being hurt, of the unknown and the familiar. I’m afraid of who I am and who I can become. I am afraid of the girl I used to be, whose hopes and dreams and expectations I feel like I am failing each day. I am afraid of my future self, whose success and potential I am impacting with every choice I make.
I sat here tonight on the ridiculously overpriced couch I bought from a girl who failed to mention how uncomfortable it is, and I was swept up in the too-familiar sensation of all-consuming anxiety. I was angry with myself because I know, logically, there is nothing there. The wave I think I hear at my back is nothing more than the wind in the trees. I take five deep breaths, then five more. I focus on five things I can hear, four things I can feel, etc. I go hug my wonderful, life saving cats. I feel angry tears filling my eyes because I can’t make it stop.
I tried to envision my anxiety as a person the other day. I named it Grey, and I gave it a series of attributes and began building it a backstory. Then I realized I was distracting myself from the actual exercise by crafting a new novel character. So, I retracted all my attributes, but I kept its name. Grey and I had a rather one-sided chat, where I told it that I was sick of it driving my car. It was time for it to hop in the back seat and let me drive. I gave it permission to tap me on the shoulder and offer guidance if it thought I might be going the wrong way, but I needed to take over.
It was a pretty good conversation. I felt a little ridiculous and considered at least sitting next to one of my cats so that I didn’t feel like I was talking to thin air, but then I felt bad talking to my cats about anything less than the perfection that they are.
Tonight I want nothing more than to scream at Grey, to cause it as much pain, disappointment, and misery as it has caused me.
I abruptly realized that separating myself from my anxiety in such a way may feel rather therapeutic, but ultimately it is part of me. To be angry with my anxiety is to be angry at myself. To want to hurt my anxiety is to want to hurt myself. I have done these things too often for too long, and what good has it done? I’m still sitting on this awful couch writing about it. Hating this part of me has not helped me or encouraged me to move forward. Hating myself is not making me into a stronger person. It’s making me a weaker one.
My anxiety is the product of the experiences my younger self went through. I feel that I am failing her and like I am straying so far away from who she wanted to be, but by hating myself, by hating the anxiety I have, I am committing the biggest disservice to her I possibly could. I am invalidating her experiences.
I faced a lot as I grew up, even within the last few years. The keyword there, I think, is faced. The person I disparage, the girl for whom I harbor so much anger for being trusting and open… She was brave. She… I, didn’t turn my back and close my eyes.
I was hurt in many ways and from many angles, and my solution was always to put up a wall. I promised I wouldn’t let myself get hurt again. I wouldn’t be put into the position of trusting too much, of having too much hope, of getting too close, of speaking too much or too loudly, of saying the wrong thing again. Of course, to avoid all of these things is just about impossible, but that sure didn’t prevent me trying. I threw up wall after wall, trying to turn in every direction often enough to catch danger before it happened upon me unexpectedly, until I realized it was futile. Then I started scattering the glass. I took reality and likely possibility and threw it at the ground, thinking that if it broke into enough pieces, I could see what it was hiding from me.
So, here I am, surrounded by the scattered, shattered remnants of potential from which I have been so determined and so desperate to find truth. If I can just look beyond it, maybe I can prepare myself for what it is trying to obscure from me. Unfortunately, all I can see are a thousand reflections of my own self.
I feel like I am doing something wrong by not including some kind of moral to the story or happy ending to this post, which is perhaps why I have not written in so long. This is intended to be helpful, not to be a venting session. The best that I can come up with is that with recognition can come acceptance, and with acceptance can come growth. Fear is a comfortable companion, and it has infiltrated me enough that I am afraid of both its presence and its absence. I don’t know if I have quite found hope yet, but I feel that I have at least found the will to peek between my fingers at what is truly around me. It’s a start.