I never really thought of myself as being anxious.
But when I first moved to South Carolina, there was this time that I sat on our outside steps, sobbing hysterically and unable to breathe, and Jacob said, “You’re having a panic attack.”
And I thought, What? I don’t have panic attacks. Except that I do. And just like that, the rose colored glasses were lifted. Looking back on my life, I saw things a different way. Unable to focus on work because there’s a big rock in my stomach and it keeps twisting and pinching. Can’t sleep and lie awake fighting tears and irrational thoughts. Convinced that a friend now hates me because I said something that, while true, was hard to hear. Eating my lunch in the bathroom at my new high school, afraid of even venturing into the dreaded cafeteria.
I hate that word, but it sums up so very much about my daily existence. It’s even difficult to talk about, especially to the masses (aka you): but a friend told me recently, if you aren’t vulnerable in your writing then no one gives a shit. I’ve been told that I seem generally confident and in control of myself, that I am smart and capable and I have nothing to be anxious about.
Yeah, well. Anxiety is still there, pressing into my head and resting there on a pressure point. I’m on a new project at work and I am sure I keep making mistakes, so when I pull up the materials my palms get sweaty and breathing gets a little bit difficult. If I think too hard about where my future is going then my stomach starts to hurt and I have to delve into a book or else begin to cry. The panic attacks are, thankfully, fewer and farther between, but they still hover just underneath the surface, ready to latch onto me if I let my anxiety spiral out of control.
Sometimes my mind is a very scary place to be.
I think that’s where my incredible ability of lying to myself comes from. Anxiety. My anxiety builds and builds and builds until I feel like I am choking and I cannot possibly continue on, but no—it’s fine, your past mistakes don’t affect you now. Oh, but they do. And my lying has caught up with me. I can no longer pretend that everything is going to be fine. That is a lie I tell myself to avoid confronting reality.
My good friend and I like to say, “This is a problem for Future Vanessa.” Anxiety comes crawling in when I can’t figure something out or when things are uncertain. Like, for example, the fact that I need to buy a car soon. There’s a lot of shit to consider and think about and I have never done it before and as I think about everything that’s involved, I start to panic. I tell myself, frantically, you’ll figure it out, you’ll figure it out, think about something else. It works until that thing comes up again.
I had terrible acid reflux a few weeks back, and we had to go to the ER. Initially, when Jacob said, “I think we need to go to the hospital,” I panicked. Anxiety reared its ugly head and I immediately began to sob. “They will prick me with needles and it will hurt and it smells strange and sterile and they never tell me what they’re doing before they DO IT and I can’t go, I can’t”—and he let me sit there until I finally stood up and said, okay, I’m ready to go.
And you know what? The anxiety didn’t magically go away. I was swallowing over a lump in my throat all night, I was fighting tears and reminding myself to breathe. But I went instead of sitting at home, hysterical, because I was afraid to do what I knew I needed to do.
It’s been an interesting year. I’ve had to learn to live with my anxiety, to respect it and its wishes. And to know the difference between letting it rule me and knowing when I need to overrule it. No, I do not want to go dancing where men will, undoubtedly, come up and grope at me. Yes, I do want to you read my very personal poem even though you may see me differently. No, I don’t feel like going to the bar tonight, I don’t want pressure to drink and make conversation and then have to worry about how much I’ve drank and when I’m safe to go home. Yes, I do want to go to that poetry reading even though I won’t know anyone there.
I’ve had to stop lying to myself. I’ve had to deal with some hard truths and let a lot of things ago, and I’ve had to learn to cope. To deal. To be okay anyway. I’ve had to tackle things head on inside of running and hiding around the next corner.
Anxiety is a part of my personality. I don’t foresee it going away, not yet—but I see it calming, lessening, letting me breathe a little as I learn to understand it. To live alongside it, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s a harder route to take, but it’s slowly getting easier.