“I’m just so scared about everything,” I cried to my mom one night. We were talking about what always seems to come up periodically throughout the year: my anxiety. Anxiety, the clever girl, sneaks up on me when I least expect it, my throat closing up, eyes welling with tears. It leaves me breathless and irritable, and my mom didn’t understand why. She didn’t understand what I was feeling, so I tried to sum it up for her the best way I knew how. And here I am again, doing the same for you.
It is a constant, deep seated fear. It’s a light switch permanently stuck “on,” even when the light flickers and fizzles and starts to blow out. It is a train that never stops. A clock that always ticks. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. I have no idea what it’s like to not worry about something after someone tells me not to worry about whatever I say I’m worried about. If I think too long about anything, I freak out. My heart speeds up, my palms start sweating, and I am effectively useless for the day.
I like to sit on the aisle seat on the bus because I get nervous that if I sit on the inside, the person won’t let me out and I’ll miss my stop. I hate public speaking because I assume everyone is thinking the worst about me, at all times. Walking alone is an exercise for my sanity. I am up random hours of the night rethinking everything I have said to everyone I have spoken to that day, or that week, or that month. Planning my week can be nightmare inducing (though that probably goes for everyone). When I get emails from people I value and respect, it can take me hours (or days or weeks) to open them. The phrase “we need to talk” makes me physically sick. I have a 3.9 GPA and still I get paranoid that I’ll get a failed paper back from a professor.
These anxieties may seem recent, but they aren’t. When I was nine, I had plucked my eyelashes off, one by one. I slept through the ages of 11-13 because being physically awake and present in the world scared me half to death.
Something, anywhere, at any time, could go wrong. Everything goes wrong, until it doesn’t. And even if it doesn’t, I will most likely think of a way it could have gone wrong and ruined everything. My mind is my own personal Debbie Downer that I try to escape by way of reading books. And lots (and lots) of television.
This may be bleak to hear, but it is the reality of my mind, and of many others with anxiety disorders. To feel trapped inside of your own brain is scary, especially when you think it should be your personal helper, not your own worst enemy. The fear is in not being able to turn it off, realizing that you’re trapped.
At least, I felt that way. I still do, sometimes, but I’ve realized that I’m not alone. So many of my closest friends and family have anxiety, and I didn’t realize until I recognized the train I got on and couldn’t get off of was called Anxiety Express. My mom calls it being “scary,” as do most of the people I consider family. “She’s just scary,” my mom would say whenever I backed out of something that made me nervous. We live in a culture of anxiety, to the point where people who suffer like I do are laughed off, when revealing that you have anxiety can feel like you’re being skinned alive.
A revelation came to me when I was talking to my stepfather, who also suffers from anxiety. “It’s the fear of not knowing,” I told him one day. You can’t control situations around you, or other people around you. You can only control yourself, and how you respond to it. Not knowing what or when or how the situations will arise is where the fear kicks in. I’m not here to shower you with generalities, since I’m still working on that fear myself, but I hope it helps to know that all you’re fearing is the unknown, and you’re not fearing it alone.
Also? Good things can (and will) happen to you.