My mind wanders as the maize landscape speeds past my passenger seat window in a nonsensical blur. I drown in a sea of my own worries and speculations — a ceaseless spinning wheel churning out neuroses after neuroses. “Is that a rain cloud or just a normal cloud? Wait, no, stop — nothing is going to happen. Everything is fine. Crap, is that dark cloud heading in this direction?” It was like never ending word vomit of the mind that I couldn’t turn off — a monster in my head attempting to swallow me whole. But at this point, I was used to feeling this way — it was the incessant stream of consciousness that colored my world.
And like clockwork, the dark clouds roll in — the dark clouds that would be my next source of panic. My next tightening of the chest and string of delusions artfully tied up in the voluptuous rolling underbelly of that storm. The thick-plated glass window of my mom’s beat up Ford is the only thing separating me from the darkness. And yet I’m already in the thick of it.
I’d been dealing with Astraphobia, or fear of thunderstorms, for around two years. It’s like one day my mind decided, “Welp, looks like things have been pretty chill around here so it’s time to screw everything up!” There is really no logical reason for my phobia — I wasn’t involved in some traumatic tornado where I lost my childhood pet. There was no catastrophic wind storm that invaded my small town and tore the roof off of my house. I’d never met anyone that had been struck by lightning and baseball-sized hail had never shattered any of my windows. It’s like I was living in this alternate universe where every drop of rain led to a tornado and every sight of what I thought was a storm cloud led to a near panic attack. It got to the point where I’d just want to sleep all afternoon—just to escape my mind for a while. Never did I think it was possible to be so utterly exhausted without even standing up.
My mom threatened therapy. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be a threat, but as a 13-year-old girl who was utterly consumed with being “cool,” it felt like one. I refused to let this become real. To me, it just wasn’t fair to the millions of kids in the world who actually had things to worry about. I felt stupid. I was determined to get through it myself, even if it meant missing trips to Lake Michigan for fear of a storm or yet another endless summer of seclusion hiding from the inescapable. Even if it meant I’d never stop crying and I’d have to learn to live with the constant rise of anxiety brewing in my stomach like the very clouds above my head.
After months of worry and fear that I thought would eventually ruin me, it finally hit me — exhaustion. I couldn’t do it anymore — I couldn’t spend hours staring at the sky trying to see which way the clouds were moving. I couldn’t keep obsessively checking the weather forecast and basing my plans off of some arbitrary predictions. I couldn’t quit yet another sports team because of weather and I couldn’t handle letting life pass me by because, “what if it storms?”
Holing myself up in my bedroom one afternoon in fear of what would be yet another anxiety-provoking storm, I released my arms and legs from the fetal position — prison underneath my covers — even sleep wasn’t working this time. I put on my favorite song to get my mind off of things, and simply by chance, I challenged myself to view something differently.
For the first time, the sky — illuminated by the catchy melody of The New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” blaring from my speakers — was set against a backdrop of happiness and spontaneity instead of the violence and threat always in my eyes. Miraculously, it no longer looked threatening. The thrashing branches and blackened earth didn’t look like a scene from “Twister” anymore, but instead were signs of passion and beauty — of freedom and energy. I felt myself appreciating the angst and sincerity of the storm instead of running from it. Maybe it came from a place of ripening maturity that finally came to fruition, or maybe I’d accidentally psychologically conditioned myself with music, but I felt free. This was life — not everything goes according to plan and nearly nothing is easy.
For the first time, I danced in a thunderstorm — even if only from my middle school bedroom. It felt like the tumultuous forecast of my life was tossed aside with every offhanded whirl of my hair, baring a glowing silver lining and a promising future. A feeling of lightness I hadn’t felt since childhood hummed throughout my body and my familiar worry lines admitted defeat and fell into a subtle smile of knowing relief. And finally, on that miserably rainy day, I learned that life as you know it can be significantly changed depending on the lens you’re peering through, and you hold the power to see the sun.