Most days are warm and flaxen. Even when it’s rainy, even when it’s nighttime, there’s still a brightness. The atmosphere is golden-hued, like the world and everything in it is backlit by the sun. There is a constant thrum of expectancy. Something good is going to happen, even if I don’t know what it is. I’m always looking forward to the next exciting thing—a dinner, a vacation, a new book, a cup of coffee. Even when things aren’t so good, even when there are little annoyances, even when my day is shot to hell, there’s still the sense that everything is okay. There’s always tomorrow, and even if something is worrying me about tomorrow or next week or next month, I can still objectively take a step back and look at my life and declare that it is good.
I’m so accustomed to seeing the world this way that it’s not even something I notice on a regular day. I think most of us are like this, you know? When life is generally good and things are relatively easy, it just flows. We’re along for the ride, and we’re so focused on the map and our destination that we don’t acknowledge the vehicle driving us there. We don’t hear the hum of the road under us or feel the wind from the cracked window. Kind of like our breath—we only notice it when we take the time and energy to focus on it or when it’s taken away from us.
I feel the need to emphasize that even on my best day, there is always an undercurrent of anxiety. I think that people who don’t struggle with mental health issues are under the impression that when things are good, our symptoms are totally absent. As much as I wish that were true, it just isn’t. Anxiety is my constant companion. Most of the time, because of coping skills and medication, it’s completely manageable. I’m able to function and enjoy life, but it’s always there. Still, even with that annoying companion, most days have that subtle glow. Most days are good and light and warm.
Until they aren’t.
When the anxiety turns to panic, when there are more bad days than good days, when my mental health becomes unmanageable, the very fabric of my world changes. I don’t just mean metaphorically. The world around me literally looks different. Everything seems darker, even in the middle of the day. What used to look golden and glowing and warm has turned black and blue and cold. The atmosphere seems thick and poisoned. I move through the world differently. Slower. Heavier. I’m disoriented and disconnected. Everything is just… wrong. I’ve left Hawkins, and I’m in the Upside Down. (Have you seen Stranger Things? If you haven’t, quit reading this right now, turn on Netflix, and get your life right. I’ll wait.)
Okay, so in the show, the characters go to the Upside Down, a kind of parallel dimension where the monsters live. Everything is dark and tinged with blue. The air is full of poison and floating matter. It’s unnatural and unsafe. It’s just not right.
This is exactly how my world looks when I’m in a “season of anxiety,” as I’ve begun calling it. I feel like I’m trapped in the Upside Down. I’m screaming, but no one hears me. I’m having a hard time breathing because of the toxins in the air. Everyone I know and love is back in Hawkins, and I have no way of getting back there. I’m stuck. I need help, but there’s no one I can ask. Anxiety is so isolating. No two people struggle with the same kind of anxiety in the same way. I’m alone here. Will anyone find me?
All I want are those warm and flaxen days back. I’m so mad at myself for not appreciating them when they were here. Will they ever come again? Am I going to live in the Upside Down forever? Until it kills me?
Always, always, always.
A ray of sunlight pokes through. The dark blue world around me starts giving way to splotches of gold. Slowly at first, but then it spreads like paint on a canvas. The toxins slowly clear the air. My fingers and toes start to thaw, and for the first time since I can remember, I take a long, cleansing breath.
I call my time in The Upside Down a “season of anxiety” because it always passes. It’s always just a season. A shitty season, but a season nonetheless. Sometimes it lasts a week, sometimes it lasts for months, but it’s always temporary. Against all odds, I always make it out. I always get back to that place where I can take a step back, look at my life, and declare it is good. Maybe this time I’ll pay more attention.