When I was younger, I didn’t know I was having anxiety attacks. I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe properly, sweat all over my body. I would tell myself it was just a nightmare. But then it started to happen when I wasn’t sleeping. It usually happened late at night, when the world got silent and I was left with nothing but my thoughts. Maybe it’s the nighttime I fear, the darkness and the unknown. I made my parents buy me a nightlight, and I would read until my eyes literally could not stay open anymore, anything to keep me busy. Then I would wake up in the morning and go about my day like everything was fine.
I was the girl with the smile on her face, and I liked it. There’s something so satisfying about being the person who can make other people laugh as soon as she walks in to the room. I was that girl. The one who saw the world as the beautiful place it is.
In fact, I still am that girl.
I promise I am.
The only difference is now I know my anxiety attacks are anxiety attacks, and they aren’t picky anymore. They find me at any time of day.
People tell me I used to be optimistic, I worry too much, it’s going to OK, the world isn’t that bad. I don’t think they mean to upset me. They just want that girl back who didn’t have a care in the world and could make light of any situation. They think their words are full of reassurance, but to me they feel like accusations.
What they don’t understand is that I still think the world is beautiful, and I am optimistic. My anxiety does not define me. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of me that comes without knocking and overstays its welcome. It’s the part of me that feels like I have frostbite on my heart. It’s the part of me that can’t help but think: “What if?”
I don’t go about my day with the intention of bringing other people down and taking a fun conversation and turning it dark. It’s out of my control. My anxiety is the shadow that walks in front of me. I can see it, but I can’t grab it.
I used to feel bad when someone would tell me to lighten up. Not only would I feel bad, but I would feel even more anxious. There I go again screwing it up for everyone. Good job, you have made everyone uncomfortable. Way to go. I would mumble an embarrassed “I’m sorry” and hope that everyone’s nods and shoulder shrugs were sincere.
But the thing is, I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry my anxiety doesn’t come with a pause button. I’m not sorry I’m struggling with daily panic attacks that take double my effort to try and hide. I’m not sorry my optimism can’t always be found under the weight of my worries. I’m not sorry I have anxiety.
I am who I am. Smiles and anxiety and optimism and fear.
And I am done apologizing for it.
This story was published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.