When I was in fifth grade, my mom bought me one of those pictures of a waterfall that hung on a wall, and you could flip on a switch and the sound of the water fall would come out of a little speaker behind the frame, and it would light up in a way that made it look like actual water was spilling out. She bought it for me because I was an anxious ten year old, already dealing with crippling anxiety and stress. I used to get so scared and stressed out that I would squeeze my hands together until they were bright red – some kind of coping thing.
I would shut the door of my bedroom and stare at that waterfall. It was soothing. I would stare at it for moments and close my eyes and feel truly relaxed. This was before I discovered Zoloft at 24, and a glass of red wine, and exercise. These things help manage my anxiety now, but as a nervous and frightened ten year old, that waterfall was everything.
I would lay on my bed, turn on the waterfall, and read. It became my nightly ritual, my saving grace, and everything felt right with the world. It added a level of cozy to my reading that I needed. I didn’t have to worry about anything at all – didn’t have to worry about school or bullies or my weight or my parents or anything. I could listen to the steady trickles of water and read Harry Potter.
An odd thing from that time stays with me – sometimes, when I’m reading now, my mind imagines that sound of water. That same soothing melody and I feel so much calmer than any glass of red wine can make me. If I’m reading an article, or a book, or even writing, for some reason it’s instinctive – that sound of the waterfall comes back and my heartbeat becomes normal and I feel okay.
Anxiety is not a rare thing, and especially not in a big city like Los Angeles. I’d venture to say anyone who lives here lives with some level of anxiety. Mine just happens to be intense to levels of needing medication. Which is fine. Medication has this dumb stigma and it’s foolish – sometimes a little pill makes all the difference. It’s like my mind is a puzzle and there’s one little teeny corner of a piece that can’t fit properly and it screws up the whole picture and sometimes you just need a little help fitting that piece in.
It kind of freaks me out how memories work – how moments and sounds and smells remind you so vividly of a certain time. How when I’m reading a book now, fifteen years later, I still remember the feeling of my toes curled under my covers and my childhood cat’s steady breathing beside me, his little heart beating against my stomach – I can still remember the way that water calmed me and made me normal, like having panic attacks at the age of ten was fine and that I would be okay.
And I am okay, but sometimes closing my eyes and remembering a moment from years ago makes it just a little bit better. It’s like reaching out a hand to my younger self and being like, “Hang in there ya anxious little weirdo. You’re gonna be okay.”
It’s bizarre, really. You ever feel like you’re not doing anything important with your life and all you want to do is make sure each breath you take is contributing to something bigger than yourself and you’re maybe making just like, a speck of difference in a world of specks that form together some kind of ridiculous thing called life?
I do. And I guess I’m just grateful for little things like fake, fluorescent waterfalls along the way.