Anxiety disorder does not mean getting anxious the night before a big game or an interview. It’s not the nervousness you feel before an exam. It’s a constant and exhausting cycle of your thoughts telling you that you’re no good.
Sometimes I’m not even aware of what I’m anxious about. All I know is that I am worried. This worrying keeps me paralyzed in my room for days. It stops me from doing the things I love and makes me disinterested in everything.
Then there are days where I’m less anxious, where I go out and about trying to make the best of the little time I have for myself. I know it will be back, though. I know this is a gift I’ve been given that could be taken away at any time.
My earliest memory of anxiety was when I was eight. I’d stay up half the night, thinking I would die if I fell asleep. That isn’t the kind of irrational fear that should run through the mind of an eight-year-old, but I was not aware of that. I wouldn’t tell anyone about this either, because I believed it would go away.
I guess that specific thought eventually did, but only to be replaced with other paranoid thoughts. No matter what I did, my anxiety kept bothering me throughout the years.
I know it’s not easy. In fact, it’s far from it. It’s carrying demons on your shoulders everywhere you go. They whisper things in your ear that you don’t want to listen to. They tell you that you’re not good enough and that you shouldn’t even try. Your thoughts defy reality, yet you listen to them and let them bring you down.
Having anxiety is not wanting to go out in public because you do not know when your next attack will be. It’s living in fear that you will not have a safe place to calm yourself down. It’s getting swarmed by tears that you can’t stop. It’s fear that runs through your head all day and all night, even when you know it has no real base.
Anxiety blows all of my paranoid thoughts out of proportion and makes a needle look like an axe. My anxiety cannot be seen and it cannot be heard by others, so I’m probably overreacting, right? Wrong. It is as real as diabetes and cancer. If I told you the number of times a day I had thought about killing myself, just to get the thoughts to stop, you would be shocked.
It took me thirteen years to learn how to get these demons to sit next to me. To invite them over for tea and ask them why they’re doing this. To find out how we got here. I know I should have done this years ago, but I didn’t realize crippling anxiety created the demons on my shoulders. I mistook them for depression. I didn’t know they came together for me, like a pair of gloves. One not sold without the other.
My anxiety tells me I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not loved enough. That anybody who decides to love me will eventually change their mind and all the happiness I feel in that rare moment will be taken away from me. I cannot count the number of times I’ve told myself it’s going to be fine over and over again, or the number of times I’ve had to take a breath in and hold it for a few seconds just to feel slightly less anxious.
I know it’s in my head, but you need to know that I, without question, cannot control it. If I could, I would have already. Believe me, torturing myself isn’t on my list of favorite things to do.
Now I know where these demons come from, and instead of being afraid of them, I have become friends with them. We sit side-by-side and they let me go through my day. Yes, they do try to stop me sometimes, but I know how to control them.
I don’t know if I can ever get them to leave, but I know my anxiety was my greatest teacher to date, and I will eternally be grateful for the things it has made me realize and for the people who have loved me through this exhausting process.
The best part is, once I get through this, I’ll have a story to tell. I’ll come out stronger on the other side, and more difficult to beat.