What I Didn’t Expect to Happen When I Wrote to My Mental Illness


Tears threatened to well as I pounded out words on the keyboard. It felt as if deep-rooted rage was being expelled through my fingertips. My soul was damaged and I desperately tried to make sense of it.

I was writing to a constant companion, but not a friend. It was a letter to my mental illness — anxiety.

Both my daughter and I have suffered panic attacks. We’re now nearly panic-free and neither of us has had a full-blown episode in years. So it surprised me how angry I still was.

Dear Anxiety,

When I first met you, I was just a child. You terrorized me with panic attacks and wouldn’t leave me alone. It was bad enough you entered my life. It was much worse when you visited my 9-year-old daughter. Picking on children. How dare you?

I think you got pleasure out of watching, as you overwhelmed us with the horrifying symptoms of panic.

Did you think it was funny to see our hands tremble and our bodies sweat, drenched in fear?

Did you get enjoyment out of making our hearts beat so hard and fast, it felt like they’d jump out of our chests?

Were you pleased when my doctor told me I had agoraphobia?

Did you laugh when I had to pull over to the side of the road because my vision was
blacking out?

You probably thought it was hilarious when I nearly had to run out of a store because I couldn’t stop my racing heart and dizziness. Didn’t you?

Were you happy when my daughter had to miss three weeks of fourth grade because she was petrified she’d have a panic attack?

Did you want her friends to know how ashamed she was to be different?

Was it fun to see my little girl cry when she couldn’t make herself walk into the classroom, in fear of you?

What about when you saw me cry because I knew how terrified my daughter was?

You always wanted to be in control. And you were.

But not anymore!

I’m sure you were unhappy when I reached out for medical help after 20 years of dealing with you.

I bet you were angry when I recognized my daughter’s symptoms and took her to the doctor.

I’m sure you weren’t thrilled when our medication worked. I wasn’t afraid to drive anymore. Or go to the grocery store, the mall or the movies. My little girl went back to school. She was able to play basketball, be with her friends, and even go to sleepovers.

We learned how to get rid of you. Our doctors helped us develop ways to control you. We’re healthy and happy now. Our lives are full and productive.

We’re braver than you give us credit for. 

Anxiety, thank you for empowering us.

We know we’re strong.

If we fought you off, we can do anything.

Writing this letter had a strong effect on me, releasing a tidal wave of hurt and resentment I didn’t even realize was there. But what I didn’t expect it to be was therapeutic.

Portions of this story were previously published on the blog Letters to the Mind.

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