My eyes open with a start. My body is jolted from the dream. What was that noise? Was it someone fiddling with the lock? Are the neighbors trashing the front yard? Is this the day I run into the monster my younger self created? These are the questions I ask first.
There is a part of my mind, buried underneath heavy clouds of fog, that knows the noise was just my cat getting restless or the wind getting too strong.
I’m not “crazy.” I have anxiety.
It takes me a long time to fall back asleep. Sometimes I don’t. My day has begun.
The noises mostly set it off late at night. It’s easy to be afraid in the dark — I know people who don’t struggle with anxiety who are. The problem is anxiety isn’t patient enough to wait until the sun is down and the lights are out.
Anxiety invites itself over at all times of the day.
I’ll be sitting on the train and feel a bump and a hundred headlines of derailed trains flash through my head in seconds. My friend will be running late for our dinner date and a thousand scenarios of what could have happened to her startle me. Suddenly I’m sending text after text to make sure she’s OK. I am aware the train just hit a bump on the track and the rest of the ride will be smooth. I know my friend got caught up at work and couldn’t answer my texts because she was too busy. The awareness of reality almost makes it worse because I can’t stop the anxiety from seeping through anyway.
Now I’m sitting in a room with all my coworkers and the story I’m telling is taking longer than I expected. I never would have started it if I knew it would take this long. Why is she pulling out her phone? Is he yawning because of me? Is she getting up because she needs to go to the bathroom or because she can’t listen to me ramble any longer? If I stop now, the story won’t have an ending but if I don’t stop, I’ll be talking to myself. Why did I open my mouth at all?
The rest of the shift, I don’t talk at all. Everyone is asking me what’s wrong and all I can muster is a weak “nothing.” It takes a lot of strength to get that smile on my face that reassures everyone I’m fine when really I can’t focus. I hope no one thinks I’m lying even though I am. Is everyone giving me a sideways look? I better start faking it to make it stop.
I’m so sick of faking it.
It’s late at night and I’m home. I’m staring at a blank Word document. Why am I not writing? I start to write. Why am I so bad? Backspace, backspace, backspace. What’s the point?
My anxiety tells me there is none.
I check social media instead. The anxiety does a quick U turn. What’s the point in saying you’re a writer if you aren’t going to write? Now I’m back at the blank word document.
Every day in my mind is a high speed car that doesn’t have brakes. My anxiety never gets tired even when I’m exhausted. It lives off people telling me to “calm down” because now I’m panicking over people thinking I worry too much. It’s not pretty. It’s really ugly.
But it’s mine.
I can feel it when I hear a funny joke, but my laugh chases it away. It’s lingering in the corners of my mind when I’m driving fast with the windows down, but that breeze and this song? They’re stronger. I know it’s here now as I type this sentence, but my fingers are moving fast. They pound down on it.
I know it’s going to be here all night, and it’s going to be here tomorrow and the day after. I can’t scare it away for good. Instead, I fight. I fight every thought, every question, every doubt. I fight because there’s so much to see and listen to and feel. I fight because my heart is beating and I’m alive.
And I refuse to let it scare me away from my own life.
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