I was shaking, but I wasn’t cold. I was on my knees, and there was an unsettling sensation in my chest. I read some verses from my religion book because I knew that at that moment, this was not physical pain — this was inner pain, and those verses could help me gain inner peace. This was the day my life would change. It took a while to understand that what I went through was related to an anxiety disorder.
Ever since those symptoms occurred, I lived with it every day. It wasn’t something that had a certain end; I was living with constant panic and no apparent reason why I felt nervous. This was when things were going good, which only meant when something did not go as planned, it was going to tear me apart.
This is when I started therapy, and today, looking back at what I went through, I would say I’m proud of myself for overcoming my struggle. I can barely remember the pain and can’t imagine it happening to me again. I did research; I spent most of my days on the internet, studying anxiety disorders, people’s experiences with them and how they can influence daily life. Through this, I came across other related psychological disorders and mental illnesses.
Although I learned good techniques in handling my personal circumstances in life and overcoming my anxiety, I was interested in gaining further knowledge. I spent two years of my life researching schizophrenia, dissociative disorders, anxiety and depression.
When I found out psychology is an option in university, I did not think about looking at other options. I believed this is what I was born for; I knew it deep down. I was able to advise those around me, to spread positivity and relieve pain when I saw someone upset. I was able to help others have a positive perspective about certain aspects of their lives.
The day my psychology professors introduced themselves and talked about this field, I was almost in tears. I knew it deep down inside — these are the individuals I want to become when I’m older.
I will never forget how those of us in the psychology field can truly make a change in this world, or in someone’s world.
We were cuddling on the couch, they had to leave, we were both making excuses, and their final one was: ”And you’re so seductive”.
My first response was to laugh — we were smiling and joking — and I flippantly said, “You’re so cute!”
But once they were gone, my anxiety kicked in. It started by pricking my curiosity on the meaning of “seductive.” A word I’ve read and heard so many times, with an instinctive contextual understanding. But with many words, in any circumstance, I sometimes wonder if I have been interpreting correctly. It’s so familiar, but only learned by general association, like so many words in our native languages.
So maybe I was wrong in suddenly wondering if my friend had meant I was sexually alluring. And so I flipped to Google, with that simple reasoning.
Or so I told myself.
Of course, all results referred sex — from the most established dictionaries to the modern wiki. So, with some determination (or desperation), I tried a search method I learned when I first had access to internet: the use of a minus sign to exclude all reference to a word or phrase in search results. The word I tried to remove was “sex.”
OK, in the original search, right there on the screen, there was some reference to the term’s first use. From a Latin word, meaning “draw aside.” One website explained thus: “Seductive is an adjective that describes the fascinating magnetic pull that someone or something has, an attractive quality that tempts you in some way.”
Apparently, over time, and increasingly since the 19th century, society has directly associated “seductive” with sex. So now even a fireplace is sexy if you use the adjective right
But my anxiety wasn’t going to read reason now. It was starting a full attack.
“Whore,” it said. “Slut.” Streams of abuse pelted out like a machine gun round.
Fear kicked in.
My brain is conditioned from years of abuse, of all kinds, from many people. Anxiety is one of the last remnants left behind. And it knows words are power.
I have no doubt my friend had absolutely no malevolent intent when “seductive” came out of their mouth.
But for anyone — and especially for people with anxiety — any word can be a bullet.
So, for the first time, I started retaliating against my anxiety with my own words.
I had recently purchased this bracelet, which reads, “With brave wings she flies”.
I now wear it at all times.
“Brave.” I am brave. That is a word that speaks truth in the face of all lies.
It’s not easy having anxiety or depression, and it’s definitely worse when you have both inside of you. It’s like they swirl around you head, always looking for a way to get in and take over you for God knows how long.
Sometimes, they come in as one or the other. Depression comes in and then anxiety takes its place. But other times, they like to come in and construct chaos together.
It isn’t easy. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe because of anxiety. Sometimes you wake up late in the day unmotivated to do anything, wishing you’d fall within the mattress and never come out.
It can be a truly a horrible experience. You become scared of when your next anxiety attack or depressive episode will happens.
Fear turns into paranoia.
Paranoia turns into hopelessness.
Hopelessness turns into dread.
Dread turns into negative thoughts.
You begin to think, maybe you’re being punished for whatever wrong you’ve done. Maybe it isn’t worth it anymore. Maybe life isn’t meant for anyone.
Then you begin to have nightmares and wake up feeling numb. The world seemingly endless and dull.
You haven’t beaten me. You beat me up, again and again and again. You kick me when I am down, and you tell me terrible lies. You warn me I will never win. I can’t. I should just stay down. You scream at me and make me feel small and helpless. You are a textbook bully.
But you haven’t beaten me.
I am learning to recognize your lies. Remember when you told me I would never be better? I am better. Remember when you told me you weren’t real? You are.
When you first showed up and told me I was dying, I believed you. You didn’t even need a cause of death. You just showed up and announced that it was all over. You were taunting me in front of my kids. I put on a face for them, but I was cowering.
We’re old acquaintances, but still when you came charging in and running things, I did not recognize you. The old anxiety was small and subservient. The old anxiety was timid. The old anxiety would sometimes spark and fan fear into flames, which leapt about painfully but with minimal destruction. When you charged in like you owned the place, I did not recognize you, and even now I wonder if you aren’t a different player who shares a name.
You screamed at me. “Be afraid. Be afraid of death. Be afraid of pain. Be afraid for your kids. Be afraid for you husband. Be afraid for you parents and your siblings and everyone you have ever loved.” When I confronted each individual fear, you simply invented more and screamed louder.
Until I didn’t know how to argue. Until you were the only voice I could hear. Until your unhinged taunts outgrew my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get out of bed. I tried to cover you with mind-numbing TV, but you just laughed. I was shaking and vomiting. Remember that?
You’re a mean SOB. But you didn’t beat me.
You shamed me. You told me I was weak if I needed help. Surely I was strong enough to send you away on my own.
But it isn’t weakness to ask for help. Asking for help isn’t admitting defeat. I needed help. I needed control of my mind. With my doctor, I stood up to you. We didn’t chase you off the playground; that’s is your bully tactic. We just cornered you. We took your power away.
You can stay, but you are not in charge anymore. You can even have a job. Your job is to help me find problems so I can address them before they grow. But I don’t trust you anymore, and so for now we are keeping you under lock and key. Two tiny pills every night before bed.
She is like looking at myself in the mirror 28 years ago.
Inside and out.
And that’s why I worry.
You see, just as much as she looks like me, she also very much has my heart. My book-smarts. And my anxiety-ridden mind. At just a half-dozen young years old.
It absolutely breaks my heart.
Because I know how it feels to be filled-to-the-brim with worry as a child. And not sure how to function without it flooding and overflowing everywhere. Or, in my case, holding it in with all my might, to prevent the dam from breaking.
By her age, I had already witnessed a younger sibling pass away as a baby. And in just another year, I would see my mother go through months of chemotherapy, after an Earth-shattering diagnosis of breast cancer at such a young age.
So, I watched.
I took it all in.
And I kept it there.
My mind was reeling.
Always on edge, waiting for the next “bad thing” to happen.
My parents had me in therapy. And the therapist told them out of any of my siblings I would be the most likely to struggle with anxiety and depression as an adult — because I did in fact hold so much inside. I never knew that until I had children of my own. And, wow, what truth has come from that statement.
I will never forget her second year of preschool. A week of nightly tears. Every time we tried to tuck her into bed. She couldn’t hardly talk. Telling us she had thoughts in her mind, and she could not get them to leave. As I worked hard to hold my own tears back, I worked even harder to put together a game plan. A powerful one. That was going to overcome this beast. Using every resource available to make sure it didn’t rob her of her happiness as a sweet, young girl. I contacted her teachers. I phoned our pediatrician. We scheduled extra time at her upcoming well-child check-up. I reached out to her caregivers. And together, we worked overtime. To “not make a big deal” out of the little things. And, thanks to her incredible teacher, we had the perfect response to those everyday hiccups:
“Sweetie, unless you see a dinosaur walk through that door right now, you have nothing to worry about.”
She loved it. It made her giggle. So we used it. Constantly.
Together, we had created the strongest weapon we could. A team. A village. Working toward one goal.For one child. To combat her anxiety.
This fight is nowhere near over.
The littlest things spark a whirlwind of thoughts in her mind. And the tears begin. And I begin doing the best thing I know how to do.
Talk. to. her.
Do not dismiss her.
Because when I do… I can see it in her eyes.
It might be so incredibly minute to me. The most miniscule thing to worry about in the entirety of the world.
But to her… at that moment… at that place… in her mind… it is greater than any mountain imaginable.
And I know what it is like to feel dismissed. As though what I am worrying about is “silly” or “nothing.” Because when you have anxiety, those “nothings” are e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. Heartbreaking. Forcing an even more intense bottling-up of worries and emotions, racing on a closed-circuit track through your mind.
With school starting in just two weeks, I can already see a shift in her behavior. Thankfully, kindergarten is out of the way. She knows what to “expect” at grade school. But, true to my own nature, she never, ever wants to make a mistake in the eyes of others. Perfectionism is her game. And her enemy. Because it feeds this thieving monster. And keeps it coming back for more.
We expect some acting out to unfold. Never away from home. And that’s OK. Because we know that this house… our family… these grounds… are all part of her “comfort zone.” Where she can free those thoughts. Anxious feelings. And constant worries. And, as long as she knows what she can/cannot appropriately say when she is letting those fears go, this will continue to be a “safe” place for her to release, always.
On our part, we will continue to comfort her. To listen intently. Not to dismiss. But not to feed into making anything greater than it needs to be. We will try to remind her to keep her eye open for dinosaurs. We will be firm, but gentle. We will keep in contact with her teachers. Her doctor. And anyone who will be a significant part of her life.
And if this crook tries to finagle his way in to take even more from my daughter than he already has? You better believe, this mama is ready. To fight, with every ounce of my being. For her happiness. For her childhood. For her mental health. And to break the cycle of hereditary anxiety. As much as I possibly can.
Because, oh, how I know that our precious girl is destined for incredible things in this life. Already wanting to change the world. And there is no way I am going to stand idly by and let a thieving seven-letter word stop her.
1. For every decision I make, there is a battle raging in my head.
Decisions and commitments are my worst nightmare. Every time I get asked to hang out with a friend, or go out to dinner with a family, or show up for a school function, my mind immediately starts listing pros and cons. And let me assure you, it always manages to come up with far more cons. Most of the time, when I do commit to something, it’s out of obligation or fear of being left out.
2. When I get up and leave suddenly, it’s because I need to.
Sometimes being around people is just overwhelming. Someone may say something everyone else takes as a joke, but it hits right where my insecurities are. When that happens, I just have to get out. Now. All I need is a few minutes away to recollect myself and get my breathing under control, and then I’ll come back. When I do come back, please don’t ask me why I left or if I’m OK. I promise I’ll tell you, but not until I’m in a better headspace.
3. I like to get invited to parties, but I don’t really like to go.
When I don’t get invited to something, my mind starts racing:
Maybe they don’t like me. Maybe they’re all going to talk about me there. Maybe nobody likes me.What if they’re all just pretending to like me. Maybe I’m not as good at hiding it as I thought.
But when I do get invited and go, my thoughts are somewhat like this:
You’re not fun enough. You’re not having a good time like everyone else. You should go make some new friends; people will think you’re a snob if you don’t. Make sure you smile. But not too much or they’ll think you’re weird. Why are you even here? You know you should’ve just stayed home.
It’s an endless cycle of second-guessing myself. Most of the time, it’s just easier not to go.
4. When I ask for help, it means I really need it.
I have a hard time asking for help. And not because I’m cocky or think I’m too good for it, but because I’m afraid of showing you the real me. Too many times, I’ve let my guard down with someone, shown them how needy I really am, and they’ve left. So I don’t do that anymore. I’ve learned to “suck it up,” as they say, and figure it out on my own. Asking for help is really a last-resort type of deal for me. Which means if I do ask for help about anything, I really need you to help me. Or else next time, I’ll drown before reaching out to someone.
5. Just because I don’t respond right away doesn’t mean I’m mad.
Texts and emails are kind of my worst nightmare. I read them over and over, searching for some hidden meaning. Only when I’ve completely overanalyzed the whole thing do I even think about responding. And of course, that could be another 20 minutes of typing and retyping, until I’ve found the “perfect” thing to say that will never be misinterpreted. And then I may send four or five rapid-fire messages after that just to clarify what I mean. So give me some time. I’m not mad, just overanalyzing.
6. When you pull away from me, I think I’ve scared you away.
I know, it’s kinda hypocritical, right? I tell you to give me space and that just because I pull away doesn’t mean I’m mad, and then I turn around and think the same thing about you. But I just can’t help it. Every message that isn’t responded to, every sarcastic reply to something I say, every time you cancel plans we had, I can’t help thinking you are fed up with me and my clinginess. Like maybe I showed you a little too much and you couldn’t handle it. It scares me. And then I get even more clingy, asking if you’re mad at me, or if I did something wrong. Please don’t take it personally. It’s the self-doubt talking. The more comfortable I get with you, the less it’ll happen.
7. The person on the outside is not usually the person on the inside.
The person you see on the outside has it together. Straight-A student, involved in multiple activities, always busy, completes every project on time and to a perfectionist standard. And you probably think, “Man, she has her life together. She really knows how to get stuff done.” What you don’t realize is I have to be this way. I literally cannot sit still. If I do, the thoughts and nervous energy will choke me.
Relaxation is hard, because doing nothing invites what I call “the void.” It invites staring off into space, losing track of time, feeling too much all at once. So it’s much easier just to keep busy, so I don’t even have time to think about anything except what’s next on my to-do list. I’m this way because it keeps me from falling apart, not because I’m put together.
8. There are so many people living like this.
It’s one of the things you wouldn’t know unless you’ve experienced it. I didn’t realize how many people around me struggle with anxiety every day until six months ago, when I finally accepted that I was.
Now I look around, and all I can see are little tells in the people around me. Slightly widened eyes, a hand on the chest, arms crossed tightly as if hugging themselves, the tight-lipped smile and weak, “I’ll be right back” that really means they need to be anywhere but here, and fast.
So many people live this way. And all we want, for the most part, is compassion. Just a gentle voice or act of kindness that shows you understand we’re struggling. Seriously, one moment of kindness goes a long way.