I grew up a happy little thing – cautious, but happy. I loved to laugh and smile and sing, and I wore bright colors every day. I had never met you and, honestly, I had heard of you, but I didn’t believe the stories. I thought people could just “get over” encounters with you. I thought they could just “calm down” or “stop worrying.” But then I met you.
You came into my life uninvited. You gripped me by the neck, threw me to the ground, and then mercilessly sat on my chest trying to force the air out of my lungs. I cried “uncle” over and again, but you did not let up. You thrust your vicious claws into my heart, you grasped it, squeezed it and tried with all your might to rip it right out of my body. You covered my eyes and left me in the dark, and then you screamed so loudly I could no longer hear anything else, even my own screams for help. Your raspy and selfish voice chased away my logical thoughts, my explanations, the assurances from the people who cared about me. I could no longer hear happiness, and I was afraid I would forget what it sounded like. You wanted to survive, and you needed me to do that. But I wasn’t going down that easy. I was sure it was just a phase, that you were just a visitor, that it would end soon enough and you’d be gone. So I shut my mouth and decided to wait quietly until you left.
You were in charge for months. The battle between my thoughts and your screams was a battle I would lose daily as I collapsed to the floor, waiting for the panic to stop. I would sit on my bed, trembling in a cold sweat, not knowing if I would be able to make it through this time. I would kneel and call out to God in prayer as my heart pounded within me and my whole body turned hot with panic. You were relentless, giving me just enough time to take a breath so I would be alive for your next round of torture. I didn’t have words for what I was feeling. I didn’t even let the question cross my mind whether or not this would last forever. I was not ready to ask that. And I was sure as hell not ready for an answer.
But I was not alone, and the people who loved me most saw my scars and the fear in my eyes. I told them I was fine. I was sure I could win by myself. But I couldn’t. And that’s OK. But I didn’t know that then.
Slowly, day by day, the light at the end of the tunnel dimmed. And then you invited your ingrate friend Depression to shack up in my life. I thought about ways to escape… but I was afraid of suicide and I was too “tough” for therapy. I didn’t even know your name! Could therapy make you leave? Could anything run you off?
I finally sought help. The words coming out of my mouth sounded ridiculous as I spoke them. I spoke faster and faster as I detailed my obsessions, the things that made me feel like I was losing my sanity, the rawest and most intimate details of this misery you had put me in. I couldn’t look at her, for fear of her reaction. Shame rose hot on my face as my cheeks turned red, my eyes were cast downward, and the tears raced down my cheeks.
But then she told me your name.
She reacted lovingly, and she wasn’t shocked – in fact, she had met you herself. And in that conversation and through a plethora of Google searches thereafter, I gained the power to lift my eyes. I looked at you. You had been large, hairy, sharp-toothed, and dark. A beast. Your hot breath fell heavily on me, and your glaring eyes caught mine no matter where I looked. You had entrapped me and terrified me in a way I had never before known. But you had a name now. And that name made the façade fall apart faster than I could have ever imagined. And for the first time, I saw you as you really were. You were not that beast. You were small. Your eyes were sunken in, and your tiny, frail fingers were intertwined and powerless. Scrawny, weak, sallow… conquerable! You were no threat to me, but you lingered anyway. How did you have so much power over me? Where did you come from? Were you ever going to leave?
I was starving for answers. And when I found them, I devoured them. The answers were out there, and I was amazed. I found words to describe the things going on in my head and my body, and those words gave me strength. I thanked God every day because no matter how alone and “crazy” and unreachable I felt, I was not alone. I didn’t have to fight you alone. I had an army on my side and, answer by answer, we were rallying.
It’s been three years since we first met. It’s easier now. And even if I have to fight you every day of my life, you will never be that beast again. Call it the power of a diagnosis. Call it empowerment. Call it what you will, but I will call you “anxiety” — with a lowercase “a,” the cheapest and weakest form of the monster you tried to be.
The best part though? My encounter with you caused me to turn to God. I learned to trust the power and the joy of the atonement. I found that God answered me every time I called out to Him, and He heard the prayers I was too terrified to say. I became close with my parents and siblings as I leaned on them when I was too tired to face you alone. I found the friends who would love me no matter what my diagnosis was. I found there are people who devote their lives to helping people like me beat creatures like you. I learned to trust those people and find resources to help me be free from your grasp. And I relentlessly sought out things and ideas that would bring me joy. I am happy now, in a way I may not have been if not for you. I am brave.
I was one of the lucky ones. I had an amazing support system. I found answers. I learned you live here now – you are part of me. But I am the one who decides how much power you have. And believe me, I won’t let you have much.
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