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The Wild Discomfort of Anxiety and Depression

Sometimes I feel like I have to apologize to my 17-year old self.

She was so full of dreams, so full of ambitions, so full of straight-As and pats-on-the-back for being on the road to success… sometimes I feel like I have to apologize to her for not living up to those expectations, for feeling like a disappointment.

But how can I explain to her that it’s more complicated than that? That for several years now, a monster has been clinging onto my back and refusing to let go? That the monster is so heavy, it feels like I’m carrying a sack of bricks everywhere I go?

“Does the monster have a name?” she might ask.

And I wish I could give her an answer. I wish I could even pinpoint it to one disorder. But the monster is made up of hues and shades of anxiety and depression, like a Picasso piece, painted with splatters of confusion and mental discomfort.

And maybe that’s what this monster is: wild discomfort.

Because from the moment I wake up, my mind is filled with utter discomfort. “Am I a loser? Why am I such a loser?” “Is he going to cheat on me someday?” “Does anyone even like me?” “Am I going to throw up? Oh god, I’m scared I’m going to throw up.” And on, and on, and on. Every single task requires monumental effort, like making a phone call or even going out of the house. Having to pass another person on the sidewalk. Talking to a cashier. Getting in the car and driving somewhere by myself. Going anywhere by myself. Going out to eat and the fear of getting sick. And if the fear builds too much, going into full-blown panic, where I shake uncontrollably and feel as though I am going to die. Or if the lowness builds too much, having to fight off thoughts that tell me I was a mistake, I’m a burden, I’m unlovable. There’s almost always discomfort in my mind and body, whether it’s the thoughts themselves, having to constantly prepare for panic or having to constantly scan for self-loathing thoughts.

So the pressure to become “successful” makes me want to crumble into a million pieces, in a way I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s because I’m just so tired already — my mind is stretched so thin, like a machine pulling taffy. Maybe it’s because I’m so afraid to want something and then to fail and then to disappoint myself and others even more. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid to work a “real job” because my stomach hurts all the time, and I’m so afraid of getting sick, and I always end up missing work for a pain that is real but probably caused by my mind.

But either way, it’s because of my monster.

And what would my 17-year old self say? Would she be mad at me? Afraid? Depressed? Disappointed? Think I’m being selfish? (I promise, I can’t turn these thoughts and feelings off.)

Then I realize — she would give me a giant, bear hug. She would stroke my hair, wrap her fingers around mine, and tell me she loves me, and is so proud of me. She would say, “Don’t you remember? I feel the monster already, too; I’m just so scared of losing control. I see you being brave enough to loosen your control, and I admire you for that. I’m proud of you for the woman you’re becoming. I’m proud of you for the strength it takes to be vulnerable.”

And we would weep and laugh together and invite the monster into our embrace, forgiving it and maybe even becoming friends with it someday.

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Thinkstock photo by  Design Pics