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The Anxious Thoughts I Keep Hidden With a Smile


I want to speak about me. I want people to understand or at least try to… that is all I ask. Because speaking out about one’s own troubles can be scary. Opening up and sharing can leave you exposed and vulnerable. But if we all stay quiet, then ignorance reigns supreme, and any relationships you have, whether family, friends or others, may be based on a facade. So here I go.

My mind is my prison, or at least it has been for the last three. If I’m not battling anxiety, I’m battling depression — sometimes both simultaneously. The smile I show you is not always genuine. It has been perfected to an art form so you don’t feel uncomfortable being around me. I smile to cover up the real thoughts that fly through my head faster than I can interact with at times. I smile so you don’t see the self-criticism I have going on inside my head. I smile so maybe, just maybe I can believe in my own fake smile for just a moment and experience a moment free of unrelenting questioning of myself. I smile in the hope that I can genuinely feel it like I used to. I smile so you will continue wanting to be a part of my life.

When you ask me if I’m OK, of course I’m going to say I’m OK. I don’t want to burden you with my thoughts. If I don’t understand them, why would I expect you to? In my head, I’m surprised I have any friends/family left. I mean truly, in the last three years since my breakdown and four years since my separation, I’ve had more disappear off the face of the earth than I want to count. So it only stands to reason, in my head, that a happy Barb is one people want to be around. And when I’m not happy, they disappear or cause harm. I think most of you would say good riddance.

“If they are not by your side to support you then they are not your real friends/family anyway.” An extremely valid point… I hear you, believe me I do. However, anxiety and depression serve only to reinforce the negativity. “They left and/or hurt you, despite all the good you did.” So I don’t see my worth, I see only the bad. And that is what drives it. It’s unrelenting and soul-destroying, and yet as bad as I know it is, I cannot stop.

Anxiety is the voice that drives my decisions. It is the voice that tells me to flee and protect myself at all costs. It is the voice that shrouds my goodness and accentuates my flaws. It is the voice of constant questioning and negative reinforcement. It is the voice that strips me of my trusting nature and conditions me to expect the worst. It is the voice that pre-empts outcomes before they have happened. It is the voice that wakes me at night, the voice that tells me I am not deserving, the voice I could never imagine using on someone else, yet I allow it so freely to be used upon myself. It is the voice that has become second nature.

Anxiety tells me I don’t deserve love because I will more than likely wreck it anyway. It tells me to distance myself and run so I don’t hurt others or let others hurt me. It sadistically allows me to catch glimpses of myself that I am proud of, only to rip it away with a vision or statement of how I will fuck it up again. It is the doubt beyond all measurable reason that I am not worthy of true happiness. Yet it taunts me with the thought that I am worthy too. Worse still, it shows me how happy others are and how miserable and lonely I am. It highlights all they are and have and how little I am. That despite everything, my world keeps shrinking. And so in my mind, I assume and validate that it must have been something I did wrong. Something I wasn’t and still am not.

Anxiety is the questioning. Is this good enough? Am I good enough? Have I done enough? Is that right? Be better, stronger, faster, smarter, prettier. It is the people pleasing. Perfectionism. Because what if they saw the real me? Would they still like me? It is the knowing inside that I have a lot to give but the doubt in my ability to give it. It is the nervousness inside that I will fail again and again and again despite all my efforts. It is the self-sabotage and annoyance in my behavior. It is the questioning of just about everything I do. It is the cold sweats, fuzzy mind, trembling hands. It is the palpitations and second guessing.

Anxiety is the constant sorry’s that escape my lips. The sorry for reacting a certain way, feeling a certain way, thinking a certain way. It is the sorry for not being enough and making mistakes. For being too open and not open enough. For talking too much or not talking enough. It is the sorry for all my actions I see that have never been enough. It is the sorry for not seeing what others see in me. It is everything I wasn’t and now am. It is the everything I was and now am not.

Anxiety is the knowing I deserve more but somehow being scared to let myself enjoy what could be. It’s the knowing I’m worth more than what I say to myself, but the fear of the inability to live up to it. It’s the knowing that I do have people who care but dreading the sadness I see in their eyes when they don’t understand the conversations that run riot in my mind. It’s the knowing I need help, but the fear that I will never get better.

Anxiety is the counterpart who robs me of enjoying any beautiful moment, thought and opportunity fully. There is always that voice that lingers in the shadows of my mind just waiting in eager anticipation to watch me fail, doubt, question — and it’s persistent. All I want is a magic pill, and I know there is none. I want to be free but feel shackled. And no matter how unfair it all seems, somehow I have beaten myself up enough to believe I deserve it. As ridiculous as that sounds and as untrue as I know it is. It is confusion at its best.

And that is what lives in my head. Raw, uncensored and me.

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Thinkstock illustration by Maria Kuznetsova