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When My Anxiety Makes Me Feel Like I’m Alone in a Storm

The depths of my rage surprise and scare me.

I don’t think you can tell how I really feel based on how I interact with my daily life. I’m happy. Which seems weird, and some of the people who are closest to me would probably disagree. Maybe that’s part of it, the people who are closest to me, who think they know me the best, don’t really understand how I feel. They project their views and interpretations onto my actions and take little time to try to understand my motivation. I, on the other hand, spend every spare moment analyzing my thoughts, actions and feelings. I do the same with everyone around me. I’m not going to go full hippy dippy woo woo, but I regularly say I can feel the emotions and negative energy radiating from those around me. It’s not a weird superpower or in my head; it’s just a heightened and unconscious awareness of the body language, facial expressions, voice and maybe even micro expressions that make it feel impossible and overwhelming to be around people, especially those who are closest to me.

This is why sometimes when I’m listening to a person most intensely, I don’t look at them. Sometimes the words are unintelligible because I’m overloaded with all the other stimuli from my observations. It’s easier to look down at my paper than at them because it’s the only way I can hear what they are actually saying.

I don’t want to burden anyone with the thoughts that race through my head every minute of every day. The uncountable bits of information that my brain picks up on and slowly processes, sometimes years later, when I’m fully able to dissect a situation. Again, this should be obvious to those who know me in real life because I am always pulling random but insightful observations from the most cursory, almost surreptitious glances around my environment.

People don’t intimately realize how their actions and expressions are, and when you notice they often feel violated and defensive that they’ve been laid bare without their consent. I get it — it has to be hard, but its not like I’m snooping through private thoughts. It’s out in the open, and it’s not easy for me either. This is why it’s so exhausting to go through the tedious steps of a minor conflict coming to a head and being resolved. I know it’s coming before the person who is upset might even realize, so I go into damage control mode to make sure I don’t upset them. But some people just don’t like you, and eventually it’s going to come to a head. You would think being direct and specific would be a good thing in life, maybe it is when there’s an element of power, but my everyday life tells me that it’s not good. Not for a person like me who struggles to balance with my people pleasing nature with my animosity at all those who simply don’t give a shit about anyone around them. The dichotomy that divides my instincts is very good cop/bad cop.

The ability to compartmentalize and handle the most immediate issues is a blessing, but it’s also a curse because I am not always able to reopen those boxes on demand. Sometimes it’s easy and I can go back later that night and unpack, usually in a dark room while remotely talking to my friends online. It’s easier with a layer of separation, seeing your thought in front of you in black and white before you share them. Sometimes I can unpack, but I choose not to because I know that what is going to come out will hurt those that I’m closest to. I know they won’t be able to handle the truths as I perceive them; they will feel attacked. But instead of sharing their feelings and perceptions they will go on the offensive and it’s easier to sacrifice myself. Little by little. I bury a lot of these boxes, but they’re never really gone.

The bedrock of my world frequently has seismic shifts that unearth things I had long ago forgotten about. Like the geologist I once dreamed of being, I examine these layers of sediment and see how they have metamorphosed since I last saw them. The difference between pencil lead and a diamond is essentially the amount of heat and pressure it underwent, right? It’s been like a decade since my last geology class so I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the comparison is valid.

Lately, I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean. There is nothing on the horizon, just sun, sky, water and me. Alone in a small lifeboat that I’ve had to create myself, forged from the tangible representations of my coping mechanisms: lists, personal development, self-care and various other ways I manage to try to improve my life and the life of my family. I can’t see the shore, but I know it’s there, and my stubborn, mule like tenacity is the paddle I use to propel myself towards the stability I know is there, even if it’s just out of sight. I have faith. Maybe not conventional faith, but it’s there and it’s real.

The skies aren’t always clear, and the storms often come out of nowhere. I guess that’s to be expected in the middle of the ocean. Instead of moving closer to the shoreline, when a storm strikes I’m forced to abandon my pursuit of progress. It’s all hands on deck, and since I’m the only one on deck it’s up to me to keep bailing out my small, handcrafted life raft. It’s not ideal, but I’m mostly out of the water and that’s good enough. Some days I thrive, some days I just have to hope to survive and that’s good enough. Good enough has to be enough because it’s all I have. The forward momentum of my past efforts can carry me while I catch my breath and finish repairing my small, primitive vessel for the next challenge, the next leg of my journey.

The storms are brief, frequent and intense, but there are seasons of calm and sometimes they give me so much hope and optimism that I reach even further than I felt comfortable doing before. Suddenly, I can see the shoreline! A lighthouse on a point in the distance — it’s still so far away, but it’s a beacon of hope I’ve never seen before. It’s exciting and makes me appreciate the journey I’ve been on, what I’ve managed to learn from it, the ways I’ve managed to grow. I can tell it’s going to take time to get there, but sanctuary is within sight and I am so damn grateful.

There’s a large storm to my back that’s been lurking on the horizon for weeks, maybe months. I know when it finally overtakes me that the torrential rains and destructive winds will change the landscape that lies before me. I know it will take time to recover and rebuild, but that’s the beauty of nature, right? For everything that it tears down and destroys there is another beauty, one with more depth and nuance than the reality that came before it, and there’s a beauty in that, too. The evolution of what we once believed in, what we once felt was perfect, what was once idolized.

Instead of being obsessed with the unblemished and unbroken, I now see the exquisite radiance of my scars, flaws and shortcomings. Instead of hiding behind the veneer of perfection, I embrace and display these parts that I’ve always kept hidden, finding validation in the knowledge that I’m not alone. I’m close enough to the shore now that I can see the other survivors gathered there, waiting for me. Their scars are etched in gold, sparkling in the light for everyone to see, highlighted because we need not be ashamed of what we have survived. There is power in surviving and they know it. But they don’t know about the storm behind me. I want to warn them — they have to see it, how can they not?! It’s everywhere, and yet they stand there. Unafraid, unaffected and confident in the foundations they have rooted themselves upon. I want to be one of these people. I’m so close. My trusted lifeboat has served me well for so long, but it’s slowing me down. I stand at the precipice of a new journey: stay in the boat and eventually drift to shore, or take the leap.

Leap and the net shall appear.

I’ve always been a strong swimmer and there is little current. It’s not that far; I’m in decently good shape from all the paddling I’ve been doing, and the water doesn’t look threatening. As I scan one last time before I jump, making sure there are no sharks or last minute obstacles, the boat trembles slightly beneath my feet. But I think nothing of it. I’m going to do it. I leap.

The water is more of a shock than I expect. But it’s a welcome feeling that brings a clarity I’ve been missing. I linger below the surface, holding my breath, watching the sunlight stream through the crystal blue water that surrounds me, deafening my senses into a comfortable numb. The sensory deprivation is a welcome relief from my normal reality, but inevitably I need air and swim towards the surface. As my eyes open and look towards the shore, I’m suddenly aware that those waiting to welcome me are looking at me with fear and confusion. I wasn’t under that long, they beckoned for me to jump, so what did I do wrong?

The icy sting of anxiety worms it’s way into the pit of my stomach, slowly and insidiously spreading throughout my body like the ink an octopus ejects to confuse potential threats. I notice the water darkening around me; have I unknowingly jumped into a trap? The people on the shoreline, who once smiled so warmly at me look on with horror as they slowly grow smaller and smaller. At first, I’m confused. I’ve not gone backwards; I’m still so close, so tantalizingly close. I start to swim. But they don’t get bigger. My perspective starts to widen, and I realize we are still the same distance apart, they are just much lower than I am. Unbeknownst to me, as I was taking my leap of faith, a tsunami was slowly growing. The small seismic shift brought up many unresolved emotional issues that lay hidden within my fissure zone, prone to fracture and upheaval because the the instability of my bedrock.

I fear the storm because its impact is known, but I’m terrified for the tsunami and what it means for me, as well as the people on the shoreline and future. I feel myself frantically treading water to stay afloat of this giant wave, but it’s full of so many projectiles I don’t know where to turn. This  wave, this rogue expression of emotion that only allows itself to be seen through gas-lit filters and downplaying of severity overwhelmed me and I give up fighting, just hoping to to ride it out. And as I finally crest to the top of the wave, the storm finally unleashes its vengeance.

The shoreline is empty now; everyone who was previously there has long since run for cover. I’m happy for them. I hope they survive what I have unknowingly brought to their doorstep. But I can’t waste my thought time worrying about them when I know I’ll be lucky to survive these opposing forces of nature.

Getty image via Grandfailure.

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