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Facing the World After Anxiety Kept Me Indoors

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In 11 days, I will be 24. In four and three-quarter hours, it will be midnight. The sun falling from view in a dozy 30. Five minutes and 52 seconds are left ticking by before my playlist switches tracks. There’s one cup of cold coffee on my bedside table.

Today was the first. It’s been 41 days of being inside, looking out. A spectator, not a participant. Somewhere in my 23 years and 354 days, I lost my admission pass, dropped my ticket stub. I twisted up the receipt until it was just a balled mass of black on white.

Somewhere in those years, I gently, and all-at-once, let go of my mind, and it’s strange. It’s strange how we are the puppeteers of our own thoughts, able to pull cords and tie knots in our own supplies of blood and air. How we have the ability to do everything and nothing, to live and breathe, to give up and let go.

It’s strange how your own mind can play tricks on you. How it can become a separate entity, detached and able to make you believe in the unnatural, the irrational, the inescapable.

It’s terrifying when you begin to realize how your mind can push you. To dread sleep for fear of not waking. Yet, it can dread being awake because every second is like the last, plagued with irrational fears conjured by your own Machiavellian creation.

Where food is poison. Sleep is impossible. Minutes seem infinite. Shaking is constant. You don’t want to cry. Yet, at the same time, all you want to do is cry. Your eyes are open, but the nightmare doesn’t stop.

Yet, today was the first. Forty-one days. Behind layers of glass and brick, letting my eyes live the life I want. Watching the raspy pull of branches billowing above the footsteps of neighbors. Trapped behind a window with envy for their life, their purpose, their simple ability to leave their home.

Yet, today was different. Today, the windows didn’t magnify the world. The glass didn’t encase me like a snow globe’s orb, rooting my body thickly in place in plastic and ceramic and dull glitter. This time, I wasn’t a motionless figure watching the outside dance in endless pirouettes, sixes and eights of tulle passing me by like the mist of affection in the arrivals lounge of an airport.

It’s been 41 days of the ordinary seeming impossible. Of rooms feeling smaller. Tastes being clumsy and mismatched. Days where love feels claustrophobic. Support feels like failure. Where life feels like a trap. Forty-one days where someone else’s mundane was my Everest.

I experience anxiety. I don’t “suffer” from it. It’s dripped into my chromosomes, melted into my blood and built up in the pigment of my eyes. I accept it as part of me.

Today was the first time in 41 days I felt able to leave home on my own again, and it was strange. Like stepping onto ice, and learning how to swipe your feet. My shoes felt odd. My arms didn’t know how to swing. I didn’t know where to look, and the sun seemed brighter than it should. Yet, I was outside, and I was alone. Surviving. Breathing. Overcoming fear.

In 11 days, I will be 24, and I’m still learning. How to live inside the body I have grown. How to shake someone’s hand firmly enough. How not to cry in public and how to turn around on a busy pavement when you know you’re walking the wrong way. I’m learning how to live with the thoughts that manifest in my head when something gets to be too much.

If I have to accept that the next 11, 20 or 50 days are spent learning how to cope and start again, then I will. Our feelings are fluid. Our experiences eternal. Memories can be lost, but the muscle remains. I’m training myself to live in a world that is evolving faster than we can see.

Anxiety makes you believe the unbelievable. The impossible. The bang-your-head-against-the-wall silliness. Yet, to you, it can seem as real as anything, as routine as a heartbeat. If today I experienced my first steps again for a second time, then I’ll learn how to start again.

I’m not ready to give up before my new chapter has even had a chance to begin.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: November 15, 2016
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