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Why Climbing a Mountain Was a Lot Like My Anxiety

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I’ve always found it really difficult to explain my anxiety and the effect it has on me. Often I can’t even really understand it myself, therefore explaining it to others is near impossible.

I’ve been thinking of how to explain my struggle, and finally, I’ve cracked it. When in doubt, use a metaphor. So that’s what I’m doing.

It’s time to talk about the mountain I climb every day.

Let’s start off with a bit of context; last October, I climbed a mountain. It felt somewhat poetic to conquer this mountain towards what was the end of the worst year of my life. I thought climbing the mountain would be the perfect end to a dreadful year. Not only had I conquered this year, but I’d take it a step further and climb a mountain just because I could. My anxiety couldn’t touch this.

The day prior to climbing the mountain, a few of my housemates mocked me for thinking I could actually do it. Those words hurt, but more than anything they motivated me to prove them wrong. I started the climb with their words in my mind — I told myself I would do it, even if it was just to prove them wrong.

That determination didn’t last long — 20 minutes in and I was already struggling. I thought to myself that my housemates were right; if I was already struggling now, then why even bother to continue? I would never make it to the top. I might as well turn back now than in an hour or two after all that wasted effort. So I started to turn back — then I turned back again. I had to believe I could do this. I survived this past year, I could survive this small mountain!

So I started to climb again and within minutes I fell face first, but I just got up, dusted myself off and carried on. Eventually, I made it to the top. It was a struggle but I was so determined, I couldn’t feel the pain or the exhaustion. I had made it! And it felt amazing … for a total of two seconds. I realized I made it to the top, but that just meant I was only halfway. I still had to get all the way back down.

That’s when the intrusive thoughts started. I made it up without any injury, so the chances of getting hurt on the way down had surely doubled. It was a steep climb, so getting down meant I could easily slip and fall at any moment, right? I’d managed to get all this way up, but it didn’t matter because I was probably going to die on the way down. I’d never make it the rest of the way, I was doomed to fail.

This was the start of a two and a half hour panic attack on the way down this seemingly never-ending mountain. Struggling to breathe. Holding back my tears. Just wanting everything to end because it seemed like I’d never get to the bottom of this mountain and prolonging this pain just wasn’t worth it.

At the end of the day, for me, this had been one of the most emotionally exhausting days in a couple of months. To everyone else though, I’d just successfully climbed a mountain, what an achievement! Woo.

What’s this got to do with my daily experience of anxiety? Well, this is what I go through on most days. I may not literally climb a mountain, but all the mental aspects and struggles of climbing this mountain exist in my everyday life.

Those housemates who mocked me are the sound of my anxiety any time I try to do anything, telling me I’m not good enough. And every day I try to prove my anxiety wrong. I take those first steps even though they terrify me. I apply for that position I want, open myself up to people and have faith they won’t hurt me, speak up for myself and so much more.

There are obstacles and multiple times in a day I just want to give everything up, drop out of university, quit all my extracurricular responsibilities and stay in bed all day. But I fight. I do as much as I can. Even though I know that if I get that position, for example, I’ll only enjoy it for a second before I drive myself “crazy” thinking I’m not worthy of it. That one second is worth it; for that one second, I’m content before my anxiety ruins everything.

Every day, I climb a mountain and wonder how I’m going to survive this day. Every day, my anxiety exhausts me so much I consider giving up before the day has even started. Yet, every day I refuse to give up on myself and I try my best to get through the day no matter how exhausting it is. From an outside perspective, my life is a success; in reality, a struggle exists behind every single thing I do and I’m the only one who knows it.

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Originally published: May 17, 2017
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