Several weeks ago, I took a deep gulp of air, parted from my desk chair, and found my co-worker, Brianna, to meekly admit that I would not be making my deadline on a piece I promised her I'd write. It was a piece I had assigned to myself, casually, when I crashed one of her pitch meetings with another content editor.
“What if I wrote about my anxiety?” I asked her. “What if I wrote about how I've had anxiety my entire life, but only realized it at age 26?”
Brianna loved the idea, gave me an extremely fair deadline, and told me to find her if I needed anything. I left our impromptu meeting feeling confident, and two weeks before the deadline, I sat in my bed next to a bowl of goldfish crackers and began the essay.
I wrote about clear symptoms of anxiety throughout my life that I hadn’t really noticed, including the complexities of my bedtime routine as a child; how I would bury myself in blankets, trapped in racing thoughts, battling with a deep and painful fear that I would be kidnapped. I wrote about my stomach issues and nerves throughout adolescence, so scared to walk into a classroom 10 minutes late that I’d go to the nurse with a fabricated ailment.
I touched on the stress-induced nerves disorder my senior year of college, when half of my face stopped working on my 21st birthday, and the Beth Israel doctors thought I had a stroke. My first panic attack, a year ago, when my mom asked me to cut up my grandmother's credit cards the day after she died. A revelation, three months ago, six months into seeing a weekly therapist, when I googled “anxiety symptoms” on my laptop. I spent hours reading about them, feeling a lightbulb go on inside my head, while wondering how it was possible that it had taken me this long to do a simple search.
I read my work when I was done, and didn’t feel the usual mixture of triumph and relief that comes with finishing a venerable piece. I had to be honest with myself: the essay read like a sloppy outline of a very bleak memoir (seriously, we’re talkin’ Lifetime network, here). It was intense, dark, and, I don’t know, just really sad?
When I solely focused on my history with anxiety and stripped away everything else, it didn’t feel like a strong representation of my life as a whole. The original essay had no mention of my close friendships or career. It skipped over my travels and adventures and studies and accomplishments. There have been many nights where I’ve slept perfectly well, and I’ve eagerly waited in line to ride some of the country’s most daunting roller coasters without a second thought. I’ve pitched championship softball games, the win solely riding on my broad shoulders. Anxiety has always been a significant part of my life, but it hasn’t hindered on all aspects of it.
Now that I know my anxiety is there, I’ve realized it can live in tandem with other facets in my life, and if I plan better, it’s existence doesn’t have to feel so debilitating. You can enjoy your job, have a great relationship, keep great friendships, and still be an anxious person. Now that my condition is fully realized, I’m trying to do a better job of recognizing symptoms, so I can manage them before any spiraling or onset panic.
If I start to sense feelings of dread before I get ready for bed (which typically translates to no sleep), I’ll take a melatonin with a big glass of water, or watch Curb Your Enthusiasm to calm down (for some odd reason, Larry David playing a socially-awkward version of himself soothes me!) When I feel the beginning stages of a panic attack, I stop everything I’m doing, sit down, and take deep, long breaths. I see a therapist once a week. If I wake up in the middle of the night convinced that there just might be a Michael Myers-esque character waiting in my closet, I’ll remind myself, out loud, how improbable that is. I think through scenarios and untangle the thoughts that have knotted up in my head. I take more space, and I’m not as hard on myself. I don’t allow the voice in my head to tell me I’m being “over dramatic.” I treat myself fairly. And most of the time, it helps!
I missed my deadline by two weeks. Yikes. I’ve over-apologized (another issue of mine, but that’s for another essay) to Brianna over our workplace chat, attempting to explain my behavior. Missing deadlines is tough for me-- not only because it’s unprofessional and holds my coworkers up, but I fear it will be a deciding factor in my coworker hating my guts (another anxiety symptom!) I told Brianna that my first essay didn’t work, and I would simply need to write a new one. A less gripping, but more realistic understanding of how anxiety has shaped my life, and the small but successful ways I’m managing it. My anxiety is still there, and probably always will be, but now that we’ve been properly introduced, I think we can find the right way to coexist.