photo by Lucas Feola
Anxiety in My Head and Fear in My Bed
Tuesday Morning Thoughts
This morning, my eyes gazed up at the blank ceiling above me. I noticed each line between the panels and the little details- the specks of paint and tiny cracks making up the bigger picture. My body laid limp on my white sheets, covered by my favorite velvet blue blanket, with one leg out to escape the heat. It was like any other day- except for once, my thoughts were quiet. That spot between my shoulders let go of its tensity. I melted into the floor beneath me.
I usually feel like I need to check my phone to catch up or answer people, but this morning I didn’t. I didn’t need to scroll through Instagram at 8am in fear that I “missed” something. There was no itch to get up, to wash my face, to get dressed. It could wait. I didn’t need to be anywhere. And laying there wasn’t wasting my time. That’s how I wake up on a good day– in a cool, calm, neutral state.
It actually just recently came to my attention that that’s how most people wake up every day. But soon after, I start to wonder about where my worry has wandered off to.
I wonder why I’m not anxious and then assume that something bad is going to happen, so it starts up again. Or I make myself nervous expecting it to return. Where have my jitters gone- the feeling that makes me go-go-go every morning? And if they’re gone now, does that mean I don’t have any sort of stimulus to get through today? I almost feel like I’m dependent on it. Serenity makes me feel like I’m numb.
I paused for a second and sat with that. For the first time, a new question popped into my brain- how efficiently can I function without anxiety? Do I need to be this way in order to get out of bed and accomplish something? Has it gotten so extensive that my moments of relief now seem uncalled for and will forever be disturbed by question?
Because I’ve lived with this for so long, it’s normal to feel anxious. I had stopped trying to pinpoint where it was coming from. I just let it do its thing. I got tired and stopped having the energy to combat my bouts of dread. I learned how to “comfortably” live with it because it took too much out of me to fight it. And in that process, I lost myself because I stopped trying to discover who I was without it. I let it rule my life. What I know is the anxious version of myself.
That isn’t okay. Letting it “do its thing” is giving up. It’s letting myself fall away at the feet of it. And I know that I act differently when I’m not anxious. I’m more outgoing. It’s easier for me to speak, to say how I feel and to communicate. I behave differently. I react differently. But it makes me want to run and hide. I’m condemned to my room because that is the only “safe” place. And even there, I am at war with my own mind.
photo above by XVNDER BLANK
A few months back, I went to an open house for a school. I’d been thinking about going for a while. And I already skipped the first one because it was snowing, and I didn’t want to trek to the city in the snow (so I couldn’t really back out this time). I was excited nevertheless. I like going to the city because it’s easier for me to exist there. Everyone’s focused on their own stuff, so there’s no pressure. I never feel like anyone is watching me, or thinking I’m weird or something. I’m comforted by being this tiny little speck in a sea of people. I didn’t have any trouble on my way there.
We all gathered in a half-circle facing the founders of the school. It was a very intimate space, perfect for an open discussion. They started off by asking us why we were interested in this particular route and what brought us here. Upon hearing that they were going to go around the room, allowing each of us to have the floor to speak, I became a bundle of nerves. There it was.
I looked to each side of the room in anticipation of which they’d start on. I counted each head until mine. Then I began rehearsing my lines over and over again until I got what I wanted to say right. I kept telling myself, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ve done this a billion times. Just chill out. You can do this- it’s fine. I shrank further as the line moved along. Four people until me. I wish I could telepathically tell them, then they could just skip over me.
As the last word slipped out of the person before me, I watched each colorless rosebud head turn to listen to the only crimson one. I heard a muffled, “go ahead“, but my own heart banging angrily against my chest and the shallow breaths escaping my mouth were the only decipherable sounds. I tried to remind myself to breathe. It was my turn to speak, and I was. But each time I blinked, the stretch between the artificial light and the endless darkness behind my eyelids became longer and longer. I couldn’t feel my breath or hear my words anymore. I was in an empty room surrounded by white noise. And all I knew was that my physical body was trying hard to get as little out as possible to convey what I meant- although there was a lot I had to say, a lot of my heart to give. I wanted them to see me. And all I could’ve hoped for was that what I did say was enough.
It’s moments like that that defeat me more than anything else.
You see, there’s this bridge between your thoughts and actual words. It’s the pause that most people don’t consider. It’s think and- boop! There’s what I said. It comes out so easily for them. But sometimes I get lost in translation. The more you focus on what you have to say, the longer the walk to your mouth becomes. The more you think about if it’s even worth saying. You start to examine everything about it, then it gets lodged in a crevice along the way. And by the time you decide you’re going to speak, it’s too late. You’ve taken too long and you have to muster up something in place of the time lost. Or whatever the topic was has fled. Or you’ve been sitting in awkward silence for the past ten minutes with the person you love and didn’t even realize it.
Anxiety amplifies all those pauses in life- no matter how tall, or complex, or short, or simple. Then uses them as space to spiral.
It’s hard to explain what a day with anxiety is like. And I get that it’s hard to understand anxiety when you don’t have it. Sometimes, it kind of feels like I’m housing another me. Except, this other me is an alien from another planet. She’s paranoid and a bit all over the place because she’s new here and doesn’t know much yet. Everything makes her nervous, and she comes to me to vent about it. She also has trouble organizing her brain like humans do. So it’s my job to either explain everything to her, so she calms down- to take everything step by step. Or to just let her run wild and share the panic and fear. It’s like having ‘first day of school’ butterflies, but every day is the first day of school.
I’m kind of an adult now and being one comes with responsibilities. There are superpowers you’re supposed to acquire, but no one teaches you how to do so. They are as follows; handling things on your own- regardless of circumstance, having the ability to confront, always staying calm, swallowing the fact that (most of the time) you won’t have the opportunity to explain yourself, and pretending everything’s alright. Anxiety makes all of those things really difficult.
Below are some examples of how anxiety affects my daily life:
- My heart drops when I receive phone calls. And I refuse to make any calls unless I absolutely have to. (This means making any kind of appointment, reaching out to my grandparents, facetiming an old friend, talking to customer support, etc. require a lot of thought and pacing beforehand. And are most often accompanied by panic and dread.)
- Going to job interviews is very challenging. Sometimes I don’t even show up.
- I can’t really make plans in advance because if there’s too much time to think about it before it happens, I’ll go back and forth with my decision to go. Or I’ll cancel the day of- which makes me feel bad, but not as bad as my nerves on the drive there. I’d rather just turn around and go home. It’s not their fault. It’s not that I don’t want to see anyone, or that I don’t care or like them. If I’m being honest, I don’t know what makes me so nervous about simply hanging out.
- I really enjoy grocery shopping, but if I have to go alone, I start feeling like everyone is staring at me, and I’m being suspicious. I’ll spend twenty minutes in an aisle trying to find something (because I have to look at everything and make sure I don’t miss anything), and if I can’t find it, I’ll just leave without it.
- One time, I was trying to pick a face wash at Whole Foods, but I couldn’t find the one I normally buy. I didn’t want to ask for help. My eyes ran down the wall, double checking and triple checking. Then I noticed that I had been standing there for awhile and started to…sweat. Lol.
- I don’t like going anywhere I could possibly run into someone I know. Seeing people unlocks this utter terror within me. I won’t approach anyone. I’ll look down at my feet when I’m waiting for my coffee or stare at my phone to avoid an undisclosed encounter. (I think a lot of people probably think I’m rude because I never say hi or smile, but I’m trying to be invisible, so pardon me.)
- I like to know there’s a lot of time in between things, so I don’t run the risk of being late. The thought of that troubles me and it’s likely that I won’t go if I think I will be. I show up like two hours early for everything. Everyone makes fun of me for this. And it is kind of funny at this point because of how true it is, but I’m going to be ready mega early for whatever event it is, so I might as well sit in the car outside the building, instead of pacing around my room.
Anxiety appears most often when I’m minding my own business. I’ll be at a social gathering or sitting in my room, listening to music. If I’m not already anxious, it stops by to remind me that I should be. The world starts closing in. The volume on every sound in the room, as well as my thoughts, goes all the way up. And all I can do is sit through it. I become silent because I can’t ask for help. I’ll try to focus on one thing to stay on the ground, but that can be really hard for me. It’s much easier to let go- to dissociate. This way, I can leave my anxious mind and body and go to a place where those feelings don’t exist. It looks like zoning out, like I’m hollow. But dissociating means missing out. You’re there, but not really- you can’t even be present with friends or family.
Anxiety makes me feel like it’s always possible that the floor will fall out underneath me. It leaves me with constant fear and turns my thoughts into negative ones. It makes me doubt the future and feel unsure about the world. And a lot of the time, it prevents me from doing things with myself. I’m used to having to jump through hoops and trying to find pathways to help avoid the things I noted above. But there isn’t always a hack to it or a crutch for it. I have to be uncomfortable sometimes.
On my good days, I feel optimistic and excited- like I can go out and do anything. That doesn’t mean the anxiety has disappeared- it waits and plots. But it does mean that if those emotions do come up, I remember to talk myself through rough experiences. Or I’m able to control the anxiety in a different way. I just have to remember to take my time.
Hitomi Mochizuki explains dealing with anxiety really well, in her “How I Evolved Spiritually” video on Youtube (link here– that part begins around 26:30). When you struggle with anxiety and sadness, you fall down the rabbit hole of negative coping mechanisms really fast. Anxiety, in the past, made me want to hurt myself. It made me put myself down for not being able to do certain things. But she explains that these times are opportunities to show yourself more love. Something she said, that I thought was really important, was, “The mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and an internal experience, so anytime you’re having anxiety, your whole body is responding as if you’re in danger.” It makes sense that it would make you want to flee from whatever is causing the anxiety- fight or flight. And it can be difficult to calm yourself down when you’re in it because not only is your mind freaking out but your body is also.
We can train ourselves on our good days for our bad days. We can practice showing ourselves more love. And we can train ourselves in the ways that work for us. So eventually, it becomes muscle memory that we do so when we’re experiencing emotions of anxiety, panic, dread, etc..
I’m constantly navigating and learning. I don’t think enough people talk about the long term effects of stress on your body and mind. We may not even realize that some of what we experience outside of our anxiety is actually linked to it. The What’s the Juice podcast by Olivia Amitrano outlines and explains stress/the response system amazingly in episodes #1 and #7. She also provides ways you can handle your stress and take care of yourself. I highly recommend- you can find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.