It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong until I entered a room filled to the brim with people–faces I knew, faces I didn’t. It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong until I entered said room and felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest, as though my lungs were filling with water, and as though my spinning head was going to rotate off my body and fly away.
And I blamed it on my asthma, but asthma can’t be blamed for everything. No, this is worse. Much worse. Because inhalers can fix asthma, or at least get it enough under control that I can breathe almost normally.
This is anxiety.
This is the feeling of complete and utter doom that springs from fears that have their roots firmly established in things I’ve experienced.
Because even though I go out of my way and actively avoid large groups of people, it’s not large groups of people I’m scared of. It’s the overcrowding, the not enough space, the I barely have enough room to squeeze by you, claustrophobia. And I didn’t used to be this way. I can remember the time and place I became claustrophobic: 8th grade, in a school bathroom. And that memory is probably why I can never go to the Bathroom by myself. It’s probably why when I’m in a large crowd, I make myself smaller to give myself more room.
I need room to breathe, and room to pace to sort out my jumbled up mess of thoughts. I thrive in wide open spaces.
But, not too wide. If you get too far away from people, it’s easy to imagine yourself as the only person left. And that terrifies me more. I like being alone, but I hate feeling alone. And yes, there’s a difference. At night when I sleep in my own room, I’m alone. But I can hear the snores of my family as the house settles in for the night, and I can hear God in the wind that makes my house moan and groan.
And even though darkness is wide, it can make you feel claustrophobic. Because sometimes, the weight of it all makes you feel like you are suffocating. What lies beyond my field of vision is mysterious and foreboding. The future terrifies me.
This is anxiety.
When my heart is racing so fast I count it in beats per second, not beats per minute. It’s paralyzing fear. Similar to the time I went to Niagara Falls in 8th grade and had to cross a glass bridge. I had to be pushed across by my friends, because I’ve always been scared of heights.
And eventually my fear of heights became synonymous with the urge to jump and end it all. But one time I climbed to the roof of a mall in Guatemala, and I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to jump. And that’s the biggest step toward healing I’ve ever taken. But when I went to the mall the other week, I found out that escalators still make me feel anxious.
Anxiety is not a trend. It’s not something you should use to make you feel cool, because believe me, it makes you feel totally uncool. When most girls wear over sized sweaters, they look cute. When I wear over sized sweaters, I look like how anxiety makes me feel.
Anxiety is not a trend. It’s not something you can shrug off when it’s too warm outside. It’s not something you can decide doesn’t fit with the look you want today. And anxiety looks different on everybody. I’m 5 years old, and there’s monsters in my closet (and by closet, I mean my head). Because one day, you realize the monsters hiding under your bed were really inside you the whole time. Right now, I’m 19 years old, and the monsters in the closet still scare me.
Anxiety is not Instragramming a pumpkin spice latte while watching Dr. Who on Netflix, all while sitting in your room alone. It’s running your fingers of your left hand over your right thumb and wrist, tracing the scars left behind, because you don’t know what else to do when your Lit Class is discussing a book about sexual assault. It’s tapping your foot in Health Class when they discuss eating disorders. It’s leaving the crowded dining hall of your college campus to pace up and down the book lined halls of the library.
Anxiety is sleepless nights and silence. I’ve been so open about my struggles, but I’ve remained silent on this. Nobody wants to seem weak. It’s the silence I wish my mind would impose upon this freight train of my mind, the racing thoughts that I don’t deserve to live a normal life. I don’t deserve to be happy. But I also don’t deserve to be unhappy, because, comparatively, my life isn’t so bad.
Anxiety is questioning. Why are they being nice to me? Why are they laughing? Is there something on my face? There are so many questions and not enough answers. Not that I deserve answers anyway, because there are beautiful people out there, beautiful sweaters stitched together with greatness. I’m a lackluster wool turtleneck held together with mediocrity. Turtlenecks make me feel like I’m choking. And wool itches like anxiety makes my skin crawl.
And maybe one day, I’ll be a fantastic heroine in some award winning novel. I’ll be characterized by my beauty, charm, and confidence. But, right now, I feel like a bunch of equations haphazardly thrown up on a black board some where. Maybe one day my numbers will add up to greatness or something close to that, but right now my 5 and 8 and my 11 and 14 don’t add up. No matter how I do the math, add, subtract, multiply, or divide, my life still equals zero. I hope one day it equals one. Because in statistics, a correlation coefficient of 1 shows a strong relationship. Maybe one day my correlation coefficient of 1 will signify the relationship between my past struggles and how great I became.
Right now, I’m waiting for the day when I meet someone who says, “Here, let me take your oversized sweater for a while. I’ll give you a break from the itching.”