I’m sick and on antibiotics, which means that I’m trying to shovel müesli down my throat at a snail’s pace with mixed results. That’s only part of the reason why I’ve started writing this.
Most of the people who know me know that I’m fairly up front about being neurotic in a general sense. Most of you probably don’t know that I’ve lived with anxiety since I was five years old. I could make a list of all of the phobias I’ve ever wrestled with, but I’ll just leave it at: Moths used to make me cry when I went camping, and I spent two years of my life running out of cars to the front door during thunderstorms, because I thought I had to escape being struck by lightning.
That last one? Started when I was 21, didn’t end until I was 23.
Fortunately, there are two things I used to be that I’m not anymore:
- Ashamed (work in progress)
I used to be so embarrassed at the thought of my own existence. I don’t deal with depression so much lately, but I spent fifth to ninth grade hoping I would wake up a different person every day.
There was an eating disorder so severe that there are barely any pictures of myself from an entire year of elementary school. I had no idea how bad it was until I saw basketball photos with my hair pulled back where my tiny ears looked huge compared to the rest of me. When I got over the eating disorder, my anxiety went somewhere else. In middle school, I thought I would never pull myself out of the feeling that I couldn’t relate to other people. At my worst, I said I wanted to die, but I knew that wasn’t the case – I just didn’t know how to cope with feeling something so heavy at such a young age.
I heard I was intelligent and had a way with words, but that’s not what I saw. I heard I was creative, but that made me feel lonely. “Precocious” couldn’t have been more alienating.
It’s taken a lot of energy to write this out, but I’ve noticed something that made me think it’s something I should have done forever ago. More than a few people have come to me asking what it’s been like to live with anxiety for two decades, and even more have admitted that they struggle with it, too. It’s more common than you think.
All I want to say to all those people is: You’re not even that weird, and you’re definitely not alone.
And it will pass. I promise. What about when anxiety manifests itself again in the form of a driving phobia or whatever the fuck else your brain decides to come up with? That will pass, too. But you have to be patient, and you have to be kind to yourself.
I’m still working on that part.
I’ll admit it: Today, I’m struggling. I have a difficult time with stomachaches in general, so dealing with them on antibiotics also means confronting my anxiety. I went to the doctor this morning on the verge of tears, until she informed me that my side effects were common. She told me what I’d already knew in the face of my anxiety telling me otherwise (that I’d be fine), recommended I eat probiotic gummies, and that was that.
On days like this, I feel tempted to beg for a fast forward button on life. And maybe you do too, or your brother does, or your best friend, or many of the millions of people who are struggling with their neuroses. Then, I remember, if it weren’t for days like this, I wouldn’t have made the progress I’ve made today.
It’s much easier to live with anxiety now than it was ten or even five years ago, but a lot of people still struggle with feeling vulnerable. I felt too ashamed to see a therapist when I was younger because of the stigma attached to doing so. I thought that it was a great idea to enlist friends as my therapists, and I think this is a common route in your teen years, whether it’s intentional or not. It’s one thing to feel free to discuss mental health with your close friends, but it’s unfair to put the onus on them to help you recover.
That being said, I wish people felt more open to admit that they might need the occasional mental health day, or that they feel stuck and could use some words of encouragement in general.
If there’s one area in which anxiety is a great teacher, it’s in the realm of empathy. You start to notice the guy at the counter who looks flustered for no apparent reason. You see a teenage girl at the end of a string of friends, but she’s not smiling like the rest of them. I’m on my way to figuring this out, but I want everyone who’s facing anxiety and depression to know: You’re okay. You’re lovable. You’re not broken. And you’ve got this.
It goes without saying, but if you know me, and you’re reading this: You’re always welcome to reach out to me, even if we haven’t spoken in ages, it’s 1am, or we’ve only met once or twice. Not that what works for me is going to work for everyone else, but one thing that’s helped me is the realization that I’m in this together with a lot of wonderful people.
(Yes, my anxiety brain wants so badly to apologize for how personal this was, and how this usually isn’t my thing, but I know better.)