I was born anxious. Or at least as far back at anyone can remember I’d been anxious. My mother often recounted to me a story of when I was in first grade wherein we had a homework assignment to make a diorama over the course of a week. In this tale, I picked over each piece of it for days on end, barely sleeping. I became unsatisfied in my unsteady hands and less than stellar creativity and would move pieces around inside the small box for hours. Finally when the end of the week came and it was time to take the creation to school I promptly burst into tears fearing that my handiwork would somehow be crushed on the bus ride to school. All the while insisting the project was not good enough to even be brought to school and that somehow, on top of all these things, I was faulty.
And the truth is, I was faulty. I was short circuiting. I was a blinking warning light with no calamity. I was a blaring fire alarm without smoke.
There’s nothing to indicate that before that age I was somehow better or carefree or without anxiety either so I have to conclude I was born that way. Simply born anxious. And that was all. I’m sure what came after didn’t help but I don’t think it made me, I think I always was. Sprang full formed out of the box going off like a siren.
A few years later was the first time anyone clued me in that there might be some letters attached to what I would have just called “an internally swirling mass of anxiety and existential dread” that I felt on a daily basis. I assumed most of my feelings were teenage angst or hormones or maybe a combination of good old fashion awkwardness coupled with moving away from everything you know one too many times but it turned out that almost no one else was experiencing what I was. That I was alone in the center of noisy panic that was my mind.
Not to be dramatic (because I rarely think of myself in a dire way) but the realization that other people don’t wake up completely full of dread and wondering if they will even see the next day is still a strange concept to me. I wake up every day experiencing feelings of failure and emptiness and anxiety before anything has even happened to invoke them. There is no routine that really stops them. There are no magic words to be said and no actions to be taken. Being alive invokes the anxiety and because of that, I make my weird compromises with it.
I would say in a way I’ve made a kind of peace with it, and that’s true to some extent, but in reality it’s not as nice and neat as it sounds. Life is just a series of compromises I am constantly making, all of them a russian roulette where I eventually draw the short straw. Anxiety is. It looms and waits. Even when I’m happy or in the middle of something I enjoy anxiety is slowly wearing me down in the background, underneath it all. It robs me of joy and sometimes of feeling anything at all. I do things despite it because we live in a symbiotic relationship together and always have and probably always will. It gets in the way of my marriage, my friendships, my jobs, my shopping, my writing, my workouts, and even in the way of my binge TV watching. I know many people have written about anxiety before and even about my flavor(s) of anxiety but I think it bears repeating. Because in the hilarity of all this, my anxiety specifically likes repeating. More than anything else repeating lives inside me with the anxiety. It lives in the rituals and routines I find myself looped into. It lives in the same thought played out thousands of times a day, the same note hummed under my breath, the same movement, the same word, the same numbers tapped on the end of my fingers. And it to let it repeat only staves off the anxiety for mere minutes or sometimes only seconds before it swallows up the rest of my brain. And then it repeats. And then it repeats.
But I have spent a lifetime managing the repeating, a lifetime managing the anxiety. CBT works sometimes, yoga works sometimes, finding a quiet place alone and screaming works sometimes, but nothing really works. Things work for an hour, for a day and then at the end of whatever ticking clock I managed to pause: it resumes as if it had never stopped at all and the anxiety returns. The anxiety returned on medicine. The anxiety returned when I did nothing. It returned when I did something. It returned so hard when I did all the somethings that I curled in to a ball and waited to starve. It didn’t wax and wane with the moon or the sun or the stars or other people or the things I could hold and the things I could not hold. Instead I live with my anxiety in the same way so many people cease to make peace with the thing that kills them. I voice my vulnerability. I cry. Sometimes I lay in bed and hope to get hit by lightning but I go on after that.
I do what needs to be done. Because my anxiety is a bargain. It’s a burden to hold but it’s just the load that I carry in exchange for being alive. Not because of deserving it or not deserving it, but simply because things are. And we do the best what we’re given.
Minds are funny though because looking back I can erase my anxiety from the memories. I can just remember how it felt to be loved or to be kissed. To hold hands, to laugh out loud. The anxiety was there in the picture with me, ruining the moment, but looking backwards it’s as if some strange entity could have erased it all along, leaving just the pure emotion. As all the creases could be simply smudged out of the picture. Like there is a me inside who could be reset and restored.
I can imagine a life without anxiety but it’s more like a creative fantasy where nothing is different except your insides don’t feel like someone is squeezing them. Nothing is different but when you smile you’re not trying to convince yourself of anything. You’re not playing a part. You’re not “faking it til you make” to the sound of yourself tick tick tick-ing down every year and counting. You’re just making it. You’re just there.
But I’m here. And it’s here with me.