tw: anxiety, mentions of suicide, depression.
It’s 2pm on my fourth day of work and I’m hungry. It’s past the normal lunch hour and I have no snacks at my desk yet, just my water bottle and some gum in my bag. I want to go outside and go across the street to CVS but my mind won’t let me. What if my boss comes while I’m gone? What if I miss a last minute e-mail from someone and end up missing an event? What if there’s a really long line at CVS and I can’t get back to my desk in time? What if on the way out I run into my boss and she tells me I’m not allowed to leave? What if I go out and try to run across the street and get hit by a car? What if, what if, what if. My first instinct was that this was normal. I’m a newly graduated young adult, I’m nervous about being in my first job. It’s all good. Until it’s not. Until I admit to myself that this process has been a constant in my life way before I entered this work space. That for the past six months my mind has attacked me on the daily and it has become an ongoing battle. This is what anxiety looks like for me.
The first time I ever used the word ‘depression’ for myself I was sixteen and suicidal, a combination that I have come to find is not all that uncommon. I had recently come out as gay and despite all my fears many of the people around me were accepting. In a way it was anti-climactic and all that worry I had built up in myself washed over me as my mind created scenarios and paranoia that hadn’t really happened. It was after I came out that I was also told that I would have to transfer schools since my high school was being shut down. A whole new school for my Senior year, a whole new group of people to come out to…or just get to know as my now openly gay self. I ended up at a school with kids I grew up with, who knew me once as a basketball obsessed tomboy and were now getting to know me as a literature obsessed, food loving, ex-basketball player, openly gay teenager. But it started before that. It started the spring before my Senior of high school.
I have always been an extremely self aware person. I hate it and I love it. I’m very in tune with my feelings and it makes making decisions hard because I know exactly what I want to do and exactly what I should do. And still it’s a battle. But it was this self awareness that led me from a night of breaking down in my room, staring at scissors on my bookshelf to me walking into my mother’s room early the next morning to say, “I need help.” Since that moment in 2011, I have been with the same therapist, even though now she has become more like a friend who I just go to catch up with every once in awhile. And she’s been through it all with me, especially my other really big breakdown that came my sophomore year of college.
That is all to say that words such as depression and anxiety didn’t start to come into my vocabulary until I was sixteen and started to have frequent anxiety attacks and bouts of depression. The only prior experience having been when I was thirteen and had a few panic attacks that had been prompted by bullying. For the years after that, depression always seemed to win out against anxiety, making itself the most present in my life. It was always the case until I met my new best friend sometime in March of this year whose name is Anxiety. It happened almost like a switch. I had been on this spiritual high, I was praying everyday, taking each hour as it came and waking up each morning filled with hope and positivity. And somehow it just changed.
Anxiety has always been something that I have lived with, in little spurts, often prompted by pressure and being overwhelmed by life in general. But this…this was noticeably different. This was not being able to sleep because my body was so tense. This was waking up from whatever few hours I managed to get and feeling my mind running with everything that has gone wrong, could go wrong and would go wrong. This was rapid blinking, rubbing at my nose, shaking my leg, rocking back and forth, feeling like I couldn’t breath. This was having one part of my brain saying ‘it’s okay’ and another tearing my entire being down and ultimately resulting in me shutting down. This was me looking at one line text messages and analyzing every letter until I had convinced myself that I had done something wrong and I wasn’t good enough. This was my anxiety and still very much is my anxiety.
It’s never easy to talk about mental health, especially in communities of color. For me it’s both been finding it in me to have the words and also fighting against the ways in which everyone perceives me to be. I am a generally positive person, I greet people with a smile, I’m always cracking jokes and am fairly good at being social and making friends. But I am also an extreme introvert. People exhaust the hell out of me. If I go out on a Friday night, I need to spend most of Saturday quietly by myself, on the computer and not sharing any parts of myself with another person. Whenever I tell people I’m an introvertI usually get two answers, “No you’re not,” or “I would have never guessed!” In many ways, the reaction is the same when I finally get around to talking to some people about my anxiety. A lot of people tell me to try breathing exercises, to mediate, to listen to peaceful music, to simply remove things from my life that make me anxious as if it were as easy as that and of course the always wonderful statement, “But you have nothing to be anxious about! Life is great!” What makes life great is perceived differently by many people. And despite popular belief, one can still do a lot of things when anxious and depressed, those states of being do not solely exist in sadness.
Anxiety has become my constant companion. It is always present and getting increasingly worse. It looks like me not being able to really function at work because every scenario in my mind has caused me to shut down and just stare off into nothing. It looks like me never being able to stay still, even as I’m writing this my legs are bouncing up and down. It looks like me thinking the reason I haven’t heard from someone in a few days is because I did something terribly wrong even though I know that I didn’t and that person is just probably busy or some other perfectly valid and logical reason. It looks like me getting easily frustrated and to the point of wanting to cry and cry until I no longer feel anything. It looks like me constantly rubbing my face. It looks like me having frequent breakdowns whenever plans I make either don’t go exactly like I made it in my mind or don’t happen. It looks like me either talking a mile a minute or not talking for hours. It looks like me viewing sleep as just a thing that makes my brain shut up but even then my dreams find a way to mess it all up. It looks like me checking the time the train is supposed to arrive and get in over and over again even when I’m on said train. It looks like me sitting in a meeting with someone and listening to them talk while I think about what route I’m going to walk to go to lunch, what outfit I’m going to wear the next day, what meeting I have later, what my friend really meant when they sent that text, what people think of me, the possibility of me going on a date in the next year. It looks like me writing this article and wondering who will read it, who will think it’s ridiculous, am I doing this for attention, who do I want to read it, will I have to deal with more people giving me advice I don’t want, what time is it, should I get lunch, what should I eat, which way should I walk, how much money do I have, what will I do when I get home, will I get a seat on the train?
It looks like me and nothing like what anyone else feels because it’s my anxiety. My friends anxiety looks like their anxiety, not mine. Yes we both have anxiety. Yes they are similar. No they are not the same. Feelings, in my opinion, never appear the same to people. It’s why whenever someone tells me “I know exactly how that feels,” that I shut down and don’t really hear anything after that. It’s why I have only ever discussed my anxiety beyond “I’m anxious” to only a few people in my life. It’s also why it took me so long to admit to myself that something felt off and uncomfortable. It’s why I can’t explain to my peers that the reason why I still haven’t gone to the cafeteria in my work building is because I’m too anxious about being around that many new people, or standing in the wrong line, or going through the motions incorrectly and having an employee laugh at me. It’s why getting the help I need is taking so long because I can’t admit that I need someone to call the doctors for me cause I just can’t bring myself to speak to someone, to find out the costs and plan it all out. It’s why it’s hard for me to speak to anyone but millenials, specifically people from my college and even more specifically my friends of color about it because I’m just tired of hearing “But have you tried…” or “I don’t think that’s true.”
My anxiety is my best friend. My enemy. It has become me, consumed me and I don’t have the strength or will to fight it.