If I had to describe what having anxiety feels like, I’d say that it’s kind of like walking beneath tornadic skies without an umbrella, unsure if you’ll be able to find shelter if things get bad. When friends invite you out, you politely decline because while you’d like to enjoy their company, the sky might open and wash you out to sea at any minute so it’s probably safer for you to stay at home. In the background of anything you do is the gentle hum of your nervous system as it tosses and turns, wondering when the deluge will hit, thinking about how unfortunate will be if you don’t survive it. And what kind of storm will it be? Something huge? Just enough raindrops to ruin your hair?
Anxiety can be as exhausting physically as it is mentally — tears that come from nowhere, the knotted stomach, the squeezing in the chest, the muscles that feel like they’ll snap if they get any tauter. As you move through the day, the one thing you can think of is getting to a safe space where all that doesn’t exist, where you can breathe and finally pay attention to something else.
Therefore, I spent so much of my time alone before I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder; alone was the only safe place that I knew. I wanted to get in shape but I couldn’t bring myself to do so in a gym with people to judge me and complicated machines to make me look like an idiot. There is no bigger foe in my world than change. I obsess over making the wrong decision. I have an active phobia of being asked where I want to go have dinner.
One day high school, when I was a 17-year-old graduating senior trying to plan my future; living in Austin, I looked at my myself and my life and realized I had too much going for me to continue like this. So, I found a therapist named Gail, a delightfully round, tiny sixty-something lady who said her most important things in passionate whispers so you knew that she was serious. After I spent 30 minutes trying to explain the feeling in the center of my chest that felt like a stone when I swallowed, Gail changed my life with seven words: “It sounds like you’re having some anxiety.”
I had no idea that there was a word that perfectly encompassed the random worries I carried with me every day. I knew what the word meant, of course, but I never thought to ascribe it to my problems. I immediately became obsessed with it. As soon as I got home, I looked up the word’s definition and was in tears before I even got to the end of it: An abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.
That was it. That was me. Before I was formally introduced to anxiety, I called it by a bunch of other names — nervousness, weakness, timidity. Teachers called it laziness, distractedness, and not “being a team...