Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. One more time. Just one more time. I focus on my breathing as hard as I can but it’s too late, the tears start streaming down my face and the uncontrollable sobs follow shortly after. I call my best guy friend.
“It’s happening again, can you please just talk to me?”
“Sure,” he responds nonchalantly. “So I had a weird thing happen during my workout today,” he continues.
We talk for half an hour, it feels like a year, and I make it. I make it through another attack.
“Why do you think I’m like this?” I ask, hoping he’ll have a real answer for once. Hoping he’ll have the solution. He always knew how to talk to me. He is one of the very few people in my life who knows everything about me and still loves me. He is true friendship embodied. He is my best friend.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Why are any of us like we are?”
I was a dramatic child to say the least. I threw bad temper tantrums from the minute I realized I could get my way simply by screaming and flailing and being too adorable to get angry at. I used to do this especially adorable thing where I’d bang my head against things—fridges and doors mostly—until I got my way. Then, one time, it was a window and that was the last straw for my parents. I still have the scar on my forehead to remind me of how uncontrollable my emotions were even at age 4.
I’ve had a lot of stressful things happen in my life. I know, haven’t we all? Let me try that again. I’ve had a lot of life-altering stressful things happen in my life. Escaping a war at age 6. Adapting to a new country at age 7. Losing my mother at age 11, followed by the demise of the relationship with my father at age 21. But to be honest, I kind of just ... adapted. I survived. I’ve always known how to do that—survive. I’ve always known how to take care of myself; it’s just what I’ve done. It’s just who I am.
But it wasn’t until my late 20s that the anxiety started to happen. It was kind of like my body’s way of telling me, “Whoa, hold on a sec, did you actually survive, or did you just push it all to the side and keep it moving?” I didn’t know what it was at first; I would just cry out of nowhere. I thought I was just being an over-emotional girl.
The first time my doctor told me I had anxiety, I rolled my eyes. Yeah, okay lady. I’m not one of those people. I’m normal. This type of stuff doesn’t happen to me. Anxiety isn’t real; it’s an excuse. I just need to suck it up and deal with it. I’ve been through a lot worse, so I sure as hell can get through this. So, thanks but no thanks on that whole thing.
Shame was the first emotion I felt. For the first time, I wasn’t in control; my emotions controlled me. I was ashamed and embarrassed. How could someone as strong as me, someone who had survived so many things, suddenly be so weak? People suffer from anxiety in many different ways. Some have trouble breathing. Others feel a heavy weight on their chest. Me? I cry. A lot. Except this time around, it isn’t so adorable. Oh, he didn’t text me back? Well, that means he doesn’t care, which means he doesn’t like me anymore, which means it’s over, which means I will never find someone else, which means my life is over. Gasping sobs follow shortly after. That is how anxiety works. One little insignificant “normal” thing will go wrong, and suddenly everything is wrong.
Accepting my anxiety was hard for me. I’m fine. I’ve always been fine. I know how to take care of myself, and I don’t need anyone’s help. I never have. I practically raised myself; I know what’s best for me. To think I would need to rely on someone or something other than myself was a scary thought. But my anxiety was scarier, so I started to try and accept it. I started to deal with it. And the more I dealt with it, the more I talked about it, and the more I realized how many of my friends and acquaintances dealt with it too. Why did we never talk about it? Why didn’t I know that you were going through the same thing? Why didn’t you tell me? Why?
I think it’s hard for a lot of people to understand anxiety. That can be said about a lot of things, but especially about anything related to mental health. I can describe a million times the feeling of my world ending because of a single text message, but people will never be able to fully feel it. And even when people do feel it, do experience it, they don’t want to talk about it. They’re ashamed. They feel like no one can relate. No one could possibly understand these crazy thoughts running through my head. God forbid we aren’t looked at as “normal.”
Let me fill you in on a little something I’ve picked up in my 20-something years of not exactly being normal. Normal is relative. It’s also pretty boring. You’d be surprised to find out how many people—normal or not—are dealing with the same things you’re dealing with. So why are we so afraid to talk about it?
“I mean, I get that we all have our stuff, but why does this have to be my thing? Why do I let small things affect me so deeply? I wish I could just care less,” I say as my breathing slowly goes back to normal.
“Yeah, but then you wouldn’t be you,” he responds.
He’s right. (He’s right a lot, but no one tell him that.) The dramatics, the caring so much it hurts, the empathy to the point of pain—without all of it, I wouldn’t be me.