Before major tests, I usually (though not always) suffer from some form of anxiety. In 10th grade when I took my first AP Exam, I locked myself in my closet while I had a full-blown panic attack. Leading up to this exam I had several crying sessions, one of which my mom noticed, and in a fit of anger and frustration told me there was something wrong with me. It happened again the following year when I had three AP exams. Thankfully by senior year my anxiety subsided and I ended up getting top scores on all 8 of my exams. Flash forward 7 years later and test anxiety threatens to consume me once again.
Fear of dogs. When I was 3 years old, a small dog leapt on me and bit my lip. I was rushed to the hospital and sedated (because I was screaming, crying and flailing like crazy). I was forced to drink this nasty liquid that I thought was urine…but was actually saline solution I guess. When I woke up, I was in my parents’ room in our apartment. I looked down at my yellow dress and saw a large splotch of blood. There was a time when being in the presence of a dog was a surefire way to make me run a good 400meters. No bs. I’d run a mile if I sensed that I was in danger. In one particular incident, a small, cute, fluffy yet deadly (in my own estimation) dog chased me around my own backyard. Thankfully, I no longer struggle with this phobia…. at least to the extent that I used to. While I won’t run…. I will freeze.
Fear of vomit. When I was 3 years old (again. Damn a lot of stuff happened when I was 3), my mom choked on her meal and went to the bathroom where she violently threw up. Scared that she would die, I remained frozen, unsure of what to do. Hours after she left the bathroom, I went to the toilet where she heaved her dinner away, and saw a floating piece of cooked spinach. That image of floating spinach still haunts me to this day. A day where when someone begins to cough unceasingly or retch, I yell repeatedly for them to go to the bathroom. A day where I stick my fingers in my ears and run out of the room to avoid witnessing any secretions that may be emitted. A day where I have to continually tell myself “You’re ok. It’s ok. You’re fine. You’ll be fine.”
I don’t claim this one. I feel like it’s cliché. But if I can be perfectly honest, being in crowded rooms with other people unnerves me. I like to be the first person in a room because if I walk into a room late, I feel like all eyes are on me and that unnerves me and causes me immense amounts of embarrassment. I have countless stories. But let me share 4.
1.When I was three years old (here we go again! lol) my parents made me stand in front of the church and sing a song karaoke. I was incredibly nervous and I butchered all the words to the point where no one could hear what I was actually singing. Afterwards my parents chastised me and expressed extreme disapproval at my poor performance. The same scenario would repeat itself 14 years later.
2. When I was in undergrad, I attended a conference. During one of the workshops the attendees were broken up into groups and each group had a representative. I was the representative. I’m generally very articulate, but in this setting with hundreds of eyes on me, I was driven to tears. Hyperventilating, I whispered, “I’m really nervous.” The host of the workshop asked the audience to clap for me and encourage me. I was really embarrassed now. I choked out what I needed to say and sat in the heat of my disgrace for the rest of the afternoon.
3.When I studied abroad my freshman year, I had a group presentation. Me and the other girls spent hours working on what we would present to the class. The day of reckoning came and one of the girls completely fucked up and said all my information. Fumbling around and confused, I choked out the other information (that I was not responsible for and did not practice) as best as I could in the foreign language. After the presentation was over, I spent the rest of class stewing in my seat. When class was over, I spent the next hour crying uncontrollably. The program coordinator had to calm me down. It was embarrassing. And several of my classmates came to find out how neurotic I actually was.
4.During my first teaching job I was very late to a meeting in a tightly spaced classroom. Rather than join everyone else in the meeting I stood outside, waiting for that particular session to be over so that I could slip in unnoticed during transition. It didn’t work. My administrator forced me to join everyone else, and everyone looked at me, just like I was trying to avoid. He later brought up that incident in my end of year review. He claimed that “I didn’t mix well with others and I acted like I didn’t want to be there.” This same administrator also spoke to me like I was a mentally disabled child. He didn’t know or understand my struggles, nor did he genuinely care. Needless to say, I didn’t return to that school the following year. Because I was fired.
If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I’d say that part of the reason why I hold onto so much fat is so that I can protect myself from other people. But it’s a destructive cycle because my fat feeds into this horrible self-image that I have, which makes me ridiculously self-conscious around people, which leads me to feel like crap, which leads me to do harmful things like eat more than I should.
I’ve been in two car accidents. But before my accidents driving made me nervous. After the accidents my nervousness increased significantly. I’ve always known that I’m on edge when driving, but a recent conversation with a friend of mine brought to light the extent to which my driving anxiety affects me. I’m easily startled when I drive. I also struggle with road rage….although I don’t act on it, but I’m typically triggered by inconsiderate, reckless drivers…and unfortunately, those exist in spades. I don’t like driving long distances (although I’ll do it when I have to. But I usually have to psych myself up). I HATE parking. I absolutely DETEST parking. I hate parking near other cars, I hate driving around others cars in parking lots. I hate having to parallel park while other people are waiting for me. I hate parking in large cities or cities of any size. I hate parking in downtown areas of any kind. Because of this fact, and all the other facts I mentioned, I will miss social events and other happenings just so I don’t have to deal with driving and parking. I will be a homebody. I will be antisocial. But at least I don’t have to drive and deal with all the crap that comes with that.
During the first quarter of my freshman year, I went to a mental health fair. I took a survey and spoke with a mental health professional who told me that I might have generalized anxiety disorder. I scoffed (in my head). No way! I’m fine! Yeah I’m always on edge and I think a thousand thoughts per minute. Yeah I always worry that I’m going to fuck something up. Yeah I have a steady stream of negative self-talk and my journals look like more like burn books, but the only person being burned is me. Yeah I struggle to feel completely at ease about anything these days, but generalized anxiety disorder is a STRETCH! I told him that I had Jesus, and that Jesus was the reason why I was still alive and doing ok. He told me to hang onto the faith. I never forgot that.
These days I struggle to admit that generalized anxiety disorder is something I actually have. But I’ll be the first to admit that I really do struggle with anxiety on more days than I’d like.
When I envision my future, I envision myself as capable, confident and calm. Anxiety will no longer be a daily battle. I’ll study for tests and not worry about the outcomes. My posture will be awesome and I’ll stop trying to shrink into myself and hide from other people. I’ll thoroughly enjoy driving. In fact, I’ll go on several road trips! I’ll enjoy speaking and singing in front of large groups of people. Thousands, hundreds of thousands. Sold out stadiums and I won’t break a sweat, except from the collective heat in the room. When dogs come my way, I won’t feel like leaving my body. When I have kids and when they throw up, I’ll hold out my hand to catch their once solid, now liquid meals, all while uttering reassuring words to them. You’re ok. You’re fine. It’s ok. You’ll be fine. Instead of going through each day with racing thoughts, I’ll meet each day with clarity and steadfastness….the entire day. It’ll be my disposition!
I don’t know what it will take for me to get from here to my one day future, but I’m willing to do the hard work to get to where I want to be. I don’t want to breathe my last breath in sorrow, thinking of all the ways in which anxiety stole my life and joy away from me.