I’ve been trying to run back in time, searching through my memories, trying to get a glimpse of the exact moment in which I experienced anxiety for the first time. I think it was during sixth grade of school. I was twelve years old and the morning break was too long for me. I used to get easily bored during those recesses (I didn’t have many friends since we were only five classmates in total); therefore, I started eating to kill time. I asked Clarita, the coffee shop owner, to hand me a pack of Chicky cookies and a Coke. Soon after, I asked for more. Two more. Four packs of cookies in total and I still wasn’t able to stop. I could feel my body screaming and begging for more, yearning for that weird feeling of being stuffed with chocolate until it couldn’t be fed with even one more crumble.
After that day, I repeated the habit of quenching my unbearable unease with food. I’m not sure how many times it happened, all I know is that I am now conscious of it: that habit has been part of my life. I didn’t know either how to name that constant unrest that afflicts me… Many years went by until I heard the word Anxiety (yes, I’m capitalizing it on sheer purpose).
I’m anxious. I suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder (how tough it feels to name it like that, as if it was the diagnosis of a very insane person). It’s very likely that many persons will read this and feel outraged by the sharpness I’m using to describe myself. There are people who support the tendency of using #NoMoreLabels (curiously, a hashtag is that: a tag… anyways!) and consider that we should never self-categorize ourselves with such harshness. Under no reason whatsoever, it’s acceptable to be nervous, hysteric, unpunctual o a bad cook, much less to be neither disorganized nor insecure (let me get this straight: I’m not all that but, what would happen if I were?). It turns out that if you declare you are this or that way, you are hopelessly condemned to live under the burden of a limit or a distinctive trait…
Don’t get me wrong either: I know very well the power lying in words and I believe in the effects they hold over people, specially when these were received from a different perspective than they were emitted with. But I refuse to believe that it’s wrong to recognize when we have something poorly adjusted within. I think the opposite: having the lucidity and courage of understanding and accepting our shadows is exactly what will lead us to a path of continuous improvement.
Therefore, I’m anxious and my days aren’t easy… that doesn’t forbids me to do normal stuff. I’m extremely happy. Usually, I laugh at myself since I’m capable of discerning which situations lead me to experience anxiety; I can identify them even when they haven’t occurred yet; still, I’m surrounded by them all the time. I laugh at the overt behaviors that result from these circumstances. I’m immersed in such a level of introspection that I’m able to identify very well what I’m enduring at each moment. I know myself so much and I’m proud of it. While some spend their lives feeling they don’t understand anything of what goes on or don’t know what to do with some of their feelings or they can’t acknowledge when an emotion is playing tricks with them, I am able to control what goes on within me.
A thousand of times I listened to the same words: they say that when the mind is getting out of control and starts to dictate incongruous impulses, the best thing to do is to block it. Impeding somehow the cyclone of ideas from governing the head is their best advise. They advise: chew a gum, go for a spin, exercise, listen to music or call a friend. In other words: distract anxiety and cheat on yourself. I’m not saying some of this wouldn’t work, in fact, I testify it does ‘cause I’ve done it. However, it doesn’t solve the problem, it only pushes it away for a couple of hours.
The reality is that, probably, the anxiety won’t go away by doing so… It may even return stronger and renewed. I know what it feels to have a crushed chest, trembling with fear, juggling with the urge to throw up the restlessness provoked by impatience. I’m anxious and my anxiety isn’t constrained to the stereotypical moments associated with it, such as those unbearable minutes that slowly go by when someone announces he or she has something to tell us yet keep us waiting. No, that is absolutely nothing compared to what I feel. My anxiety shakes me to unimaginable levels: it can take away my sleep forever (yes, forever). My phobias paralyze me in the middle of an airport; they unleash other beasts such as an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests as intolerance to uncertainty and an urgency to control everything since that sense of (false) absolute certainty I create diminishes my concerns for the ambiguous. That also allows an absurd and exhausting obsession with perfectionism to possess me, pushing me to focus on ridiculous details that steal my inner peace.
I’m the hotel guest that all maids remember. When they open the room, they must feel confused and at awe. They may wonder if somebody else already cleaned the spot since the room looks impeccable and sparkly clean (when I say this, I mean it: I make the bed!). My clothes are organized according to styles, colors and hook types (I get an intense feeling of satisfaction when I see all my garments perfectly lined up)… Likewise, I can only tolerate white hooks on the coat rack. One day, I had to wear a sweater even when it was hot so I didn’t have to hang it: I had run off white hangers.
In spite of all the aforementioned obsessions and the other many more that I’ll keep to myself, I know I’m in good shape. I mean: all of this is not serious enough as to stop my life. Even if I have taken bad decisions in the past thanks to my poorly managed impulses, I believe these lapses allow me to escape this rigid structure imposed by society. I may be a little crazy (who isn’t anyways? I’m not trying to conceal my true nature, I believe transparency is the most beautiful kind of freedom) yet not enough as to lose myself in the intent. I permit myself; I decide it because it’s my way of channeling my excesses. I let myself go because I choose to. Some time ago, it was smoking. Then, I dropped that and replaced it with food. Now, I try to write, I opt for reading, practicing yoga or something healthier.
I also have insignificant rituals and it’s difficult for me to focus. I demand the most strict order around me yet I stumble when I walk since my feet are faster than my thoughts, it’s as if I ask my body to move faster, to hurry, pushing it forward all the time. My words crash into others’ right before they’re able to finish their own sentences. I have the capacity of anticipating their thoughts and I need to listen to what they’re about to say rapidly. My heartbeat is consistently accelerated; it’s a feeling of urgency that never goes away. A persistent unease haunts me, as if something bad is about to happen even though there’s no reason to feel that way; anxiety envelops me, it overwhelms me, it oppresses me with no sense, it excessively anguishes me. It distresses me; it pushes me to an unnecessary state of alert. It wears me, it exhausts me and it consumes me.
But that doesn’t beat me. It just doesn’t happen since I’ve learned to live with Anxiety. Far from denying her, I’ve chosen to embrace her. When she arrives, I accept her presence. It’s mandatory to assimilate the fact of her arrival, I’ve opted to learn from her, yearning to get to know her and find out the reasons why she appears from time to time. Embracing anxiety, welcoming it as part of one’s self as something that can’t hurt us, trusting that the only thing we need is to understand what’s going on with us, these are my suggested strategies. Accepting the anxiety that we experience means to caress it with loving strokes, without letting it stay for too long. It’s recognizing that it’s here, making a statement to fight with it and not against it. In my opinion, it’s not insane to feel Anxiety, I’ve learned that I coexist with her because, precisely, it’s acceptation what turns me into someone capable of annihilating her… It’s hugging her so strong so I end up drowning her in my arms… Until I crush her.
Then, I breathe again. We’re at peace. I don’t dodge her, but it doesn’t mean I ask her to come in. If she comes by, I say hi in a casual way. I hug her; I know we’ll have this sort of relationship until that day comes when we’ll no longer remember each other. I’m not sure that may happen, though I wish for that second. I’m not that sure I want it, actually, since she’s become part of who I am… just a small part among the many virtues within me.
I’m craving one Chicky cookie. I want one. Just one.