It comes for a visit every now and then, but usually fleetingly. When it’s here to stay, it walks right in, bags in hand, ready for room and board. I always wish for it to leave, but it’s here to settle in for good; and the most frustrating thing is that there’s no real reason for it to be here. I’ll be having the best days I’ve had in a long time, feeling well mentally, physically and emotionally, with nothing to worry about.
Which means there’s everything to worry about.
Anxiety is an uninvited houseguest
in your mind that won’t leave.
With nothing technically going wrong, it begins to launch an intense investigation into what could possibly go wrong. The calm I was feeling has dissipated into the fear of the unknown — and I always have a need to know. The excitement of anything I had to look forward to has turned into threats without any real danger.
It laughs at me and tells me that none of my methods to make it leave will work, that I am stuck with it. It knows that’s what I fear the most. In fact, that’s its favorite morning mantra when I open my eyes to begin a new day. It gets right in my face and begins by saying things like “Here we go again. You will feel anxious and on edge all day. There’s an entire day ahead of you, how will you make it through? You won’t. Are you even doing what you should be? You don’t have the strength or ability to keep going.” It doesn’t speak loudly just yet, because it knows I’d laugh and brush it off. No, instead, it whispers ever-so-subtle thoughts with a powerful flood of feelings.
The package deal has arrived and I have no choice but to open it. My heart is racing and my chest feels tight, as if my lungs are stuck beneath the surface of a frozen lake. The ribs that protect my inner organs feel as though they are pressing against them, shrinking and crushing me to nothingness. Am I even breathing? I feel like I can’t swallow. Proud of itself, it peruses my house as I’m left frozen in fear, struggling to get out of bed. When I do get up and try to walk, to ease the racing of my mind, my head spins and I feel like I might pass out. My legs are numb and my hands are shaking from the adrenaline coursing through my veins. My stomach is churning and I feel as though I may be actually sick at any moment. The pressure in my head elevates and causes me to worry more. Everything sounds too loud, appears too bright, is happening too fast. My lips are desert dry and I’ve held my breath until things seemed to be turning black around the edges. I don’t know what to do. Nothing seems to help ease the rush in and around my body.
My next thought is to run and find something, anything, that will quiet its voice. Whether or not I do though, its voice doesn’t stop — it follows me around, taunting me, while I make every effort to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other to start my day. It may change the tone of its voice, depending on the what and where I’m facing, but it will constantly remind me that “I feel terrible. I feel anxious. I am always going to feel this way, and because of that, I can’t get myself to do anything. I am not capable, I am weak for feeling this way and not being able to rid anxiety no matter what I do or how hard I try.” On a challenging day, it knows right where to push my buttons. It comes right to my face until I try backing away from it but end up cowering in the corner, with fear, adrenaline and hopelessness rushing to the surface at once.
Breathe. Focus. I sit myself upright and try to remember to breathe all the way in and all the way out, to focus my mind on counting or grounding as I calm my heart to a regular pace. I practice self-talk and positive affirmation — I am not going to be sick, my body is mine and will be fine, there is nothing to worry about, I am just feeling anxious and it will pass. But with every gentle attempt that I try to evict my familiar guest, it fights harder to stay put. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m failing at getting better, not understanding why I allow panic to take control of my body and mind. I feel overwhelmed, and more annoyingly, angry at myself for feeling these things when there’s no actual reason for them. But I remind myself that feelings are not facts.
How many various ways can it tell me that I feel anxious and something awful is going to happen anyway? It feels endless, but really, it’s telling me the same thing every time. It’s just repeatedly reminding me that I am weak and will never be free of it, that I will be tormented by it as it holds power over me for the rest of my life. Even if it’s right, I have learned that yes, perhaps it will always be my uninvited houseguest, but maybe, just maybe, it won’t always be right in my face. Perhaps if I stop trying to run every time I hear its footsteps around the corner, it’ll just remain in the shadows. Maybe I will see it sitting on my couch beside me, but I don’t have to stop and chat. I can’t imagine it will stop yelling negative remarks at me, but maybe if I stop being so upset and frightened by its presence, its yells will turn into a whisper. And maybe that whisper will begin to sound like the wind blowing amidst the trees as I’m focusing on life outside of my mind.
That’s the goal, isn’t it? To be able to live outside of myself? To enjoy the breeze as it kisses my skin, the smell of fresh flowers, the sound of my cat’s happy meows, the feel of the dirt beneath my bare feet. Because despite what I’ve been telling myself for the past 28 years, I can still do these things with a houseguest on my couch. It only stops me from living life if I allow it. If I allow it to intimidate me into living in the shadows of my mind, then I will continue to miss out on life. But if I take away its power and show it I am not afraid of its presence anymore, the reign of its terror will become a distant memory.