I’m a morning glory, a bloom that wakes up fresh and fearless. I move through the world with confidence—people turn their heads sometimes because I am a force. I take up little to no space, twisting my legs into a pretzel, crossing my arms. I walk fast and I talk faster. I try to relax the muscles under my dark brows, but I know I look sullen most of the time. I’ve been told by a lot of people—friends, teachers, my parents—that I have “resting bitch face.” I intimidate. But on the cusp of the sunset, I wilt.
Not all the time, but enough.
I once published an essay that chronicled my mental illness. It was terrifying - publicly admitting my shortcomings and my brokenness. I’ve welcomed my generalized anxiety and panic disorders into my life like a pair of annoying in-laws. they are interlopers, but I tolerate them because I know they will always be there because they have always been there.
I have specific, vivid memories of my anxiety when I was young. In second grade, I had a dream that my parents died in a car accident in the mountains. I can still picture it: slick roads, falling boulders, twisted metal, shattered glass. I began to think of other ways my parents might die—engulfed in a house fire while I was at dance practice or in a gas leak during date night or by carbon monoxide poisoning on a weekend getaway or from simultaneous heart attacks or by cancerous tumors that gobbled up their insides.
In fifth grade, I hated my math class. It was for gifted students, the crème de la crème, and it made my stomach churn. all of these classmates could mess around while the teacher lectured, play games and draw pictures of cartoon breasts on our personal whiteboards, and still excel. I felt like I was drowning.
In eighth grade, I again found myself in an accelerated math class. again, I hated it. This teacher was patient and nice. because I was a high school level class, we took high school-style exams. I got a 40% on mine. I saw the score, passed out on papers at the front of the class, and felt my knees turn to liquid. on the bus ride home, I looked out the window blankly and bit the inside of my mouth over and over again, my teeth and tongue searching for smooth, pink cheek, chomping and chomping until it was all torn and bloody. I cried.
In high school, I wept every night during exam week. I threw up in the shower. I felt utterly certain that this would be the time that I ruined my chances at a college acceptance, a degree, a job, a life. I would find scabs on my scalp from the last time I had scratched it. I picked.getting to know my anxiety has changed me, wholly. it has made me examine my past and rearrange my memories.
The anxiety and depression association of America says that children with generalized anxiety disorder tend to get irritable and angry when their schedule changes, strive for perfection, beat themselves down when perfection isn’t achieved, and seek constant validation from adults.
That was me—it’s become me. it’s frustrating to realize that my “quirks” were actually signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
“Oh,” I think. “that wasn’t drama. that was a chemical imbalance in my brain. I was sick.” I am sick.therapy has also changed me. cognitive behavioral, exposure, group therapies. I hate them all, but I can’t get enough—if I endure 50 minutes of pain, tears, nausea, bargaining, self-deprecation, and sour, ugly guilt, I get 10 minutes of epiphanies and one week of calm.
The guilt is not new, but it has thrust itself to the forefront with a vengeance. it pushed the anger and sadness out of the way with strong, meaty hands. I am a white, middle-class, college-educated, physically-able woman with nice hair and a pretty face. I have parents that love each other and love me. I have never been physically or sexually abused or violated. I am smart and funny and I have never had a problem making friends. so, what the hell do I have to be anxious about?
Trying to rationalize irrationality is fruitless, and frankly, exhausting. I wish more people talked about mental illness. I wish no one looked at me like I have six heads when I make a joke about Zoloft or Wellbutrin or panic attacks. mental illness is not the end of my world—it’s simply a part of it, and I want to stop keeping it a secret.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell stories about our brains and their illnesses? To marvel at their intersections. I want to live in a space where I can laugh and cry in the same sentence without feeling eyes on the back of my head. I want to turn pain and embarrassment and misplaced shame into something beautiful. Wouldn't that be nice?