I want to preface this by saying that I am absolutely okay, and this not a cry for help. I just want to shed light and normalize the struggle with mental health.
I am not good at asking for help or showing weakness or, quite honestly, reaching out in general. I saw a quote the other day about anxiety, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it went a bit like this: “I won’t always go, but please invite me.” And honestly, it struck me to my core. I have dealt with anxiety for decades and growing up I always thought it was a shameful thing. I had a great life; I did well in school, I was personable, I was a fantastic athlete, lived in beautiful homes with a relatively stable family unit, and all of my basic needs were comfortably met. I didn’t believe that I was allowed to have issues. There are so many people out there that didn’t grow up with my privilege that had it much worse than I ever could, it wasn’t fair of me to need help. So I bottled things up inside and ignored them until everything came barreling out all at once as panic and anxiety attacks.
I moved over a dozen times during my childhood, so I’ve always been ‘the new girl.’ While I’ve always been good at integrating into groups, I still to this day have that underlying social anxiety chatter in my head telling me that I am imposing on whatever group I’m hanging out with. So while I love to go out and play and join friends, it is so hard for me to invite myself because I don’t want to feel like the odd man out, the burden, the person that you have to make an extra effort to introduce around. And while I know intellectually that isn’t the case, anxiety takes no stock in logic- and so there will always be a bottle of Rescue Remedy in every bag I own.
It should be accepted and encouraged in society to talk about mental health and anxiety, just as accepted to tell someone that you have diabetes, celiac disease, or any other physical ailment. And while I’ve become more open about my anxiety lately, it is still hard for me to admit that there is something ‘wrong with me.’ (That terminology in itself needs to be changed!) I, being as openminded and accepting as I am about everyone else’s struggles, still find it hard to be okay with mine. It is okay not to be perfect, and finding those things that help you harness your own power over your anxiety-mind is so important.
I have found one outlet that works for me so well, but feels like an incredibly intimate glimpse into my head, so I’ve never shared it before. When I feel like my body and my mind can no longer contain the anxiety that is swirling around in my body I write. The physical act of putting pen to paper can calm me. Sometimes the writing is choppy, messy, and makes no sense reading it back, and then just as often it turns into something beautiful looking back at it. I wrote a letter to my anxiety after a night of spending too much time on social media watching friends out together with my anxiety-fueled doubt swirling in my head. This is that letter, the first I’ll share in what I’m calling ‘Letters to the Universe’ which is a series of my journal entries that I’ll publish to bring a bit of intimacy back to Habits of a Modern Hippie.
Letters to The universe: Struggles with anxiety
Oh, anxiety, you cruel mistress. It’s 11:32pm.
The blinds are closed, the pups asleep, I’m nice and comfortable sitting in my cushy bed, but you have me holding my breath, counting heartbeats. The more I pay attention the faster they come. I give you time and you take me over. I’m thirty now, a real adult. I thought I would have you under control; I thought that the night terrors would fade away that my breath, practiced over years of pain and panic, would send you drifting back into the universe, but instead I’m sitting, writing, counting heartbeats, reminding myself with each breath to let go.
You’re a strange sensation that I’ll never quite understand; as my chest tightens and my breath grows shallow, you feel both outside of me, pressing in, and inside of me slowly suffocating hope. You’re terrifying, and unfair, and completely useless. I hate you. I hate the way you infiltrate my psyche without warning, without reason. I am better than you. My mind knows this but my body won’t listen.
It is an interesting dichotomy, my soul saying one thing, showing me that everything will be okay, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Oh, but my physical body- you have me counting heartbeats.
I will conquer you. I will find a way to steady my hand, to release my attention to my blood feeling it move through my veins, tracing the energy of each heartbeat down to my toes. It makes me clench, flinch. And my mind tells me to relax, that everything is going to be okay.
I know this, but my body will not listen.
You’ve been omnipresent lately, on hikes singing a doomsday tune, in hot tubs screaming insecurities, at events forcing me to smile, to hold my brave face, to laugh- hiding the maelstrom that slowly builds inside. Ever present, constantly simmering, and breaking the surface when I stop trying, avoiding, keeping busy.
Sometimes I wish that you would just show yourself. Allow yourself to burn bright and fast and hard- like a flame spurred on by gasoline- erupting and then subsiding. It is better than this slow burn. Release me and be gone.
I know that you will never be able to completely take over. I’m too strong for that. I have help and love and a mind filled with peace and aspirations. I can keep you at bay for months at a time, and as you’re willed into the ether, you leave me alone because I command you to.
Because you are not a part of me. Because I have the ability to release you. Because I am strong and capable, and writing this letter to you has me counting heartbeats. But it is 12:13am and they are slowing down.
So I’ll release you and drift into sleep. I will wake up happy and rested and loved, and you’ll be nothing but a bad memory that will get lost in puppy snuggles, in giggles over cocktails, and the cheerful cadence of a life well lived.
Counting memories instead of heartbeats.
Breathe in, let go.
Breathe in, let go.
I find it fascinating that through my writing you can see my energy start to change. I start out as a fearful, defeated product of my anxiety and as I write, my autonomy comes back into play and I feel more empowered and in control. For me, and I know it is definitely different for everyone with anxiety, I don’t want sympathy or advice when I’m in the throes of a panic or anxiety attack. I want whoever it is helping me, even if it is my two fluffy pups, to just be there and hold space or hold me. Panic and anxiety doesn’t respond to logic; I’ll never forget when I was with a man that I loved on a sidewalk in New York City and I started to have a panic attack at he said something along the lines of ‘just calm down and breathe.’
I have never been so frightened and so angry at the same time. I need someone, and most of that time that someone is myself, to guide me back into my own power so I can claw my way back to surface. And that is exactly what anxiety is, a constant battle between what is true and what is fallacy spurred on by my brain being just a little bit different. I am proud to say that I am winning, and just like I write at the end of my letter, I am strong and I am capable. I am SO much more than my anxiety, and so are you.
Some links are affiliate links. All opinions are my own.