Pictured above is a five-year-old girl, living life in Disney, having just met Minnie Mouse and enjoying the time of her life in her favorite place on earth.
1998. You’d never know how much she worried by looking at her, would you?
2017. You’d never know how much I worry by looking at me, now, would you?
A couple of weeks ago, I asked my mom if she could remember a moment she realized that my constant worrying and sensitivity was a bigger problem than we thought. She couldn’t think of an exact moment, but she remembers a few, and so do I. Very, very clearly.
For instance – When I was very young, I would hide behind my parents at birthday parties for some of the friends in my little “playgroup”, because my friend’s father terrified me to my core, no matter how kind he was.
I refused to go to our local Shop Rite (yes, reader, this is a true statement) until the age of fourteen because there was a worker there who made me feel unbelievably uncomfortable every single time I went there.
In college, there was a student I would pass by in the hallways all of the time. I was convinced he was taking photos of me on his phone every time he pointed his body in my direction. He made me nervous every time he even walked near me. People I confided in about this used to tease me about it. I had a nightmare about him once, and people still made fun of me.
In Italy, when I was abroad, I needed to be on the phone with my mom as much as I could so I could make sure everyone was alright at home. If she was sitting and relaxing, we were on the phone. If she was cooking dinner, I was on Skype, sitting there, just watching. It was consistent. I needed to feel like I was at home.
2013. Flashback to Italy, reader. It’s my junior year of college and I’m studying abroad in this beautiful country. I’m at the Tivoli Gardens with my family who arrived earlier in the week to spend Thanksgiving with me since I couldn’t fly home. We’re on a tour. I’ve already been here, at the Gardens, with friends a month prior. There’s a pain in my chest. It’s just my anxiety, but I’m convinced it’s something lodged in there. CONVINCED. I cry silently to myself through the entire tour. I keep asking my parents if I’m alright, and they get slightly annoyed. They say, “You’re fine, Katie, now stop.”
I keep asking anyway. I keep asking because I need constant validation that everything is alright.
I swallow over a lump in my throat. Heart: I want to believe it. I really, really do. Mind: I don’t. Not even a little.
2015. Flashback to my senior year of college. I see that boy getting onto the same shuttle I’m on. I straighten my back and sit on the edge of my seat so I can get off at my stop as quickly as possible. I peer out of the corner of my eye and see him listening to his music. I pull my beanie tightly over my head and cover my face with my bangs.
My stop arrives and I nearly bounce off of the shuttle, my house right in front of me. But I notice the boy isn’t getting off. The shuttle is stopped, waiting for any other students to get on to head to the other dorms or campus. He’s probably looking out the window. I detour very, very slowly to an apartment building next door to the line of townhouses mine is in so he won’t know exactly where I live. The shuttle pulls away and I take a deep breath and run into my house, drop my bags in my room and cry. I don’t tell anyone but my therapist what happened because I’m afraid I’ll get made fun of.
The next day, my therapist tells me it’s okay, that my feelings are completely valid…that I have nothing to be ashamed of because this is what people with anxiety struggle with–things we sometimes can’t explain. I’m still ashamed, though. I keep asking him to tell me that I’m not pathetic and that I’m not lame and that I’m not a baby for feeling this way. He validates me more times that I can count on two hands, but he’s calm and smiles kindly at me.
2017. A few weeks ago, I got really nervous before I was supposed to go rock climbing with my best friends. I had an anxiety attack on my way home from work. I messaged them saying I couldn’t go and I’m so, so mad that happened. I missed them, and it sucked. A lot. I kept asking them if it was okay that I canceled last minute, and they kept telling me it was and that they understood and wanted me to feel okay more than anything else. They gave me really, really big hugs the next time we saw each other.
Did these individuals do anything to me to make me feel uncomfortable and scared? No. Have I ever had other instances where I’ve felt something in my chest and it’s turned out to be an actual object and not stress? Not even a little. Has rock climbing ever been something that hurt me in the past? Not once.
So why was I so damn afraid of all of these things?
Because anxiety SUCKS, that’s why.
But during all of these times, reader, I needed constant validation that I wasn’t going crazy–that I wasn’t a pathetic mess and that I wasn’t the only one struggling with these irrational thoughts circling through my anxiety-ridden mind. My therapist gave it to me. My mom gave it to me. My best friends gave it to me. I need it. I feed off of it. I can’t go on without somebody giving a damn and legitimizing my crazed feelings and thoughts.
Sometimes I hate it, having to have someone do something as simple as nod at me so I know that they’re justifying the way I feel, even if they don’t understand it completely, or–if they don’t understand it at all.
I just want you to know something, okay? Everything you feel–every little thing that bothers you, scares you, spikes that anxiety or panic and makes you feel like you’re going mad–those feelings, reader, they’re valid. If you’re feeling them in your mind and in your body, they are VALID. If you can’t bring yourself to tell anyone about them, they are STILL VALID. If you don’t know why the hell you’re feeling a certain way, those feelings are still REAL and VALID. I don’t want you to ever feel the dire need to justify the way you feel, alright? But if you do (because that’s just the human way, I suppose) then you do. And I understand.
If someone teases you, or calls you lame, or pathetic, or a baby–gosh, don’t listen to them. You’re NOT. You’re anything BUT those things, and I learned this by letting someone call me these and believing them. But there’s no way in hell I believe them anymore.
“You’re lame,” Actually, reader, you’re the coolest for being brave enough to admit you’re feeling anxious.
“You’re pathetic,” Actually, reader, you’re strong and incredible and are more than capable of fighting this.
“You’re a baby,” Actually, reader, you’re a hero in my eyes; you’re a hero for being able to stand up and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got anxiety and hey, this is bothering me.’
Please just know that your feelings and thoughts–they are real, and they are legitimate.
Solely because you felt them in your heart, in your soul.
And if people can’t respect you for that, then you don’t need them.
You only need you, and you, reader, are pretty dang strong.
So let’s conquer this anxiety thing and win this battle.