Just breathe

Anxiety, although it’s always there with you, may not plague you every single day. You’ll have your really, really good days – days when your world seems absolutely perfect…like the first sight of untouched snow, or the first few drops of calm rain before a storm. It’s wonderful, really, feeling like that…having no anxious thoughts at all, for the first time in what feels like forever.

And you’ll have your bad days – really horrid ones…days where you’ll cry and cry and cry for hours and it’ll feel like you can’t seem to stop yourself no matter how many times you try – no matter how many times you meditate, or repeat your mantra, or do whatever it is you do when your anxiety is getting the best of you. You’ll have your days where you walk around, wondering if this nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach will ever go away. Maybe you’ll have your days when you’ll believe, more than anything else, that it won’t go away, because…how could it? I’m going to feel this way forever, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I had one of those days recently.

I was sitting in my therapist’s office, one hand placed to my temple, trying my hardest to massage away a stress headache.

“How are you doing?” she asked me.

“I’m okay,” I nodded and smiled at her.

I knew what I wanted to talk about. It’s what I want to talk about every week when I go to see her…but I cannot, cannot, cannot bring it up myself.

Anxiety is different for each individual. While we may have similarities in our feelings of nervousness and how we cope, our personal anxieties are all different. What gives you a feeling of stress may not for me, and what makes me nervous may come across as a surprise to you. Our concerns, our worries, our apprehensions – they may all be different, but we have our similarities, reader: the pounding of out hearts, the consistent troubling thoughts we can’t seem push away, the rise and fall of our chests when we’re practicing deep breathing, the feeling of worry in the back of our minds. I know. I’m there with you.

In all the years I’ve been going to therapy, my counselor and I have uncovered the two major things that cause me the most anxiety, the most fear…but I cannot write them here. I can’t bring myself to type them. I can barely bring myself to say them aloud to myself…because I’m embarrassed. Ashamed. Self-conscious. I’ve felt this way ever since I uncovered them. I’m terrified – terrified – of what others will think of me. Say of me.

That day, the afternoon I was in my therapist’s office, I spent the entire fifty minute session with my counselor discussing one of these things – but only because she asked me how I was doing with it. I couldn’t be the first to say it. I couldn’t look at her when she did. I glanced down at my hands, twiddled my thumbs, and pushed back tears. “I don’t know,” I admitted.

A series of questions from her began, something I’m used to – something I’ve become comfortable with since my first session when I was sixteen. But I still couldn’t look at her. I focused my eyes on the carpet, the window, the clock on her desk, the tissue box beside me. I could barely look into her eyes and I felt my every single muscle in my body tighten as a feeling of humiliation took me over.

A half an hour later, and a little more information uncovered, I finally looked up at my therapist with glassy eyes. “I hate that I’m afraid,” I choked out. I let out a violent sob. “I’m never going to get over this.”

She glanced back at me with solemn eyes and a soft smile. “Yes, you will, Katie,” she told me. Her voice was serious, but calming just the same. “We just have to figure out how. And we will.”

I nodded my head slowly in agreement, even though I didn’t believe her.

“Your homework,” she started as I grabbed a tissue from the box to my left. “All I want you to do this week is work on telling yourself that you will overcome this.”

Such a simple exercise. I will defeat this. I brushed my hand against my tear-stained cheek and swallowed over a lump in my throat. All I could do was nod back and shut my eyes tightly.

I cried the entire way back home. I laid down on my couch and cried myself quietly to sleep. I woke up after an hour and a half nap not feeling any better, so I did my freelance work to keep busy. You’ll get over this. I could hear the voice in the back of my head. No, you won’t. And the other one.

I needed a distraction. I put on The Office. I laughed a lot, but the second the episode ended, I felt that embarrassment creeping back. I put on another episode as quickly as I could to get back to the laughter. But eventually, back came the tears.

I WANT SOMEBODY TO FIX ME.

I wish I could put a number to how many times I’ve thought this, said this aloud to myself or my therapist, but the truth is that I can’t. It’s been that many times, and I hate that I’ve said it, and that I’ve thought it. I shouldn’t want to be fixed, because nothing has to be fixed. I am who I am and that is beautiful. But God, I promise you, I definitely don’t always feel this way.

Why can’t somebody just fix me?

You’ll have your hard, troubling days, friend. Do your worst anxieties plague you every single solitary day? Gosh, I hope not. But if they do, I want you to tell yourself that you will overcome it, even if you don’t believe it.

I didn’t believe it that day. But I do now.

And maybe I won’t believe it tomorrow. But in two days, I’ll believe it again. Maybe I’ll flounder, and doubt myself, and have my moments where I want, more than anything, to be fixed…but that’s life. We’re only human. It’s going to happen.

Do you have your days when you feel embarrassed? Ashamed? Humiliated? Do you sit in your room, put on some Coldplay and cry so, so hard that your whole body hurts afterwards? Do you walk around, wondering if people can tell…like your mental illness is written in big, block letters across your forehead? Are you afraid of the stares, the talks, the whispers, the laughter?

I know. I am, too. I care far, far too much about what people think.

But there’s something so much more important than what others think about you.

It’s what you think of yourself.

You don’t need to be embarrassed. Ashamed. Scared. You aren’t pathetic or alone. And you certainly don’t need to be fixed.

I know you’ll have your days when you disagree with the above statements. I do, too, for sure. But know that it’s the truth, no matter what your mind is telling you otherwise.

You’re beautiful,
You’re strong,
And you WILL overcome this.

You and me, reader. Just breathe.

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