She was my constant companion for years.
I walked with her, slumbered with her, took meals with her.
She followed me to work, snuck into social gatherings uninvited, crept up to lay on my chest like an unwanted, heavy cat in the night.
Upon waking, I would uncurl from the fetal position (an attempt to protect the ache in my heart from her claws) and take a body survey—is she there, in my stomach, a hard knot? Is she squeezing my heart like a vice?
She was my nemesis.
I am not a person that practices hatred—but oh, for her, my dark passenger (to quote Dexter)—hatred was all I felt.
She was the queen of the subtle, craftily plotting her next sneak-attack: Striding through a bookstore, taking in some sunshine—she would pounce.
Frozen, I would be immobilized in terror.
On the bus, in her grip, afraid to stand up and get off at my stop, I rode hour round-trips straight past my stop, shaking. The unpredictability of her timing was the worst part of our relationship. An out-of-the-blue attack could leave me paralyzed for days—afraid to go out, terrified to speak to people, a sense of impending doom everywhere I looked.
Alcohol, darkness and obliteration seemed the only (selfish) escape route.
Anxiety —my personal torturer, prison-guard and puppet-master. Throughout battles with depression, an addiction that began out of a desperate attempt to self-medicate, she has remained a constant.
I spiraled downward for years, and through it all I blamed her and everything else (mostly my innately flawed self).
Something shifted, as these things occasionally do. Call it grace, call it hard work, call it luck. Redemption. I fought back—warrior style—kicking and punching for my life. Anxiety is terrifying, destructive, and unpredictable, and I don’t know if it will ever leave my side completely.
For those that struggle with it, it can be a baffling, inexplicable and terrifying monster.
One day, shaking (on the bus again) I realized a simple truth—the anxiety was there. It existed. I could not, through drugs, alcohol or even therapy, completely eliminate or control it.
I didn’t know when it would come and when it would leave. But I did know that I could stop allowing it to control me.
What I do know now: I can withstand it. I can accept it. I can surrender to the painful moments. I can cry, I can run, I can nourish myself and speak about it to others. I can use anxiety as motivation to help fellow-sufferers, to read, to write, to empower myself, to drive my ambition to strengthen my body and nourish my soul.
Anxiety is no longer a “she.” It has no personality. It is a disease. It is a part of me, simple as that.
I can look at it anyway I choose, and right now I am choosing to look at it as a small and immensely challenging gift. Every time I ride the tumultuous waves and emerge on the other side, I have built a muscle within myself, I have strengthened my spirit.
Sometimes, in the most trivial of moments—reading a brilliant paragraph in a book, the initial, crisp bite of an apple, the first breath I take in on a new morning, the sight of my son’s face, asleep, when I check on him at night…I thank the anxiety (just a little, we are not tea sharing compadres yet) for making these peaceful moments that much more apparent and glitteringly, overwhelmingly beautiful to me.
Perhaps, having not been gripped in its terror before, I wouldn’t enjoy the absence of pain so much.
Each of these times, I add a stone to my growing pile of moments—moments to remember, moments to go back to, moments that are significant in my journey. I imagine I am building a fire pit, and someday soon, a day when I have eased yet further away from the clutches of terror, I will light a bonfire and sit around enjoying the warmth of it with some loved ones while the smoke of my anxieties flies up to the heavens.
I will dance around free spirited, embrace my friends, sing old Bob Marley and Dylan songs to the tune of someone’s beat-up guitar—and I will watch my horrors burn to ashes, a secret smile on my lips as I know the ashes arise, within me, as courage, as resiliency, as my wild warrior blood.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photos: Flickr, Author’s Own