It’s Time to Leave Her Behind.

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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.


Relephant Reads:

These Instructions Work: (A Reminder for Myself, and You, if you Choose).

I Have My Own Approval.

8 Benefits of Having a Nemesis.


Author: Keeley Milne

Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photos: Flickr, Author’s Own


The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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Keeley Milne

Keeley Milne is a lover of words, an intrepid creator, and strives to find contentment every day in the simplicity of her life. She is most content when with her son Liam, a pile of books, or in the woods—and best yet all three at once. She loves to run marathons in other countries, go on solo adventures, and drink a perfect cup of coffee. She is a voracious reader and loves to write, listen, and laugh. Keeley makes her home in Medicine Hat, Alberta, where she is completing an English degree, going for runs in the coulees, and hugging Liam as much as she can, every day. You can connect with Keeley on her Facebook here, on Instagram, on Tumblr and at her website.

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anonymous Jul 9, 2015 12:03pm

excellent article!!

anonymous Mar 14, 2015 7:34pm

I am beyond happy for you! It takes a lot to get where you are and I applaud your courage, wisdom, and strength!! Thank you for sharing your story! Love that you honored the grace in your story ❤️

anonymous Mar 14, 2015 2:10pm

Living in the past: Depression. Living in the future: Anxiety.

Eckhart Tolle

Life only unfolds in the now and all that exist is now (in the totality of how we experience reality, life). See that past and future are mental forms (our interpretation of the "my story" experience) and be free.

anonymous Mar 14, 2015 11:30am

Thank you! This puts into words what I feel so often and the journey I am just beginning to understand. Warrior style is my favorite part.

anonymous Mar 13, 2015 11:05pm

I really enjoyed this intimate look at what your life is/was like with such a formidable adversary as anxiety. I can relate in many ways to the ongoing nightmarish struggles faced day in and day out. Thanks for posting! 🙂

anonymous Mar 13, 2015 10:18pm

Thank you for this….. anxiety is like rising water……but it will never drown me.

anonymous Mar 13, 2015 7:33pm

I'll bet you anything that you are magnesium deficient. I take a magnesium malate supplement for muscles and nerves, along with transdermal magnesium oil spray daily. Along with himalayan salt water, my anxiety and adrenal fatigue has improved. Good Luck to you!