This short essay describes what it has been like living with anxiety, since I was a child.
I watch from our dining room floor as my mother waddles into our hallway, her protruding belly preceding her. My father enters afterwards carrying a bulky bag stuffed with clothes and other overnight necessities. Despite my mom experiencing short, intense waves of pain, they are both calm and efficient. This is their sixth child. Only seconds ago, I was in my own little six-year-old world creating fantastical lives with my Barbies. Making them walk and talk, cook and clean, fight and laugh, without a care in the world. When my mother enters my line of sight I am hurled back to the real world. My small body begins to shake, thoughts race through my head, "Mom is going to die. I will never see her again. My mother is going to die. DIE. DIE. DIE."
Now this may seem an extreme line of reasoning for a six-year-old, but to me it is the beginning of twelve more years of anxiety. In the end my mother and brother came home safely. Both were happy and healthy. This happy ending, while it relieved this particular case of anxious thought, did not prevent me from further overreactions. The memory of my mother leaving for the hospital to give birth to my younger brother is only the first recollection I have of my brain jumping to the worst possible conclusion. My brain would continue to work against me.
Imagine life as a carnival. The lights from rides blind you as you walk through the grounds. Children laugh, some cry, but overall the area is fun and worry free. Bright lights fill your vision and intense, swirling colors surround you as your feet wander by invigorating rides. Intoxicating smells fill your nose, battling for your attention. You can't decide whether you want popcorn, cotton candy, or a corndog first. In theory, the carnival should be an exhilarating experience with only minor problems to work through. Maybe you accidently drop your popcorn or lose five dollars playing a rigged carnival game. You are there to have a good time. You are there to forget your problems and have a great night with friends and family, but that is not how things turn out. Instead, as you stand in the middle of the welcoming chaos, your thoughts betray you. What if my cart on the Ferris wheel malfunctions and I fall to my death? What if my younger sister gets kidnapped because I wasn't watching her close enough? What if I my parents cannot afford this outing? What if we get in a car accident on the way there? What if I ruin my new shirt by spilling ketchup on it? What if? All these questions fill your head, and so in the end you decide to not even go to the carnival. Better to play it safe than sorry.
My life has been an anxiety-ridden carnival. For me, my anxiety began simply as my thoughts racing to melodramatic endings. From there it only progressed, and I began to develop quirks, essentially my anxiety manifesting itself in physical ways. In order to close my closet, I had to close it repeatedly in a specific rhythm that only I could hear in my head. Sometimes I would spend ten minutes opening and closing my door and then crawl into my bed hoping for the bliss of sleep, thinking I was finished, only to get back up and repeat the whole process. Sometimes it never felt right, and I would force myself to leave the room and hopefully forget the invisible urge tugging me back to my closet door. Now add this same routine to putting my toothbrush down, tying my shoes, counting cards, and on and on. Eating became a chore as I had to eat everything by color and category, no matter how small or combined the food may have been. During tests I would not just double check my answers; I triple and quadruple checked them. After I checked each answer individually, I would then check numerous more times to simply make sure I had answered each question. Even if my answers did not change or I knew they were the right answers, I had to complete a specific ritual to get my mind calm enough to turn the test in. And that was only for tests that did not involve a separate answering sheet. Scantrons became my worst enemy. Attempting to fill in those bubbles perfectly often took more time than answering the questions would. By the time I was ten, these habits were slowly but surely dragging me down. I did not want to let my neurotic disposition control me all the time; I began to fight back.
The thing is I knew anxiety would always be a part of my life, that I would not be able to completely eradiate all my strange habits. I needed to pick and choose my battles. I began to practice habits that would help to counteract my more OCD or anxious tendencies. I began to try to fool my brain into changing its ways. I eventually forced myself to be able to simply close my closet or put my toothbrush away. Music became an escape for me, a way to keep myself in control. Even now, if I am able to, I am listening to music. Out in public, if my attention is not needed elsewhere, you can bet I will have at least one headphone in. I created speeches that I would recite to myself in specific situations to get myself to just walk away. In time, I was able to curb many of the more concerning habits.
Other activities, I learned to avoid. Painting my nails is never an option because I cannot handle the smallest imperfection. I hardly ever put my hair up because I constantly want to redo it until it is controlled. Some hairstyle that may look controlled and perfect to me one second will look horrid in just another glance. This is okay though. As I said, I had to choose my battles because I would not be able to fix everything. For someone who wants everything in their life to be controlled, this was a difficult lesson to instill in my brain.
By fighting my own battles, I have been able to keep my anxiety from controlling every aspect of my life. From an early age, I was able to recognize my issues and train myself to be better. Working through my problems by myself has enabled me to fight other issues head on and with little hesitation. Fighting the little things has helped me overcome the big things. I truly believe that if I had let those issues build, my mental health journey would have been a downward spiral. My bad habits would have only worsened and progressed to a point where in order to function I may have had to get medicated or seek professional help. People must learn how to fight their own battles. Constantly delegating issues to other people in hopes that they can solve your problems will not help you progress.
While I understand that not all problems can be solved alone, people today are too willing to get other people to solve their problems. Asking for help is admirable, but people need to learn when the asking is appropriate. Personal effort should be expended before reaching out. In my case, personal effort allowed me to overcome my issues.
Today's society is built on instant gratification. People want instant answers to complicated issues. Regarding mental health, people frequently go straight to medication to make the problem go away. This is not typically the best. In reality, while medication can help suppress bad behavior and help someone be able to function at a normal level, medication cannot solve the whole issue by itself. I am not saying that medication is never helpful; some people really need medication to function properly, but in my opinion medication should be a last resort in most cases. Or at the very least, medication should be used alongside other therapeutic practices or solutions that may not have other lasting physical and emotional effects that often accompany prescribed drugs. By looking at the big picture, people can become overwhelmed and feel helpless. In order to overcome this, one should work on a problem piece by piece. Once they have done all that they can, they should then seek help from external sources.