It’s not that I don’t want the words to come out, it’s that for a long time, they’ve remained locked inside me. As someone who used to make a living writing (that should be in quotation marks, because ain’t nobody living on a part-time freelance writer’s income), having the inability to express myself has been uncomfortable.
Reading the stories that I curate for ShowMeYourBrave both inspires and deflates me, because I’ve been so amazed by the bravery of others that it feels silly sometimes to allow myself to crumble when life could be so much worse. But for years, I’ve felt like I am barely treading water. I’m not going to tell you I’ve suffered with anxiety all my life, because the truth is that for most of my years, I had no idea that’s what it was. This panic is normal, isn’t it? It didn’t feel like suffering, just coping.
As a kid, I was paralyzed by random feelings that my heart was going to fall into my stomach, that I couldn’t take a deep breath, that something was chasing me, despite sitting safely in a classroom. I lived in fear that someone was about to die. Me? My parents? Who knew. My palms would sweat, I had a nervous stomach, and I compensated well. Tiring, sure, but as an only child, I found ways to manage my feelings that usually involved retreating to my bedroom alone. Even through adulthood, I managed my anxiety by retreating. It became a sticking point when I was married, despite it being the way I was keeping myself afloat.
Whenever I felt a crack form, I’d plaster over it and move along. I remember the feelings like whispers from around a corner: something is wrong. I’d become a parent, and lost all sight of who I was; my own needs flew out the window. I’d spent my life with a partner who felt more like another child I had to hold together: managing their challenges, holding them together, coddling and mothering them daily. I’d spent my life caring for others’ needs because fixating on others felt easier than fixing myself. I’d suffered postpartum depression, birthed a still baby, had another child with life threatening health issues, and one day, I found myself single. Suddenly, all the putty I’d applied over my cracks crumbled. For three months, I couldn’t eat or sleep. You laugh and think it’s hyperbole, but for three months, I had to force drops of water into my body, because I feared I may die otherwise. I ran on adrenaline and caffeine when the coffee wasn’t rotting my stomach.
One day, I screwed up the courage to drag myself into my doctor’s office and begged for help. I’d been there before… when my baby had died halfway through my pregnancy, I went to him for medication and he said, “I can’t prescribe you anything. You’re depressed, and rightly so. You’re going to feel like this for awhile.” I don’t know if his choice to let me suffer through that was a good one (it sure didn’t feel that way at the time), but I knew this time, I couldn’t handle this on my own. He conceded to prescribing me a drug to help me cope: Clonazepam. After a week of taking it, I felt like I’d never felt in my life: like everything was going to be ok.
With therapy (oh god, a lot of therapy) and a whole lot of work, I crawled out of that place, and it terrifies me to think I could slip back there any time. Therapy was simultaneously taking me apart and gluing me back together. I loved and loathed my sessions, and because I’ve always had a little bit of a thing for pain, I kept going back. I liked the woman I was becoming, but as my therapist said: it wasn’t who I was becoming, it was who I was uncovering.
There were years when the idea of picking up a phone to call someone would paralyze me. Some days, I couldn’t find the bravery to go out in public and grocery shop. Sometimes, someone would ask if they could come to my home to visit, and I would break out in a nervous sweat contemplating all the reasons why that would be an unmitigated disaster. I’d built walls so high to protect myself, but in the process, I’d isolated and destroyed myself. It was that breaking point that lead me here: to a place of contentment like I’ve never known before.
I know my faults – too many to list. But I also know my strengths. I know that my brave is different from yours, but that it’s no less brave. These days, anxiety and depression feel like wolves just beyond a back fence. Or like someone staring in my home’s windows, waiting for the moment I am vulnerable. They’re in my peripheral vision instead of sitting upon my chest. I made it out of the dark, and yes, the darkness still exists, but I’m too busy enjoying the sunshine to worry about that today.