Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Pauline Dawkins. She was born in Jamaica and moved to London when she was 7. She was the first person in her family to go to college and complete a master’s degree. She now lives in Phoenix.
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I don’t recall hearing the term anxiety used in my own Jamaican culture. I would hear the word whispered in relation to other girls, but I never associated the term with myself.
I learned quickly that it was my job to take care of my own feeling as others in the family were busy with their own. I also learned to take care of their feelings too.
I became proficient at managing white people’s feelings: I learned that when I showed up — they often didn’t always know how to behave toward me.
The first conscious glimmer of the word “anxiety” came on the lips of one of my teachers in high school.
As a teenager I had difficulty sleeping. Without the knowledge of my parents, I would read after lights out, drinking copious cups of tea and then peeing all night long. I ended up developing an urinary condition which did not get diagnosed until my 30s.
Over the last eight years, I’ve had challenges with blood pressure which seems to want to rise without limit. I know now that is how my internal anxiety registers and have worked to modulate it with meditation and yoga.
Mentally, it seemed I was incapable of planning and organizing schoolwork. Goals of any kind were a mystery. I just jumped into anything and everything as it presented itself.
When I won a place at college a year later, I was ill prepared to study but was still the first in my family to complete a bachelor’s degree. The constant mental pressure to somehow be three times better left a constant wariness and quiet desperation to measure up one day.
I want to complete tasks in unrealistic time schedules and accomplish more than is mentally or physically possible. That perpetuates that quiet desperation of not doing enough.
This can sometimes lead to feeling very discombobulated, losing focus and throwing in the mental towel on the day. I feel pointless and hopeless.
I turn to tapping, meditation and yoga.
Growing up in a culture where the word anxiety wasn’t in the vocabulary, it never occurred to me that Jamaicans could have anxiety. I now know the name, but had no reference for it for so long.