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The Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.

This week, we hear from Angely Mercado, a New York-based freelance writer and editor who has never not lived in Queens.

My history with anxiety

I think I’ve always had anxiety. I was a nervous kid and I had trouble ordering food at restaurants when I was out with my family. I also had nightmares all the time and would sometimes obsess over certain details without knowing why.

It has always made me feel very awkward, almost like a tourist in my body. There have been opportunities that I’ve let go by, or people I’ve stopped contacting because I’ve felt too anxious. I would shake whenever I had to meet new people. I used to hide in bathrooms to avoid people and to also rehearse what I’d say in conversations before going back out.

I’d have random emotional dips and not understand why it made me withdraw from friends or family members.

How anxiety presents itself physically

I get horrible headaches all the time. Some weeks whenever I have a lot going on, I don’t get enough sleep. I take melatonin or any other sleep inducer and it will still take hours for me to knock out. And if that happens more than twice a week, the headaches get worse and then I have to deal with palpitations.

I also break out more when I have weeks that are really anxious. My health also takes a toll and I notice that I catch colds easier when I’m feeling super anxious for weeks at a time. I spent most of 2016 with crazy chest pains that wouldn’t go away. It felt like something was coming up from my chest to strangle me. I also spent most of 2017 battling colds, body aches, sleepless nights, migraines and sore throats. It’s like my body just gives up for a bit.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

I’ll obsess over every little detail and feel overwhelmed if I make even the smallest mistake at work or even with something personal. It makes it harder for me to reach out to people because I’ll overthink if I’ll be annoying them if I call or text them. It’ll make it harder for me to catch errors. I overthink so much that I’ll do a horrible job on a writing assignment that I know how to work on because I feel so nervous. It makes me withdraw from other people emotionally because I become too anxious to talking to others or it makes me come off as very distracted.

What a day when my anxiety is at its worst looks like

My worst looks pretty sloppy. I don’t leave my room, I skip meals, I don’t comb my hair and I forget to do simple tasks like making my bed or washing my own dishes. I have to make a list of things that I have to do, if I don’t write them down, I won’t finish those tasks.

If I have to look more put together and go to formal places, I have to take a lot of “bathroom breaks” to breathe and remind myself to get through my day. It’s not fun. Whenever I feel one of those days coming on, I really have to brace myself and start making lists of tasks and adding Google Calendar alerts.

My go-to coping mechanism

I go for very long walks for as long as I can. I work sometimes more than 60 hours a week so if I only have 20 minutes to walk or go work out, then I try to make those 20 minutes count. I also try kickboxing sometimes, I listen to music, and I watch a lot of anime and cartoons. It’s like junk food for my brain and helps me relax.

I also try to do my best to get out into nature, even if that means a local park that has more trees than other nearby parks. My anxiety makes me isolate a lot, so it’s important for me to use healthy coping mechanisms that challenge me to be outside of my room.

I also try listening to soothing music, or say tongue twisters in Spanish that my dad taught me. The rhythm of it makes me focus on something so that I can be centered and then focus on the rest of my day.

One thing I wish people understood about anxiety

I wish more people around me accepted the fact that anxiety was real and that it actually affects my quality of life and has even hurt my chances for certain opportunities. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Anxiety isn’t fake and people aren’t doing this for attention.

I wish more people around me understood that it isn’t a character flaw, I can’t just “pray it away” and that a handful of therapy sessions aren’t going to “fix” me right away. I’m not selfish for getting help or weird for wanting to talk about this. Some family members and some people that I grew up attending religious services believe that anxiety is something you can ignore. I can’t just turn the obsessive thoughts off whenever I want to.

It’s something I have to deal with and I’m doing my best to be proactive about it, as are a lot of other people.

Interested in contributing to a future installment of Anxiety Chronicles? Fill out this form.

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