Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

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

This week, we hear from Michele Myong, a 24-year-old PhD candidate in chemistry living in the greater Chicago area.

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My history with anxiety

I’ve struggled with it since I was young. At age 8, I was so frightened by the possibility of somebody breaking into our house while on a family vacation that I couldn’t relax during the entire trip. Coming home from school, I would regularly run from my bus stop to the house while checking over my shoulder because I feared getting kidnapped. Many of my anxious tendencies helped me become a motivated student in high school, obsessing over every detail of my schoolwork, practicing violin compulsively, constantly picturing myself failing if I didn’t reach every single one of my goals.

My anxiety became self-destructive in college. I would often have panic attacks during exams, and I would experience dizziness and difficulty breathing before oral presentations. When my emotional distress made it impossible for me to study well and maintain healthy friendships, I started going to therapy.

How anxiety presents itself physically

My heart races, I feel tense in my face and neck, get headaches and start picking at the skin by my fingernails. My limbs feel heavy and I shuffle slowly from one obligation to the next. I am exhausted from the extreme reactions of my body, so I socially isolate myself to minimize energy-consuming interactions.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

It’s an endless blur of thoughts running through my brain.

I overanalyze every social interaction, remember all of my mistakes and fear the future ones I’ll make.

I can’t enjoy the present. When things are going well, I look for things to fret and feel bad about because that’s how I’m used to operating.

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

I can’t get out of bed because I feel an overwhelming sense of dread; I anticipate disaster striking me as soon as I step out of the door. At work, I’m at my desk running through a long list of tasks until my head starts pounding. There are so many thoughts and things to do that I stay glued to my desk out of fear. I’m upset with myself for being so unproductive that I feel like crying. I hide in the bathroom when I can’t hold it together in front of people. I avoid talking to colleagues because I’m afraid they’ll make me feel worse. Then I end up leaving work earlier and trudge home, annoyed with myself about feeling bad and accomplishing so little. I’m exhausted so I fall into a deep sleep.

My go-to coping mechanism

I call a family member or go on a long walk.

Talking to somebody who understands me grounds me in the midst of my anxious thoughts.

I distract myself by reading a good book, listening to music that calms me down and watching stand-up comedy. If I’m feeling creative, I color or play the piano.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

It’s a constant companion that many of us live with as best we can. It manifests in a quiet way for many people — you can’t see the turmoil that’s whirling around inside. Anxiety can be helpful by preparing you to do tasks really well and helping you anticipate dangerous situations to avoid. If you have anxiety, addressing it with therapy when the emotions become extreme can help a lot. Also, just keep doing what you need to do each day.

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