Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Caroline Chirichella, a former New Yorker now living and working in Italy as a freelance writer. She has contributed to Daily News, Shape, Parents, Newsday, Romper and The Lily.
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I have had a history with anxiety since I was a child, from around 8 or 9 years old. I was picked on a lot in middle school because of my love for theater, petite height and “large” nose. Most lunch hours were spent on my own reading or listening to music. I didn’t have many friends and was happy being on my own. But I always felt nervous, on edge and anxious, even as a child. I used to double check that our door was locked dozens of times before I could finally go to bed. I even remember going through a period where I was having bad dreams and would wake up feeling like I couldn’t breathe, as though an elephant was sitting on my chest.
My anxiety worsened from middle school to junior high, as I picked up the terrible habit of scratching myself. I scratched my arms and legs. I would scratch until a scab appeared that I could then scratch again until it left my skin raw and bloody. I usually scratched in the privacy of my room, but my parents sometimes caught me scratching and tried to stop me. I even scratched in my sleep. I stopped the habit by the time I hit my 20s, but I still have the habit of just touching my skin, without doing any harm. My scars will never fade and will always be a constant reminder of what I did. I see people looking at them all the time, especially in summer when I’m in a tank top or skirt. It’s a painful reminder.
I am an anxious person, I always have been and I fear I always will be. I am also a new mother to a beautiful 18-month-old baby girl. Sometimes when I have so much to do between taking care of my daughter, writing, cleaning the house, answering emails, getting dinner on the table, I can feel like my head is going around in circles and can’t stop. I feel dizzy. I feel lightheaded. I sometimes wish I could turn off my brain from everyday thoughts. Sometimes when I feel like this, I feel as though there is a roadblock up, like it’s hard to go forward. I’m just stuck in a constant loop with my thoughts and there is no way out.
Right now, we are having a very tough time in Italy. We are all in lockdown due to the spreading of the coronavirus. I can’t take a walk to get fresh air or clear my head. I can’t go out for a drink to meet friends. I’m confined within the walls of our house. For a person suffering with anxiety, this is especially hard to feel so trapped. It’s a very frightening moment for all of us and I just want this moment to pass.
For me, a bad day is when I just have too much on my plate and don’t know how I can do everything without thinking bad thoughts. When I say bad thoughts, I mean getting nervous about something happening to someone in my family. It may not make sense to you, but when I get too anxious, that is what happens to my brain. Sometimes, I get so nervous about everything, I imagine the worst things happening and it scares me. I get scared about being a good mom who’s not so anxious. Now that I am a mom, I’m even more anxious because I’m constantly worried about my daughter.
My go-to coping mechanism is to remind myself to breathe. I know that may seem obvious, but when I get very nervous, I begin speaking very fast and forget to take a breath. I try to stop. Concentrate. Breathe. Relax my shoulders, which can get very tense when I’m anxious. I try to do something I enjoy to distract myself, that’s just for me. Maybe go a walk to get some fresh air, bake so I keep my hands busy or just relax with a nice cup of coffee while watching a silly comedy.
With the coronavirus right now, every day is a more of a challenge than usual. I haven’t been sleeping. Or, I should say, I get a few hours of sleep, then wake up thinking about everything going on and I feel a tightness in my chest. My father and brother are still in New York. I get so scared. I then look at my daughter sleeping peacefully, and she is my force. She is what is getting me through this moment.