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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 Vaidehi Gajjar, a 23-year-old writer and editor at Brown Girl Magazine, an online publication for South Asians. She is a strong advocate for mental health and serves as a chair for MannMukti, a South Asian mental health organization that strives to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness.

My history with anxiety

My first experiences with anxiety go back to my freshman year of college. Prior to starting college, I was like any other 18-year-old girl. I had so many hopes and dreams about what I thought college would be like, who I thought I would turn into, who I would meet. But I don’t think life or the society I was so used to had prepared me for dealing with anxiety and the depression that came with it. But after being treated as an object by others, battling abusive relationships, and struggling to want to be alive, anxiety became my daily lifestyle.

How anxiety presents itself physically

Anxiety left me constantly exhausted. It was as if the weight of my thoughts somehow seeped into my bones, and I was left dragging myself around, or rather my thoughts were left dragging me around. Sleep was something that rarely came, and when it did it was because my body had given up that day. It was almost as if my body was saying, “I can’t handle your anxiety anymore today, I’m shutting off.” Anxiety also took my appetite from me. For about two years, I ate the absolute bare minimum. Sometimes it came in the form of a glass of milk, or other times one item off the Taco Bell menu at school, but of course it was never anywhere near normal. I was shriveling away.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

If you’ve seen the movie “Inception,” you may remember how Leonardo DiCaprio broke into the minds of others and stole their subconscious secrets. His escapades eventually put him in the position to plant an idea in someone’s mind as the perfect crime. I think anxiety manifests itself in much the same way. Anxiety, for me, was the Leonardo DiCaprio of my life. It broke into my mind and exploited every insecurity and worry I had. Many times anxiety became somewhat of an out-of-body experience for me. It was like being a ghost, or stunt double, and watching someone else live your life knowing that if you somehow had control over it all, you wouldn’t be living this way, but at the same time being paralyzed and not being able to go into your own life and say, “cut.” Anxiety leaves you a prisoner of your own thoughts. Unfortunately, you’re the one that has the keys to your own jail, and most of the time you’re so far in, that you don’t want to let yourself out.

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

After two or three hours of sleep (if I was lucky), instead of jumping out of bed and attempting to get the day started I would simply stay in bed. The door to my room would be shut, and I would be doing nothing but staring at the ceiling or trying to “sleep it off.” Some of my worst days occurred when I was a sophomore in college. Back then, I would skip class because my anxiety would be so crippling. I knew in my head that I had work to do, and that not going to class would only further those problems. However, at the same time I couldn’t even bring myself to get up. It was like walking toward the edge of cliff knowing there’s a drop, and still walking right off of it. Between the lack of nutrition, and the whirlwind of thoughts, my worst days were spent as a feeble zombie.

My go-to coping mechanism

Becoming a writer, and writing itself, has probably been the sole reason I have been able to get my anxiety under control. When I began writing, I solely wrote to channel my pain and frustration with my mental state somewhere. But after being a writer for over two years, I’ve realized that writing is no longer just about me. My purpose for writing had always been myself, and while that purpose is still very much present, my biggest purpose is to give those unaware or afraid of their own voice somewhere to start.

One thing I wish people understood about anxiety

I wish people knew that anxiety isn’t a light switch. I cannot simply turn the lights out and shut the door on my anxiety. I want people to understand that having anxiety does not make me less than anyone else. Yes, some days are bad and others are even worse, but I’m a fighter. I’m a fighter even with anxiety. I think my most important message isn’t for those who don’t understand me, but those who do. I want people that are fighting the same battle as I am to know that anxiety isn’t our ultimatum on life. At times, I know it can all seem like a losing battle. One where no matter what you do, everything seems to be working against you. I’ve often heard people call people with a mental illness “victims,” but if you’re sitting here reading this, I want you to know that you’re a survivor. I’ve always hated the word “victim,” because it has always suggested that I’m somehow weak because of my anxiety. But I think that if you’re fighting, you’re the strongest type of person there is.

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