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

This week, we hear from Kena Nicol, a 27-year-old from Dallas. She currently works as a geographic information systems analyst intern and as a barista.

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My history with anxiety

My anxiety really began to manifest while I was in college. I remember the first time I had a panic attack. I was a freshman in college, it was January, and I was alone in my dorm room in a bout of grief, thinking about my friend who had died over the winter break. I wasn’t too aware of anxiety then and it still stayed somewhat dormant for the next couple of years while my depression reigned. When I was a junior in college when my mom died of cancer. I got into a cycle of not studying and worrying about not studying.

Since then, I dated and broke up with someone who emotionally cheated on me. The worry from that caused me to have gastrointestinal issues. It was so bad at one point that I would be stuck in bed with stomach pains. More recently, my jobs have contributed to my anxiety. I’ve been sexually harassed, verbally abused, and now I’m dealing with an equal pay wage issue. These have caused panic attacks, loss of confidence and a strong dislike for people.

How anxiety presents itself physically

My anxiety manifests in a few different ways. Until I gave up most caffeine, I would get sharp chest pains. I honestly believe if I hadn’t given up most caffeine, then I would have a heart attack by the time I was 40.

I feel like I have sewing pins in my brain and I get mild headaches. I have an intense feeling of needing to go somewhere, anywhere, because my fight-or-flight is really messed up. I also can’t look people in the eye, especially when I’m a barista. I’m so scared that I’m going to be yelled at by a customer because they’re having a bad day.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

I can’t focus when I’m super anxious. My mind jumps from topic to topic, from worry to worry, and questions when I can get “someplace” safe. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that no matter where you physically go, your mind and your mental illness will always be there with you.

Sometimes what’s going through my brain is just scribbles. It’s not words, it’s not shapes, it’s just a mash of thoughts and emotions. I feel a lot of dread. And if I’m feeling depressed at the same time as feeling anxious, I also get suicidal ideations.

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

I like to think that I’m fairly high functioning with my anxiety these days. In the past, on my worst days, my anxiety would be tied to my depression/grief/co-dependency, so it’s hard to say what specifically was caused by the anxiety. Nowadays, I either fight back tears if I’m at work or cry if I’m at home. I usually want to lie on the couch and scroll through my feed. When I need to run an errand or get chores done, I tell myself to get off the couch. That it won’t take long to run the errand or do the chore. That I’ll feel accomplished. That the sooner I get it done, the sooner I can get back to lying on the couch and scrolling through my feed. But I can’t because it feels as though some outside force is holding my body down.

My go-to coping mechanism

My go-to coping mechanism has been going for a walk, especially with my dog. I feel as though this is a healthy way of dealing with the intense fight-or-flight response that I get. I also like it because it’s a great way for me to ground myself. This does take practice because it is so easy to ruminate or let you mind wander while you walk, but if you practice when you don’t feel anxious, it’ll be a bit easier to do when you do feel anxious.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

After writing about my experiences with anxiety, it would appear as though my anxiety was caused by events in my life. But anxiety doesn’t have to be caused by anything. I could be driving along perfectly fine, when suddenly, I have a dreadful thought that I could be in a car crash at any moment. My stomach sinks, my hands grip the wheel, and I become a more aggressive driver. Anxiety is not a simple problem with a simple solution.

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