Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Meaghan Gardner, an associate insurance agent at a local agency in Summerville, S.C., originally from Darien, Ga.
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I grew up in the small town of Darien, Ga., situated in the notorious Bible Belt of the United States, where church was something that occupied my Sunday mornings and evenings, as well as most of my Wednesday nights. I enjoyed seeing my friends and family in church, but who I am versus who I was taught I should be damaged me.
I knew I was attracted to women from the moment I saw the original Pink Ranger from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on television. I had no desire to be her, but I desired to be with her. This conflicted with my identity as a Christian. My congregation sat through many sermons where the preacher would teach us that adultery, murder, stealing and being gay would damn us for eternity to a life of hell fire and brimstone. Every day that got closer to alcohol sales being allowed on Sundays or gay rights becoming a prevalent issue was a day closer that we got to Jesus’s return to Earth, and we were told to be prepared. I lived in fear of darkness, thunder and lightning, earthquakes and changes in other countries’ governmental leaderships because I was waiting on the Antichrist to emerge and Jesus to return. What if Jesus came while I was admiring a woman?
My entire childhood and teenage years put me in a constant state of anxiety, but I had no name for it at the time and even so, I was taught to pray my fears away, no matter how much it hurt mentally and physically. I prayed my whole life and was never free from who I was: a gay woman with chronic anxiety.
Physically, living with anxiety can be tough. I wound up eating as a hobby because it felt safe. Eating wouldn’t send me to hell like drinking alcohol or going to the movies with a girl I loved would. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. Luckily, when I moved to Savannah, Ga., for college, my roommate encouraged me to try the gym and I fell in love with the way exercise made me feel. This is largely due to the confidence losing weight gave me to start eating better and taking care of my mental health.
At the beginning of my college years I still didn’t know I had anxiety. My mental state — short attention span, fear of others judging me based on my looks or fear of going to sleep and the world ending — was something I lived with my entire life. It wasn’t until I was struggling to stay focused during exams that I decided to go to my school’s mental health clinic for therapy. My therapist referred me to a psychiatrist who then diagnosed me with anxiety and prescribed me Prozac to try to help treat it. When I noticed that I started feeling better mentally, I began to question why the medicine was working, but the prayers I prayed for years had not. This was when I started coming to terms with who I was as a gay woman, and I began to find peace in loving and validating myself as opposed to what a man in a pulpit was telling me I should be in order to maintain salvation.
While I am now on a more effective medication and am openly living my life as a gay woman, there are still some days where anxiety cripples me. There are days where I lay on my bedroom floor and I struggle to breathe, can’t stop crying and I have to call my mom to tell her I want to die because hearing her voice reminds me that I need to live. There are days where I am so haunted by anxiety that I feel like I will never be good enough, never have a successful future or never be truly happy with someone I love. I’m good at talking myself out of positive things when I don’t feel like I deserve them — be it people or opportunities, but I’ve also become good at using my anxiety to snap me out of my funk because I’m too scared to fail.
When I’m dealing with an anxiety attack or just generally feel anxious, I try to do things that I know will soothe my soul. Warm baths with a good book usually helps relax me, and picking up my guitar and singing some of my favorite songs is my favorite creative outlet that allows me to release some of my most harboring emotions: sadness, heartbreak, inadequacy or nervousness. Most of the time, sleep helps because it relaxes my body to prepare my mind for the next day’s battle with anxiety, which usually is a matter of a truce or being defeated because the anxiety never leaves the battlefield, and that’s not always a bad thing.
People tend to think that anxiety is a negative illness, but there are instances where anxiety can manifest itself in positive ways. I’m never late to work or social events because I don’t want to inconvenience others or waste their time. I work hard because I don’t want to fail. I love hard because the love I receive from others sustains me.
Just like a relationship with a friend, family member, or partner, I had to learn to accept the good with the bad in my relationship with anxiety.