We're moving! Get our latest gender and identity coverage on washingtonpost.com.

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 Emily Thompson, an accountant who lives in Tennessee with her husband and their dog.

Interested in contributing to a future installment of Anxiety Chronicles? Fill out this form.

My history with anxiety

My anxiety started at 16, when I lost my best friend in a car accident. I didn’t realize at the time that anxiety was what I was going through. I was numb to a lot of the things happening to me. Looking back now, with the tools I have gained, I realize this was the start of my journey with anxiety and depression. When I was in my 20s, I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. During that time, I realized something was wrong. It was hard for me to go to class and focus while I was there. It eventually got to the point where I couldn’t ride in a car unless I was driving because my anxiety would be so overwhelming.

After I graduated, I landed my first accounting job. This was one of the darkest times of my life. I would cry in the car on the way to work and on the way home. I just felt so overwhelmed by being in an office around people all day long. I had a huge fear of failure. I remember thinking: “I know I’m not smart enough to be here and one day everyone is going to figure it out too.”

How anxiety presents itself physically

Physically, my anxiety manifests itself first with fidgeting. I will have to move my hands, move my head or walk. Then, I notice my heartbeat start to speed up. Sometimes I can feel it beating inside my chest so hard and quickly. I will have pain near my heart, almost like a muscle cramp. When I start feeling lightheaded, I know I really need to ground myself. I will quickly zoom into something I see, and a wave of dizziness will wash over me.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

Mentally, my anxiety is like a nonstop running loop in my head. I will think the same thing over and over. I will think through situations that have not even happened, just playing out all the ways they could go in my mind. Usually I go to the worst-case scenario first: The worst thing that can happen, will happen.

Whatever I am worried about has all my attention.

I focus on it until I don’t hear other people talking or I don’t feel myself in my body. At times, trying not to feel what my anxiety is telling me to feel is literally all I can do. It’s like I’m fighting for myself. The fear in my head of what people will think of me or what they already are thinking of me keeps me from living my life to the fullest.

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

A day when my anxiety is at its worst looks lonely. It looks like me trying to stay as far away from other people as I can. If I could use one word to describe it, it would be sadness. The sadness takes over, and I cannot shake it. I am sensitive, unable to keep it together, and lost in my head. I don’t want to be around anyone because I don’t have the strength to fight the anxiety, to pretend there’s nothing wrong.

My go-to coping mechanism

My go-to coping mechanism starts with breathing. Most of the time I cannot immediately focus on my surroundings to ground myself. Sometimes just being in a public place is enough to set off my anxiety. So, I start with breathing. I take the deepest breath I can, hold it for a second, then slowly release. This starts to bring me back down into myself. From there, I use positive affirmations — whatever I know that is true about myself that I can apply to the situation causing my anxiety.

I try to remember to distinguish between what my truth is, and what lies my anxiety is telling me.

From there I try to release fear. Anxiety manifests itself a lot for me as fear. When I can let go of fear and remind myself the universe will lead me to my next step, I am able to trust in myself and my decisions.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

I wish people knew that anxiety is like a prison for your mind. Sometimes just making it through the day is all we have in us. If I have a day where I don’t feel like I am completely falling apart or that I will never be okay, then that is a good day. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t go to work or didn’t talk to my friends or leave my house. None of that matters because the only thing I could handle doing that day was not falling apart. It can really be that bad. But you can talk to us.

Sometimes I just need someone to ask how I’m doing or if I need to talk.

Sometimes that can be all it takes to change a person’s day. You can have a greater effect than you realize.

This is what helps with my anxiety: ‘Giving people the opportunity to understand’

I’m trying to talk more openly about my ongoing struggles

‘It feels like my body is literally caving in’: This is how I experience anxiety

‘No one understands the paranoia’

Positive affirmations and playing solitaire: This is what helps with my anxiety

The presence of anxiety is a constant in my life