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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 Ahalya Ganesh, who is currently doing an internship with Teach For India.

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

My history with anxiety

If I am to think back to when I first had an anxiety attack, I would have to say it was in sixth grade. I was sitting in my math class and all of a sudden I was light-headed, could taste blood in my mouth and words eluded my mind. I remember feeling like a stranger in my own body and being unable to verbalize what was going on and why. At the time, I slipped its memory into that box in my mind. That box only swelled with time — with each assault, each instance of abuse taking up more space than I would’ve liked. Soon enough, denial failed me and so I took to deriding myself for being weak.

Fast forward to 2015 when a particularly terrible panic attack left me writhing on my bed, wailing. When my mum found me, I was crying tears of exhaustion and fear, which led her to drag me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with clinical depression. About two psychiatrists and five counselling psychologists later, my final diagnosis arrived at age 19: generalized anxiety disorder, clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder. If that sounds like a handful, that’s because it is.

How anxiety presents itself physically

As anxiety builds up within my person, a few different physical changes become apparent: my muscles tense up more than usual, my heart starts thumping loud and fast, and my breathing becomes hitched. This happens even when I’m surrounded by nothing out of the ordinary, so anxiety becomes hard to track. If left undealt with, anxiety quickly escalates, bringing out all of its cavalry to fully surround my senses until I’m in a stupor, unable to move or breathe. With my entire body stiff and immobile, and my eyes darting around the room aimlessly, it becomes nearly impossible to use grounding techniques, unless there’s someone around me to calmly guide me through the attack.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

If I had to sum it up in a word, anxiety is like a smokescreen. It’s taunting in its ability to let me know just how inaccessible my thoughts are to me. Whenever I’m gripped by it, I find myself fighting to not let the incessant murmur of my thoughts get the better of me. It is an exhausting and seemingly never-ending smoke and mirrors game, which ends in my inevitable loss. The ability to verbalize, to feel anything but jitters, and to think about anything except self-harm seem a far-fetched dream. And if the attack itself sounds painful, my internalized stigma against anxiety that takes over just after I recover is even more debilitating.

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

On my worst days, I lie in bed too tired to think or to function. My body aches with a vengeance and my head throbs, disallowing me from being able to keep awake. Other days when the luxury of staying in bed isn’t afforded to me, my mood turns irritable at the drop of a hat. I will catch myself wondering if anyone would really care if I’m dead, and if I will finally be successful in ending it all. The nagging thoughts act like a poison, killing my plans for the day and oftentimes eliciting unbridled anger that gets directed at unassuming friends and family members. All of this forces me to avoid human contact altogether, for if I don’t I know I’ll be left with no loved ones.

My go-to coping mechanism

My healthiest coping mechanism involves contacting my closest friends and asking them to talk without pause until my urge to self-harm passes. These friends have got called so many times during distress that they now recognize my anxiety-ridden voice and take to guiding me out of attacks without being asked to do so.

Those rare times when I can feel the anxiety starting to build, I start writing positive messages and scribbling unintelligible drawings on any surface I can find. These instances are increasing in frequency, nowadays; thanks to my becoming attuned to recognizing possible triggers and the pattern of physiological response to anxiety.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

That anxiety is a disabling condition that hinders one’s ability to work and live is a fundamental thing that people don’t seem to understand. Being unable to read words on account of them looking blurry and getting too agitated with one’s own voice to be able to have a conversation or make a presentation are real afflictions. Relatedly, an anxious person being termed lazy or unmotivated only worsens the condition. People with anxiety, like me, often live with the fear of being found out for being lazy, because of our internalization of this stigma. And trust me, this branding on college campuses and places of work definitely don’t help our productivity at all.

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