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 Mary Brock, a 44-year-old nonprofit professional and freelance communications associate in Indianapolis. She was born and raised Kentucky and is a nature and jazz enthusiast.

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My history with anxiety

My earliest memory with anxiety is being in fourth grade with a teacher who was notoriously strict. I was so nervous being in her class that I’d dry heave. She wasn’t a warm or nurturing person so she routinely put a bucket next to my desk in case I vomited. Of course, I was teased. I also remember pulling my hair compulsively. Anxiety also manifested itself in middle school when I was afraid to eat in front of classmates. I would end up eating lunch sometimes in a bathroom stall.

How anxiety presents itself physically

Physically, I sometimes feel unable to move, unable to take a deep enough breath to spread oxygen through my body. When talking with people, I sometimes can’t keep eye contact and upon realizing this, become so focused on trying to maintain eye contact that I forget key parts of the conversation. I become self-conscious about how my face looks when I’m talking. I sometimes catch myself picking at my skin until it bleeds. Lights become too bright, sounds become too loud. Driving on a highway fills me with so much panic that I stick to side roads. I’m receiving physical therapy for my neck and shoulders because of tension from an eight-month bout of anxiety.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

I feel self-conscious, like I wear anxiety on my skin. I try thought-stopping or redirection when I notice I’m having racing thoughts, and it’s something I have to do repeatedly to get through a rough patch. My default is set to worry. I worry about something bad happening to me or my family and how or if I’d get through it. I feel abnormal and become convinced I have something worse than anxiety. I worry that people know this and then I shame myself for how selfish the notion is that people are even thinking about me and my issues. I avoid social situations but then feel regret about feeling lonely and isolated.

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

I can’t eat much and my stomach is in knots because my body is weak from the exhaustion of anxiety. I feel incapable because I’m not nourishing my body. So I hide at home but try to push myself to do one thing, like going for a brief walk. I become consumed with the thought that I’m spiraling downward again and that I’ll be in this state forever. I can’t bring myself to look in the mirror and sometimes I sit and stare, motionless, feeling my pulse throughout my body.

My go-to coping mechanism

Finding a good therapist, who introduced me to guided meditation and deep, slow breathing. Also, finally releasing the stigma of medication.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

Sometimes the best we can do is take out the trash. What may look like mundane, small tasks can feel monumental for us to accomplish. Everyone you pass on the sidewalk or on the street is going through something you don’t know. If someone is driving slow or pulls over to the side of the road, it may be because they are trying to get to the next exit without being consumed with overwhelm. If you know someone going through anxiety, gently remind them of your presence and reassure them you’ll be there when they’re ready to see you. Compassion goes a long, long way.

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