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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 Alie Jones, a self-care advocate, educator and Creole mermaid. She is the founder of Bodacious Bombshells, a wellness-focused collective based in Oakland, Calif. Her work on black mental health and self-care has been featured on Afropunk and xoNecole.

My history with anxiety

Anxiety first appeared in my life in high school. I started experiencing shortness of breath and sweaty palms when taking tests. I was 14 and had no idea what was going on with me. I would pay attention in class, study my butt off, then fail my finals. Later shortness of breath evolved into panic attacks. The idea of being tested caused me to shut down. Gasping for air before the PSAT, SAT, and every class final. Often I would ask to go to the bathroom before I started crying and hyperventilating. Lately, I’m more attuned to myself and try to acknowledge my triggers and mindfully navigate trauma. My understanding of my anxiety is a work in progress but each day is a new opportunity to learn.

How anxiety presents itself physically

My chest tightens like the snap of a bungee cord. My whole body locks up and breathing is merely a figment of my imagination. My shoulders are far too close to my ears and become rock hard. The tension builds up in my lower back and shoulders until moving is nearly impossible. My body feels like a bank vault with several automatic locks. One by one I feel less and less like myself. It feels like there is not enough water on the planet to quench my thirst. Overwhelmed and drowning in helplessness.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

I go into the deepest caverns of my mind. Anxiety builds in my head before it moves to the rest of my body. Overthinking leads to doubt and indecision.The never-ending spiral of worry. I imagine caffeine-fueled hamster running laps in my mind. A dark shadow nibbling at my sanity with every question or critique. Falling deeper and deeper into a black hole of self-deprecation and disaster. I am able to clearly envision every worst-case scenario while everything else is a blur.

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

On the worst days, I’m paralyzed by my thoughts, unable to breathe or function in society. Time stands still. Impostor syndrome preys on my dreams in the form of anxiety. Productivity comes to a screeching halt and the only concern is getting my heart beat back to normal. When my anxiety is at its worst, I feel like there is an elephant sitting on my collarbone. Stuck in bed or inside my head unable to breathe or think straight. It feels like my heart is about to jump out of my chest. I stay at home all day watching Netflix or attempting to sleep. Loops of despair and feelings of failure.

My go-to coping mechanism

My go-to coping mechanisms are deep breathing, essential to release unhealthy forms of coping like eating or drinking. When I am able, I go into nature to reset. Now when I feel helpless or hopeless, I get down to the root and explore. Every once in a while I’ll stress myself out then remind myself that step-by-step is better than a panicked influenced shutdown. I hold space for my healing by acknowledging my journey is full of challenges and triumphs. Remembering that each sunrise holds a new lesson and each sunset something to be released.

One thing I wish people understood about anxiety

I wish people knew that anxiety can appear anytime, any place, in anyone. Anxiety is not fictional. Most people assume because I’m high achieving that everything is fine, that I have everything together. That is not always the case. Often I am struggling to grow, learn or understand. I want folks to know that just because you can’t see something, that does not mean it isn’t real. So many people struggle with anxiety in silence because they feel misunderstood. In my experience, I noticed some people around me would have judgments about who they thought I was rather than what I was sharing with them.

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