The Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Alexa Montesa, a set decorator for television and film based in New York City. She started Creating with Anxiety, a resource database and community that highlights anxiety within the creative process.
As a child, whenever I was away from my mother for more than two hours, I would have a panic attack. I hated high school, my anxiety would show up as I was trying to fall asleep and I would go to my mother. She would give me a hug, rub my back and eventually try to make me laugh. I tried therapy at this point, but I never became comfortable with it. I think I was ashamed and embarrassed.
It wasn’t until I was out of college that I went to the doctor to get a prescription. I was feeling stuck in my pursuit of set design work in Minneapolis and getting over a break-up, which was causing frequent panic attacks. I was put on medication for two years, but stopped taking it. I was convinced my anxiety and panic attacks had subsided once I moved to New York City. But I’m experiencing panic attacks again every week or so and don’t feel confident in my methods of coping. I’m in the process of figuring out my triggers, which is very slow moving. Therapy is too expensive and I don’t have health insurance to get a prescription. I’ve thought about trying CBD oil. I try to practice self-compassion and use my creativity to express myself positively.
When I am feeling anxious in my body, it’s usually because I haven’t successfully talked myself into a calm state mentally. My focus becomes blurred, my heart beats quickly and I become eerily quiet. I get stuck in place. If it lingers long enough a panic attack begins. This manifestation of negative energy results in a lot of tears, shortening of breath, a light head, the shakes, pressure behind my eyes and tingly extremities. I feel as if I might burst. It lasts anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how quickly I can calm down.
Many of my panic attacks stem from frustration or vulnerability. A never-ending train of thoughts form. My internal dialogue quickens beyond control and consideration. I become conflicted between action and inaction. At times I know what I need to do, but my body will not cooperate. Next comes the guilt. I struggle between expressing and justifying the small things that accumulate and fester within.
Once a panic attack happens, the rest of the day I will feel depleted and extremely sensitive. It’s hard for me to recover. There are small things that happen to frustrate me and I suppress them. But when I suppress them for too long, they add up and push me to 100 from 0 in a short amount of time. I often question the validity and tell myself I overreacted.
If I am feeling anxious, I find a place to be alone. I try to distract myself by utilizing a singular sense: opening my “Hot Sauce and Houseplants Seek and Find” book by Sally Nixon, going into a scent-focused store to smell various products or playing with my cat. If my partner is nearby, he helps me through it by giving me a hug, rubbing my back, facilitating a shakedown of different body parts and letting me share what I’m feeling once I find some leverage again.
I wish people were more empathetic to those around them who are experiencing anxiety. Sometimes in the past I have expected that those around me can read my silence and stiff body language as a sign of me having anxiety when in reality they weren’t aware. I think that if those who experience anxiety are more open to discussing it and others are returning a genuine interest in understanding, we can work to break the stigma and ignorance surrounding anxiety.