Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from B.C. Farbo, a second-year seminary student doing master’s work in theology and theopoetics at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., who makes her home in Savannah, Ga. She moved to Savannah three years ago to pursue writing and for warmer weather. Farbo recently launched her own small press and published her first book of poetry, “Cockroach Heart: (Un)Requited Love in the Times of Terrorism.”
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Anxiety has been part of my life since I was in second grade. My only access to even patchy mental health care was through the public-school system, which ended in 2002.
Growing up in a rural culture, any murmur about mental health was a shame brought by lack of willpower. Even if you think are having a heart attack because of anxiety, you say nothing. I was raised to play through the pain; anything else was seen as gratuitous complaining.
Mental health care is an extra for the working class. Self-medication and “suck it up and deal” are often the only shame-free and feasible choices.
Not having insurance and living in countries and parts of the United States where health care, even to treat the basics, is difficult, makes me remiss to medicate formally. I don’t want to have potential relief one day and not the next because of lack of access and finances.
I break out into hives, can’t eat and have insomnia that has kept me up on many occasions for close to four or five days, weeks or sometimes months at a go.
The lack of sleep causes a sort of delirium that manifests in a sensory way. On a bad day the volume can be much more vivid. Once, when I was about 20, I heard the opening riff to the “Three’s Company” theme song for three days straight. This used to scare me into shame; now I try to discern that this is a mental space to learn from. To keep my focus during these times, I listen to a lot of classical music.
The morbid ideations can get pretty loud.
The hardest cruelty to endure is when my ideation, loneliness and pain do not permit me to hear music or sense words and the poetry that my inner discourse uses as shorthand to navigate the physical and interpersonal world. While fighting off the deep, deep dark that is trying to kidnap my words and sounds, the voice of anxiety is torturing me by telling me that words and sound will never be under my stewardship again because I am unworthy.
Nevertheless, I must still execute my piddling tasks and perform my personhood as if no war is being raged.
Those days are what I imagine hell to be like.
Heavy drinking; dark, self-deprecating humor; simple living; rarefied music; and seeking good company in the beloved community where I can address with candor and vulnerability what is up in my heart and head.
My beloved community includes many members who also swim these big waters of shame around myriad issues. Their presence and stories are a hell of a medicine.
There is likewise a deep confidence I keep with a core of women who are older than I am. Their lives, stories, experiences, examples and survivorship are very close to me when it is dark in my head.
I am trying to seek contentment by taking the posture of a student who is having to gain discipline and patience with this learning curve — a curve that asks me to trust that my beloved community loves and needs me around even when the anxiety, shame and deep, deep dark tells me my essence and existence are trash.
Or, I just bawl as soon as the door shuts and the bra is whipped off. Hard to have an ugly cry with an underwire poking you.
Anxiety is a sneaky adversary that will kneecap your spirit at the drop of a hat. Its sole purpose is to make a body and soul go into hiding.
Just because I can peel myself up off the mental tile to go to work, study, be productive and have a relatively calm, witty and intelligent conversation with someone, doesn’t mean my anxiety isn’t landing some serious blows to the heart, head and spirit.
The trauma and shame that is the root of a lot of my anxiety has made me put up serious walls of distrust toward the love and affection from others and myself. Love and affection are what allow me to feel less anxious. It is love and affection that I long to give and receive without reservation.
My anxiety often tries to stop me cold and make me feel shame for wanting to give love, and my anxiety doubles when I receive love.
Also, it is very tiring.