The Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Stephanie Barnes, a writer, front-end/iOS engineer, and woman of color who hasn’t quite figured out her label within the LGBTQ community but knows it’s her home.
My relationship with anxiety began long before my brilliant yet underdeveloped 9-year-old brain had the word to give life to my affliction. I’d go to school every day but within a few hours, I’d be sitting in the principal’s office waiting to be picked up. My stomach turned against me, constantly tying itself into knots and rejecting the nutrients provided. My palms were sweaty, my chest tight, and my inability to focus disrupted my daily classes.
The word didn’t come until much later: Anxiety.
But you see, my anxiety didn’t just show up out of nowhere, my anxiety came when my father left. For years it kept me company, held my sweaty palms and reminded me, I wasn’t worthy. Because how could I be when he left me?
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 16 years old and I truly think finally being able to name my suffering, took a little bit of its power away. Since then, I’ve been able to better manage my anxiety, I still hear its words but they no longer define me.
Sure, some days are worse than others but we’re managing.
My anxiety manifests itself physically in a few ways. The best part? I never really know what it’ll be until I’m in the middle of an anxiety-fueled episode. Some days I’ll be sitting on the couch with my legs up and suddenly, I am pulled from my thoughts by an intense pain and drops of blood coming from my toe. It’s only then I realize I had been unconsciously picking at the sides of toenails to the point of breaking the skin simply because I was lost in anxious thought. I can’t pinpoint exactly when this started but I think it replaced my nail biting.
Other days I’ll wake up drenched in sweat, my head pounding, my breathing constricted, and my voice lost somewhere under the massive weight that has firmly planted itself on my chest.
When it comes to mental manifestations, my anxiety will often cause me to overthink any and everything. The thoughts pour in before I’m able to stop them and pretty soon I can’t make a concrete decision to save my life. I become consumed with all the ways things could go wrong. I’ve manage to convince myself that nothing I’ve done matters and I’m one step away from complete failure, which renders me useless. I can’t write because I’m now too scared that my words aren’t good enough.
The anxiety I feel pulls my insecurities to the surface causing me to lock myself away from the people and things I love the most because it has convinced me I don’t deserve them.
On my worst days, I feel the most alone. The negative thoughts are seemingly never-ending, my insecurities are out to play, every breath becomes more difficult than the one before it, and the only thing that makes sense is mindlessly consuming cringe-worthy TV or sleeping.
However, sleep usually manages to evade me as my mind wraps itself around all the ways I could possibly die and I end up being super alert and obsessively checking and double checking the doors and windows to make sure cause of death won’t be a burglary gone terribly, terribly wrong.
My healthy go-to mechanisms are meditation, breathing along with the Breathe app on my Apple Watch, writing my feelings down in hopes of pinpointing a trigger, and surrounding myself with people who truly see me.
I also find comfort in routines. When my routines are off, I tend to be anxious more often than not.
My not so healthy go-to mechanisms include microdosing my way through tough days and exceeding the recommended dose of sleep medication then washing it all down with some form of alcoholic beverage.
Dealing with anxiety has forced me to abruptly end relationships (hello, ghost-bae), cancel plans, and just not be able to show up in ways that mattered. I wish people understood that my anxiety isn’t an excuse, it isn’t a cop out, but sometimes getting out of bed literally feels like the most impossible thing to do.
Trust me, it’s not you, it’s just me. Just me and my anxiety.