Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
Meghan Reardon is a former Midwesterner and actor now living in Los Angeles and working as a marketing and operations director. She lives in West Hollywood with her rescue pup, Diego. They both love long walks, treats and afternoon naps.
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I experienced my first panic attack at 13. During the middle of the night, I became convinced that someone was outside my bedroom window, looking in on me. I crawled on my stomach out of bed and through the hallway, certain that eyes were following me through every window I passed. I locked myself in the bathroom and sat in my empty tub until I could breathe again. Then, I shuffled to my parents’ room and announced that I was having a heart attack.
Almost immediately after my 30th birthday, my hair started falling out. That year had been hard on me — my panic attacks were happening more frequently, and I had entered a bout of serious depression. That’s when I began to see the cascades of hair on my floor every time I changed clothes. Within months, I was wearing hairpieces to cover the widening gap in the part of my hair. After a year of specialists, it was determined that the dangerous cocktail of my anxiety and low iron spurred my sudden hair loss. Through the help of vitamins, medication and therapy, I was able to regrow a lot of my hair. And with the arrival of new hair came the pandemic.
The restaurant industry, which has been both my work and my home for 10 years, has endured a relentless series of blows. I’ve been juggling job insecurity, layoffs and forced closures, and I feel every day like I am careening from one new mandate to another.
Barely a month into the stay-at-home orders, I began to notice small patches of red staining my thigh and my arm. As things got worse, so did the patches. Scaly, crimson blotches grew thick and crept across my back, breasts, legs and scalp. I was diagnosed with psoriasis — my anxiety had triggered a serious flare-up. I didn’t recognize the world around me, and I didn’t recognize my own body. It felt like everything I knew had slipped away all at once.
On a good day, I can look at a problem and disassemble it into small, solvable pieces. On an anxious day, the same problem looks monolithic. Easy tasks are impossible, and I become emotional and despondent. On a really anxious day, I’ll have anxiety attacks at unpredictable times — out for a run, driving home from the grocery store, sitting on a couch with a friend. It keeps me constantly looking over my shoulder.
But the largest hurdle I’ve run into is that my body’s very visible response to anxiety makes me want to isolate, hide and become invisible. When my psoriasis first presented, I spent months desperately not wanting to be seen. I quit all my dating apps, telling myself that my body was repulsive. I stopped calling and FaceTiming friends. I felt even more alone with my anxious, churning thoughts, and as a result, the spots spread all the more rapidly.
I would love to be able to tell you that it’s been all yoga and morning meditation and not sex, whiskey and day-long marathons of true-crime documentaries, but … there are good days and bad ones. Regular therapy, exercise and a healthy dose of Zoloft make the healthier choices easier and the unhealthy ones less appealing.
Hiding anxiety isn’t the same as managing it. It’s taken me a very long time to understand that. Trying to keep my anxiety close to the chest has only ever made it worse, and the physical toll it takes on my body prompts it to shout even louder for my attention — it’s a losing battle. Wearing my anxiety on the outside has made hiding nearly impossible, but it’s also emboldened me to talk more openly and honestly to friends and family about my ongoing struggles. Giving people the opportunity to understand, empathize and support me has felt achingly vulnerable, but it’s made my relationships richer, which helps me feel much less alone during the worst of my anxious days.