Unraveling anxiety

“Anxiety, I have learned too many times, feels like choking on fear.”

manjittthapp
Art by : Manjit Thapp

Quietly, the cold dread seeps in.

And my heart, like a cup in the sink, drinks, drinks, drinks….until it drops, sunken, to the bottom. The glacial dampness seizes my throat, clouds my head and I swallow around it.

I thought, I thought I had it under wraps. I thought, a thought too much an accusation, that I was getting better now. But my heart has sunk to my feet, dragging everything in its passage. Lungs, stomach, even my veins feel weighed down, crushed under some leaden weight. Where a void emerges in my chest now, the cold dread fills it in, and colours outside the lines.

Anxiety, I have learned too many times, feels like choking on fear.

Shuddering breaths enter and leave my body and I forget the 4-7-8 that helps so well. Yet the fog in my head won’t clear, will not be shaken off. It’s not long before my eyes, too, turn cloudy. It’s never this huge explosion though, and that may be the worst part of it all. Anxiety gears up, perpetually, for something that never comes to pass. It constantly renews a state of turmoil, churns old fears anew. So, an hour later, my heart has still not settled. Racing, still. Like me, it tries to run away from problems, to leap out of my chest— but it cannot run from itself, just like I cannot.

An hour later finds me pacing — a quiet release. Up and down, around the same streets, I am shuffling. It soothes my brain somehow and subtly releases some of the fog from behind my eyes, clears the veil of smoke obstructing my view.

Breathe. Breathe.

An hour later, like many other days, like countless other moments like these, finds me at the beach. Deliverance comes in all soft, crashing waves and the sharp, the grounding tang of salt, the sea breeze, the trees that sway in a comforting, lulling rustle.

Breathe. Breathe.

And I do.

I force myself to see beyond the fog. To become the lighthouse that guides a keeling boat to safety as the storm rages on. I breathe and draw out patterns from the sand, swishing my foot sideways, leaving behind shaky archs and footprints beneath. And the sea, crashing, reborn every few minutes, perpetually setting itself back together, plucks at the tangles in my body. With every soft crash, my heart rate slows and Anxiety unravels under the pale, warm sunlight. All the fog has vanished into the sea, whisked away by the salt spray and the smell of iodine. Anxiety comes undone a half-hour later, nothing now but a soft tiredness cloaking my bones. The boat that rocked dangerously is now safely brought to shore, swaying from the aftershock.

 

Home, Away From Home

“Looking back, it is so much more. Life happens twice, I believe. Once in the moment, and again in retrospect.”

the_library_of_babel_by_owen_c
Art by: Owen Carson

Memories of my teenage years have turned into wispy little clouds. Something you could blow apart with your breath and yet something that still occupies space. I remember the greater themes, the main emotions, but the little details always escape me, out through a mousehole in my brain. I’ve always been a ‘bigger picture’ kind of person, for better or worse.

And in the ‘bigger picture’ versus ‘detail-oriented’ debate, I’ve always sided with my view of things. Though always secretly wishing that I could have both.

But how lucky am I, that I have time capsules buried around this earth. That memories are not just floating bits of data, that they are connected to scents and places, times and people.


I pushed open the doors to the library, and deeply inhaled the scent of books and summers past. It smelled of rainy Saturdays spent cooped up in a hushed library, of too-warm afternoons spent falling asleep, nose deep between the pages of an open tome. It smelled of extended lunch breaks spent reciting verse in the small school library.

It is home, this room filled with books.

It is lacking, yes. It lost its one copy of ‘The Little Prince’ and the floorboards are a little wonky.

But it is home.

It has been for a long time, now.

I’ve been borrowing books here ever since I was 12. Oh, back then, I was painfully shy and my nascent social anxiety did not make it very easy to be out in a cramped room with strangers. But I remember now, that first day. Even with all my fears lodged in my throat, I had been able to breathe in deeply the scent of inked pages, and then out.

As someone who did not fit anywhere else, who was still searching for some place to belong in, this was home.

My first home away from home. The kind of home you have to find when you grow up and your worlds, your circles expand. When you have to exist in places other than school and ‘home’. When you have to find yourself.

But you don’t really notice when you do it, when you spend every Saturday at the city library. You don’t notice how it shapes you or your life, how it later turns into an elaborate explanation of why you are who you are now. You do not realise how later on, it will turn into ‘that summer when I was 14 and used to go to the library every week’. Looking back, it is so much more. Life happens twice, I believe. Once in the moment, and again in retrospect.

But that library was my first safe-place. My little treasure-box, my solitary island. A place where I had long, silent conversations with characters from other universes, where I befriended authors I would never meet.

To think I forgot all of those feelings at one moment in time, that I lived my life not remembering seems ludicrous. But how lucky am I that I have time capsules buried around the city. That memories are not just floating bits of data, easily lost to Time.


Listening to:

You Will Heal (Life Gets Better, So Hang In There)

“I don’t know if you were expecting a story of how I’d fallen in love with the most wonderful person, someone who understands my struggles and all the depth and darkness. Something poetic like : “He saw her sitting alone in the darkness and instead of shining a light on her, quietly sat down beside her and held her hand, waiting the darkness out.” But this is not that kind of story. “

pridenyasha
Art by: Pride Nyasha

I sat down today on the same sofa I had sat on 5 years previously, when I believed with everything I had that nothing would ever get better.

A scrawny, withdrawn teenager then, I tried not to exist too obviously, too loudly. I felt I was nothing but all this anxiety raging inside of me, nothing but a receptacle for people’s dirty looks, their pity and yet sometimes amazingly, their jealousy. 5 years ago, I was fading out of existence, a process furthered by the discovery of human nature’s seedy underbelly. When I was finally allowed a look into an adult’s world, I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. But by then, it was a door I was practically being pushed through.

5 years ago, I was what? 15, 16? Oscillating between wanting nothing and needing it all. At the time, all hope had fled. Had spilled out on the pillow in silent midnight cries. I don’t really have hope now, either. But I have the belief that maybe one day, I could have it, and this makes all the difference. And between that ‘no‘ and this ‘maybe‘, stand 5 years and more than a few battles fought alone, to exhaustion. There were fears faced, comfort zones expanded.

I’ll get away from here, I thought, because as a teenager, that’s a totally legitimate plan to have.

But life had other plans. So I’m still here 5 years later.

I don’t know if you were expecting a story of how I’d fallen in love with the most wonderful person, someone who understands my struggles and all the depth and darkness. Something poetic like : “He saw her sitting alone in the darkness and instead of shining a light on her, quietly sat down beside her and held her hand, waiting the darkness out.” But this is not that kind of story. There was no flip. No plot twist. No one to rescue you.

It was mostly a ton of effort. Unsexy, unromantic, stinky effort.

Though I did meet good people. People who might’ve guessed at all the things I hid, but who never wanted to pry. People who were decent, who were funny and didn’t frown at my quirks, and who thought I was kindof cool, actually. People who apologised when they were late, who asked you to message them to let them know you got home safely. People who celebrated your achievements, who would drag you out of hiding and shine the light of recognition on you because take credit for your accomplishments, damn it.

I’ve got some ways to go still.

But 5 years ago, I sat on the same sofa and was another person. 5 years ago, the world was ending, in more ways than one. Today though, I am sitting here, writing, humming the melody of a waltz from a movie I love very much. My breath is light with the scent of peach iced tea and I am relishing the silence, being grateful for the time I am given.

These days, given the right opportunities, I also open up a little. Inconsequential things, stories stripped of too much emotion and detail, but spoken into the atmosphere still. These stories might just be rubble compared to the complex structures I keep inside, but it means that there is a bridge, nonetheless. That trade is open. I squirrel away parts of my story, bits and pieces that don’t connect. I am not doing ‘good’ really, but I am doing better. And in the end, I think that’s all anyone can hope for.

Hang in there, life gets better. And you want to be there to see it happen.


Note: This is Day  22 of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. This is also something I want to dedicate to a good friend, a soul sister, really, who’s going through some rough times. Just hang in there, people, it really does get better. If you liked this entry, you can also check out yesterday’s entry here, which is a little more on the cheerier side of life 🙂