Falling Off Its Axis. A Trip through Anxiety

Anxiety makes me scream inside my head. I have created an anxiety end zone in my home.

There are gem stones, journals, homemade signs with positive affirmations, books about healing and combatting anxiety, meditation books, yoga cards, buddha heads, and meditation beads.

Anxiety doesn’t make sense. Its antics are illusive and odd, the sort of stuff out of a time warp or a B movie. I was once on a bus in downtown Chicago coming back from a therapy session. I started to feel like the earth would lose its axis and the bus would roll over and keep rolling. It sent me into a panic attack where I almost couldn’t breathe. I tried a mindfulness exercise my therapist always talked about. The one where you breathe in and out slowly and ground yourself in the moment. At my stop, I walked off that bus calm.

What causes anxiety may as well be the solution to stopping it. The existential dread we all fear can be quelled by grounding ourselves back to existence. Author and activist Melody Moezzi quotes Rumi in her book the Rumi Prescription on anxiety and its cure, “Forget your plans and embrace uncertainty. Only then will you find stability.” Thus, if we live moment to moment in order to embrace uncertainty, we will be graced by stability. This pandemic has brought about plenty of uncertainty. Uncertain futures for the economy, for our jobs, for who gets the virus, death. Death, perhaps, is what we are all panicking toward. Once we accept death as a fact of life and stop evading it, some of the anxiety disappears. Then, there is GAD or generalized anxiety disorder. Or as I call it…anxiety over life.

When I got into the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, I believed all the other students were judging me. I didn’t know how to talk to them—social anxiety at its finest. I drank through social gatherings. And then, I panicked. I was a fraud, an imposter, I could never be a real journalist. On my way to a law and journalism class, I ducked into a busy office and started panicking in front of strangers. Manically, I told them my life story—stuff that you’d be embarrassed to tell strangers. Wildly, I called old contacts on my cell phone begging them for legitimacy. Word got out to the dean of school and I was called in. They asked me to leave. I never looked back. Gradually, I built up the confidence to work as a freelance journalist. And, I did it without their fancy education. I have a passion for mental health stemming from my lived experience so I built it into this blog.

In my twenties, I lived in an apartment called the Artist in Residence in Chicago’s north side. A friend once referred to my neighborhood as the “Land of the Walking Wounded.” Old people pushing carts on wheels, panhandlers, drug dealers, insolent teenagers inhabited its streets. My apartment was on the second floor. I developed the irrational-rational fear of getting shot through my window or walking down the street to the train. I’d constantly look behind me as if checking for a bullet sailing past. Anxiety pretends. Anxiety gives us situations to be anxious about. And sometimes, these situations just make us shiver. Anxiety is a chill down the spine, or better yet, chills surrounding the whole body. Its electric energy pushing itself to our surfaces. Some use it to push further; but some are destroyed by it. We let it destroy us by not using it or letting it go.

Sarah Wilson writes in her book First, We Make the Beast Beautiful about anxiety spirals. The concept of spiraling which is a building up of anxiety over a period of time, is something we all experience in our lives. The loss of a job, a break-up, parenting, the uncertainty of this pandemic are all things that build up over time. Anxiety is the million little ghosts we try to slaughter all at once.

Young teens feel the drama of making friends and fitting in with the cool crowd. Adults at a cocktail party or networking event shudder at trying to make that lasting connection for work, friendship or love. The rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous are full of people who feel “terminally unique” that their situation and feelings are only experienced by them alone. Mental health advocates banter a cliché around “You are not alone.” It’s sort of the counter to feelings of terminal uniqueness we all feel.

Chelsea Ursin writes in her podcast Dear Young Rocker about feeling steam inside as a young teen. She finds rock music to blow off her insides.  Her social anxiety increases through the years following her to her twenties. She uses hiking alone as a way to catch her thoughts. And, we all have ways of dealing. Some have drinks with friends, some pour the wine alone. Some meditate, some journal, some exercise, some use apps, some get addicted to technology.

One way of coping is a practice called mindfulness. Rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy and eastern philosophy and practices, mindfulness shows us how to tend to our thoughts and let them go. Thoughts are like waves of emotion rolling down our bodies and back out where they came. We are not our thoughts. Our thoughts do not have to control our actions.

Having both bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder myself, I understand the challenge of controlling my moods and energies while trying to manage anxiety. Depression is no stranger to anxiety. They’re cousins. While I take medication for my bipolar, I maintain my most anxious moments without drugs. My worst manic episodes like the one at Medill are peppered with severe anxiety and self-doubt.

Do you have anxiety? What was your worst anxious moment you lived to tell about? Tell me your stories in the comments or send me your stories via the contact form.

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