I guess you could say I’ve had what they call writer’s block lately. This whole writing thing is harder than it seems sometimes, there are times that I can’t seem to remember how to put words together to form sentences. I don’t know if it’s because as I type this it’s World Mental Health Day and I’ve been reading every story under the sun, including Chrissy Teigan’s Glamour essay- two years later- but I’m writing. Finally.
My first recollection of having anxiety was in kindergarten. Every morning, without fail, there would be a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. I was sick with worry over being late, despite the fact that my mom always made sure I was walking through the doors before the tardy bell. (Or whatever the kindergarten equivalent of a bell is) I also had- and still have- a particular disdain for change, so you can imagine the horror that going to school seven hours a day for the first time put me through. My parents did the best they could in trying to calm me, but as I was known for having a flair for the dramatics (I was a theater kid, cut me some slack) they didn’t think anything of it.
I don’t blame them, because neither did I. How could I? I didn’t know that not everyone worried about every little thing. So I pushed on, the anxiety that I didn’t know was anxiety more of an annoyance than anything. I was as fine as a kid who never stopped thinking or worrying could be, and I excelled in the best way I knew how. I always made sure my grades were up, (Minus math. We don’t talk about math here) I did theater, I made friends. But the little knot in my stomach was always there, just waiting for my brain to give it a reason to twist itself through. I made friends, yes. But I never really felt like I was ~one~ of them. I did the normal kid things, went to sleepovers where we ate junk food and watched movies- the stuff of Lizzie McGuire dreams! But on multiple occasions I ended up calling my mom to pick me up (on a landline!) before the night was through because I just couldn’t bear to have fun. I just wanted to go home.
In my formative teen years, this translated to me not doing much of anything outside of school. I can’t count the amount of things I’ve missed out on over the years: cast parties, youth group trips, social experiences that could’ve helped shape me. Instead, the lack of connection made me feel hollow but I couldn’t bring myself to change things. It was during this time in which I was officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and I could finally put a name to the things I was feeling. I got on medication, and things got pretty good!
Until they weren’t. All hell broke loose the summer before my senior year of high school and I got my first bout of situational depression. It was bad. Though I’d dealt with anxiety for years, I had never experienced a panic attack before that summer. It was the beginning of what I now affectionately call my ~dark time~. And then when the smoke cleared and everything was better and the situational depression should’ve faded, it didn’t. It hung on for dear life, following me to college and watching my every move, along with a myriad of other issues. And the anxiety was worse than ever. At some point during my sophomore year, I couldn’t take it anymore. I moved back home, leaving Friday night tailgates and my friends behind for therapy and Friday nights spent at home, alone. I am a textbook introvert, gathering energy from my sacred alone time. Unfortunately, when you struggle with mental illness a night in can turn into two and then four and suddenly it’s been a week and you haven’t returned any messages or spoken to your friends or seen the light the day, which is something I still have to force myself to fight. Anyway, the first couple years of this switch off felt unproductive, like nothing was changing.
Thankfully, after three more years things have definitely changed. My ~dark time~ has long since passed. But there are always the bad days, and the bad weeks. Months even. Accepting the fact that I’ll have to deal with my anxiety on some level for the rest of my life has taken me years to do. Sometimes I feel I’m still not there. There’s guilt and resentment and anger but in those times I remind myself of the support system and how privileged I am in that way.
I suppose by now you’re wondering why I’ve spent this entire essay having a one woman show and I guess I have been, haven’t I? Call me the Mrs. Maisel of writing. I guess I just wanted to write this as an open letter because writing is cathartic and though humor is my normal coping mechanism, sometimes I feel like we should really be talking about it.
In the intro of one of her cookbooks, Chrissy Teigan (maybe I just wrote this to talk about how obsessed with Chrissy Teigan I am) writes about how in the thick of her postpartum depression, she ended up sleeping on the couch so often that she started keeping her robes in the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to go upstairs. And she writes that John slept on the couch with her every. single. night. I think that’s what we’re all looking for. Someone who will sleep on the couch with us, metaphorically speaking. Or literally. That helps too.