a level playing field…

Some of my earliest memories are of being anxious. I even remember once, when I was seven, having a panic attack. I didn’t have a name for either of those feelings when I was little. Anxious was just how I felt. And the panic attack…

Cue wavy flashback visuals and subtle chimes…

I was 7 and it was summer. As on most days I was outside under a giant shrub playing in my fairy garden. The sun was hot but I was laying on my belly propped up on my elbows on the cool dry earth of the shade somewhere between my house and the shrubs that lined it. I was trying to think of an appropriate offering for the fairies when little drips of blood started to spatter the dirt beneath my nose. I wiped the back of my hand across the base of my nose to see how much blood there was. Bloody noses were a common occurrence, a nuisance. They weren’t something to worry about unless the blood flow resembled a stream.

The blood was just a smear so I rolled over onto my back and tilted my head up wiping the blood from the back of my hand onto a leaf on the shrub that sheltered me as I watched the hot summer sun force itself through the dense growth of leaves to dapple the ground with light.

And then I looked back to the leaf on which I’d wiped my blood and my body started to tingle and freeze. The blood flowed out of my face and my breath stopped even as my heart raced. I wanted to scream out for help but I couldn’t. And I thought of the triage scenes from M*A*S*H with the soldiers terribly wounded or going in for an appendectomy or maybe just being too scared of the world and I was certain that I was about to die. The world began to spin and I couldn’t move a muscle as tears streamed down my face. And at some point little white-haired blue-eyed Cami blacked out on the ground under the shrub outside the house.

I don’t know how long I was there in that state. I don’t know how I pulled myself out of it. I just know sometime later I realized I wasn’t dead. My body aching with tension I plucked off the leaf that had been smeared with blood and took it to the trash. I went inside to see blood crusted beneath my nose and cleaned it up. I changed out of the little shorts I’d been wearing because they were covered in the dry dusty earth. And then I went to the kitchen to slake my thirst.

Cue wavy flashback end sequence…

Thinking you’re dying takes a lot out of a kid. I imagine I probably treated myself to a Capri Sun.

Growing up, my anxiety was something that made me different. But not in a good way. Also, I didn’t realize it was the thing that made me different. I didn’t ever stop to think at that young age if others experienced the world in the same way I did. They didn’t

Now I know that everyone experiences the world in their own way. There are people who experience it in what would be described as a typical way and then there’s everyone else.

My life-long experience with anxiety and with panic has given me some gifts.

  • I have the uncanny ability to seek out and find the bright side in almost any situation. Which is as much a gift as a curse and something I’m working really hard to tamp down right now.
  • I’m nearly always prepared for the worst. Sometimes I cope with anxiety by asking myself what the worst thing that could happen is. And then I prepare for it just in case I’m right. It’s not so much the being prepared that helps my mental state as it is that having something TO DO to FIX THE THING helps me cope.

But now, I’m not alone in my anxiety. I’m in the majority. Pretty much the super majority. Right now, anxious seems to be the status quo. People who’ve blissfully wandered through life without feeling trapped, without what-iffing every scenario. Without panicking at the thought of getting out of bed or walking out the front door are suddenly over here in my field feeling that deep sense of anxious dread with me.

Hi. Welcome. This is what it’s like. This. This is living with anxiety. And it’s not fun. And it’s sometimes hard to cope. And if you’re one of those newly struggling with anxiety, I’m glad you’re here. And I’m confident that we’ll get through this together. But at least 10 yards apart.