What does your anxiety look like? Is it how the media tells you it should be? Hyperventilating. Rocking in a corner somewhere. Always panicking. It’s this baseline that I’ve always kept in the back of my mind—before and after the formal education in counseling. I never thought that I would fit any of the criteria for what it “truly” means to be considered anxious. I was just an over thinker. I was always questioning the situation and considering every—and I mean every—what if. It was a silent struggle, one that I didn’t think much of because it was a norm for me. I wasn’t like that, I told myself. I wasn’t like them, but I was always the ear for their worries. I never internalized the possibility that it could be a reality for me because I’ve seen others who really struggled. I would deal, right? But the signs were there.
I’ve spent many nights simply crying in my room for various reasons. It would be sudden and full, leaving me questioning why it happened on top of whatever ‘why’ I had at that moment. I rationalized by saying that a good cry was a soul cleanse and that I would feel better after (which is true but didn’t explain that underlying cause for the waterworks).
It came in the form of isolation where in even the slightest of situations I would shut down and withdraw. I would hope and wish for a way out of a situation but kept the mask on that I was okay but just quiet. I would take a second to cry in a bathroom or corner to collect myself before returning to the crowd and even then, I’ve often felt so alone in a room full of people. My mind would race even with the laughs. I rationalized that I was just introverted and it was okay (also has some truth—because I am introverted even in being a “people person.” But still, not the full explanation).
With that, my relationships with friends weren’t as they should’ve been. Yeah, I had them, but I had a twisted pride in not letting many in. Some sort of a support system was there, but never utilized because: independence. I was superwoman, but when I looked to the left and the right, I felt that I had nobody to share it with (genuinely). Even in surrounding myself with these dynamic groups of women, I felt on the outskirts; lonely once again, questioning myself about why I couldn’t be a part of the love I saw these women radiating. And it didn’t help that if I even hinted at my actual feelings that it was quieted by the
“But you seem so confident/you’re so beautiful/what could be wrong???/Oh, you’ll be fine!” Thus, the cycle begins again.
The thoughts. The tears. The isolation. The fear of abandonment and loneliness. The thoughts of the worst.
I never knew exactly when these feelings of anxiety started though I do vividly remember crying fervently during my last semester in graduate school when I had to deal with papers, man-woes and somehow still building the barriers to stop the thoughts in my head about anything and everything. My spirit couldn’t take it and released the tension with the salty rain shower on my face, creating puddles of uncertainty and fear in my pillow. That was me at 23. And since then, there has been many more times when I would fill up just to boil over, just to go back out into the world as if nothing happened.
It was a hard yet important lesson, reflecting back, that the mask and expression of your anxiety is different for everybody. We’ve all seen the memes on social media of checking in on your strong friend. That was/is my mask. But in reality, I’ve always wanted to be vulnerable with those who were close to me even if there is judgment, however I never felt that I had a chance. Everybody came to me with their problems, but who was I able to turn to (is what the anxiety whispers kept reminding me of)?
I couldn’t fathom entering into my 27th year with these same feelings. I knew I had to make the effort and shake the analytical martyr cape that has become my norm (always giving with nothing in return…then adding that to the reasons why “nobody wants you” troupe). I ended up venturing into therapy for an unrelated matter and ended it with questioning my role in not only my life but others.
I’ll repeat that: What was my role in my life as well as others? My responsibility. My effort to keep me above water and to inflate the life vest that was my friends and family.
So I stepped out on faith in my journey and looked at my path in becoming the me that I wanted to be, including making that conscious effort in building the relationships that I needed in my village. I needed to feel loved on, not in a cry for attention way (which we could talk about another time) but because sometimes superwoman needs to take off her cape and have the comfort of knowing that her identity is protected by her people.
Besides the love on the outside, I learned to take better care of the love on the inside. I’ve since gotten more into a routine of using scents to meditate (that’s my preference, but you don’t have to!). Once I get home, especially if I had a rough day or was just around too many people (still an introvert over here so I need to recharge my energy daily), I burn my sage bundle and take a second to myself. As recent as even this weekend, I’ve also began using oils such as a peppermint/bergamot mix as well as lavender, to help with deep breathing exercises on the go when I feel that I need to re-center.
I’m coming into my truth of being authentic and vulnerable along with being courageous and powerful in this world of ours. I am learning that it is okay to lean on those around me and if they let me go, that is okay too. Those who love me just as I am—hella quirky, hella annoying, hella awkward—will stick around for the laughs AND the hard times too.
And this isn’t saying that I won’t still have my moments. Rainy days will happen, of this I am sure. But now after the tears, I’m reminding myself that I am loved despite what the anxious whisper in my ear says. It’s an endless double-dutch game of reminding myself to jump out on faith, that I’ll be okay in this world and that I’ll be able to truly shine if given the chance. That there is strength in the vulnerability which now allows me to walk these streets knowing that I could now live in confidence and love.
Now, I could read the various Buzzfeed articles full of memes and tweets about anxiety while also realizing that I may not relate to all of them OR if I do, that I express the feelings differently. I also remind myself that there is life after that thought and that I do have some (re: all) of the power to make a difference. This is my story, fully aware that there are others out there who may need that extra support from a counselor or medication and that’s okay: the point will always and forever be to simply take care of yourself. From this experience, my goal is to continue this much needed conversation about mental health in the Black community, especially with our women—the often neglected member of our families. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health yet we somehow see the former as a weakness. I hope to continue to share in this conversation with you all, too. I know somebody out there needed to read this as much as I needed to write it.Thank you for accepting my vulnerability <3
PS: Also aware that I didn’t touch much on the awkwardness in my life that I mentioned in the title. We will have more than enough time to laugh at my shortcomings in later writings!