I once believed that an irate little imp use to live inside me and torture me whenever she was displeased. She hated large crowds, busy trains, and tiny places with numerous people. She’d creep out from beneath my rib cage and sick her twisted barbed vines around my lungs to steal my breath away from me and inject me with fear. Then, on her command, the vines squeezed so hard that it made my eyesight waiver, my eardrums pop. The only sound being my heart beating fast against my chest. Living with me for years, she had no name until the doctor prescribed me therapy, and coined her Anxiety.
She was a menace, cruel and controlling with a quick temper. It was as if the Queen of Hearts had stepped out of the pages of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and lodged herself directly into my anatomy. In the beginning, she almost wasn’t there, just a slight gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach at the thought of the first day of school. Or a gentle rapping on my chest while walking through busy hallways. As the years passed, it was as if she thrived on my fear, with each blow she dealt, the more of me she controlled. Until she controlled me in my entirety. I couldn’t leave the house and walk the busy New York streets like I use to. If I ever disobeyed, she was swift in her punishment, suffocating me so that I couldn’t breathe, paralyzing me so that couldn’t move.
I was trapped and couldn’t get out, and that was when I met Michelle. It’s amazing how a singular person could cause so many ripples in a pond. She sat me down and told me that I shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed. That it was a part of me that I should accept and not compartmentalize. That this little imp was irrational, that the fear wasn’t real. Realizing that the words she said were true, an action so primitive washed over me; rebellion, the need for freedom. I wanted to rebel against this obstinate, unforgiving tyrant that had ruled my life up until then. Turn this negative into a positive that I could harness for personal growth. That I should never let it overpower me again.
I started off small, memorizing breathing techniques to calm myself or finding outlets like reading to escape into. I learned my triggers, crowded or small places, too many people in vast spaces. Felt the beginnings of my panic, the steady tightening of my chest and sparseness of my breath, the slow ache of dread that crept up on me. I learned and memorized those feelings as well. I put myself in situations that provoked my panic and forced myself to stay and overcome them. I did this repeatedly until my chest no longer constricted and the fear was no longer cloying. Until I could walk out the door and into the crowded streets and catch a ride on the subway heading uptown.
I’ve been to the boardwalks at night and just stood in the middle, arms spread out wide and let hundreds of people crowd around me. Even writing this right now, I am overwhelmed with such unadulterated joy that I broke free of the vines that bound me to my worst self. No longer pestered with such great illogical fear, I know I can do anything my mind is set to achieve. My anxiety will always be a part of me but it will never be ‘me” again. It is no longer the irate little imp that lives beneath my rib cage. I’d like to think she’s more of a sprite who has finally made her peace now.