It's the middle of the night and I suddenly wake up, gasping for air, a cold sweat making its way down my neck. I reach behind me and touch my pillow and realize that it's soaking wet. I sit up, a hand to my chest, feeling my racing heart. I close my eyes and try and regain my composure. It was only a dream, only a nightmare. Slowly, I make my way to the bathroom that's in my bedroom and I close the door quietly so that I hopefully won't wake my husband up.
I turn on the light and grip the counter tightly with both of my hands. I take another deep breath and finally look at myself in the mirror. I'm pale, and it's difficult for me to meet my own gaze. Behind me, I can almost feel the shadow that has latched itself to my back, feeding off of me, relishing in my weekly nightmares. I square my shoulders, splash some water on my face and turn off the light. I make my way back to my bed, turn my pillow over to the side that isn't wet, and try to will myself back into a restless sleep.
In the morning, the weight of the previous night stays with me, dragging me down, holding me tightly in a hug filled with despair. I can't shake the feeling, no matter how hard I try. My mind is racing a mile a minute and it won't calm down. I can't focus on any one thing that could be causing me to feel this way. I can't think straight and everything is making me feel on edge, like the slightest breeze will topple me over.
I try and push the feeling of unease to the back of my mind and focus on what I need to do that day. I have two toddlers who take up all of my time, and I turn my attention to them. It's a hit or a miss, some days the responsibility of taking care of them is helpful, but sometimes it's also extremely overwhelming. I know parenting is overwhelming to begin with, but when you have an extra shadow, a leech of sorts, attached to your back... It can be simply unbearable.
My whole day is spent this way, trying to keep my head above water and not allow the shadow to completely overtake my body. At times I feel victorious, at other times, I feel like a failure. Thoughts creep into my mind and remind me about how many people don't have to experience these feelings, and how weak it must make me that I can't just... Will myself to be in a "better" mood.
I remind myself how many people don't understand this burden, how many people think you can control it or how many people don't realize how crippling it actually can be. It's an isolating experience. It's a cold, lonely road every day you wake up with this pain attached to your heart. It's a confusing and heavy anchor you wear on your ankle, hearing it drag across the ground with every step you attempt to take forward toward any kind of peace.
This burden, this darkness, this sadness is known as anxiety. I say that loosely because everyone can and I'm sure has experienced anxiety at one point in their life. If someone has a stressful day, or a day where nothing seems to go right, it would be easy to say they are experiencing anxiety on some level. But the difference is, people who suffer from anxiety on a daily basis, don't always know why it's there.
Your life could be in a wonderful place, everything could be lining up perfectly, and you could still wake up feeling anxious and nervous. For me, there are random things that trigger it. These random things don't always make sense. It could be as simple as my toddler throwing a tantrum, and suddenly I am filled with pins and needles and my whole body locks up.
There's something important to remember about anxiety.... It's that is isn't always rational. In fact, most of the time it's the completely irrational. It doesn't make sense. I know I have learned through counseling that people who have experienced trauma in their life are more susceptible to having anxiety, which would make sense for me and my life. But the triggers for my anxiety are all over the place, as I've explained.
I didn't used to want to admit I had anxiety, or I downplayed how bad it was. I didn't want to explain to people what I was going through, or I would laugh it off and say I just have social anxiety. For some reason, it's easier for people to understand social anxiety.
I think the largest hurdle I had to overcome was telling myself I was actually dealing with this burden and that I couldn't handle it on my own. I know I can be a proud person. I don't want to seem weak or like an underdog. I don't want anyone to assume I can't do something or accomplish a goal I have set for myself. Anxiety already tells me every single day that I will always fall short of the finish line, I didn't want other people to confirm my worst fear.
I handled anxiety quietly to myself for a long time. I didn't let anyone get too close and I stopped talking about anything real. I quickly realized how toxic that can be too though. I realized I needed a balance.... I needed to stop letting anxiety control my life. I told a few people I trust the most about how bad my anxiety is, about some of my consistent triggers and about how I needed help carrying this burden.
I think that's truly what has helped me the most, finding people who take you seriously. I have slowly started seeing my anxiety not as a crutch, but as a driving force to only prove myself wrong all of the time. I have started trying to do more of the things that scare me, more of the things that anxiety tells me I can't succeed at.
I tell myself every day that I shouldn't be ashamed of my trials. I shouldn't be ashamed that I deal with anxiety. I shouldn't feel like any less of a person just because I have anxiety. I should constantly try and be better, should constantly try and only do better, and break myself out of the bonds that anxiety have encompassed me in.
It's a battle I fight every day. Some days, I feel like I'm a powerful, beautiful being. Some days, I let the anxiety tell me I'm weak and I allow it to cripple me. But through it all, I know I'm not a failure. I know that I am TRYING, and that is all I can truly ask of myself. We're all just trying. We're all attempting to pass the tests that life throws in front of us and just because my test of anxiety never feels completely finished, doesn't mean I'm failing. The fact that I still wake up, still try and be a good mother, a good wife, a good friend, a good professional, a put together member of society, is all I can ask of myself. I am still a whole and complete person.
There will always be people who don't understand anxiety or mental illness. There will always be people who roll their eyes and scoff at you. And to those people, I want to hug them. I want to remind them of their own good health and to remind them that they should use that good health to research and become advocates for people that do struggle. Or at the very least, be respectful of others who are struggling.
I accept that I will have great days, that I will have terrible days, that this trial is a roller coaster and will have its ups and downs. But I know if I keep trying, if I continue to not be afraid to seek help when I need it, I will conquer this. I am worth it, I can and will have the life I strive for. I will work to be the best version of myself and I will never stop telling anxiety exactly where its place is.... In the far back, tucked away, nothing more than a shadow.