Therapy Day: What Living With My Anxiety Looks Like

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On that random day that you ask for decaf at Starbucks, do you do it because you’ve already had too many cups of coffee to justify another one or do you ask for decaf because you live with anxiety? 

If it’s the latter, we’re on the same team.

I know the minute my barista has mixed up my decaf for regular caffeine because my heart starts racing, my stomach develops a pit and my mind is suddenly full of accelerated thoughts. It’s the same feeling I get when I look at fluorescent lights at Petco. The switch that turns those lights on may as well be turning on a slideshow of days on ICU floors and inviting PTSD and anxiety to watch with me. 

The lights make it hard to breathe the same way time does. Have you ever imagined someone with mental illness swaying back and forth in the corner of a padded room, the way novelas framed them?

Then you’ve been too caught up in stereotypes to notice the times that I felt anxious and claustrophobic while sitting at the third table in that hole in the wall pizzeria as I thought about whether I’m trapped and where are the emergency exits and I can’t concentrate on what the person in front of me is saying, have they noticed? 

It’s slow. The uptick of anxiety is slow. Before, when therapy was something I was just dipping my toe into, I didn’t have the tools to notice when my anxiety started, I would only notice once it was too late. Once I was overwhelmed and on the point of a panic attack, when breathing was labored and my existence in the world felt removed. 

Then it became instantenous — the noticing, the wanting to notice, the wanting to find a language to translate it to others. 

I know three languages now — English, Spanish, and the still-being-added-to language of my mind. I pile on the words, the analogies, the descriptors that translate my mind’s maze into words others can understand. 

To my boyfriend, I describe an anxious day in video terms. When my body moves in slow motion, but my mind is in hyper-lapse, he knows there’s dissonance and I’m just trying to bring both back under or above the speed limit. It helps him understand why at the end of an anxious day I’m so exhausted. Pouring energy into normalizing two different speeds asks a lot of you.

When I speak to some of my friends, I tell them that the words are jumbled in my mind. I can’t string sentences together, so instead I read other’s nicely placed words because a day where words are my enemy is not an option. 

When I walk down the street, no one sees my invisible illnesses. They see a girl, petite, with medium long hair, who walks tall and like she knows where she’s going. When they see me with my boyfriend, they see a cute couple who laughs down 10th, they may not notice how he squeezes my hand to remind me that my mind hasn’t left my body, I’m still here. They don’t know the times that he has had to coach me through breaths, the times that I’ve had to do so on my own. 

I know three languages. I’ve checked off goals and reveled in accolades and I also live with depression and anxiety.