Taylor Smith is a sophomore news and magazine major and writes “Bold Type” for The Ball State Daily News. Her views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper.
When my mom dropped me off at preschool in the morning, I would take off my coat, hang my backpack up on my hook and immediately begin to cry. Other mothers and my classmates would watch as I wrapped myself around my mom’s legs, begging her not to leave me and pleading with her to take me back home. But my teacher would eventually pry my arms apart, free my mom from my grip and try to get me to sit down and color rainbow hearts on construction paper with Crayola markers and a purple stencil.
If I didn’t sign “I love you” out the window to my mom every summer morning as she drove away to work, I was afraid she would forget how much she meant to me, and I would panic in my bedroom until I could think of a way to tell her how much I loved her.
I would wake up in the middle of the night at the slightest noise and consider the pathway the killer would follow if he got into my house — how he would turn right, walk up six stairs and look me dead in the eyes, and how I could only lay in bed beneath my Tinkerbell comforter and hope it would prevent him from making me his next victim.
I check the locks on all the doors of my house before I go to sleep. I won’t drive if my little sister is in the car. I won’t shower if I know she is eating in case she chokes and I can’t hear her. If she sleeps with me, I wake up every hour to make sure she is still breathing. I obsessively check my mother’s location throughout the day to make sure whichever client she is showing houses to didn’t kill her inside one of them.
I depend on my sister’s Snapchat story to remind me that she is safe and okay. I sleep with a hammer next to me so I can break my bedroom window and escape in case of an emergency. I have a list in my head that I go through every night of things I need to remember to save in case there is a fire. I check to make sure none of my family members’ chargers are anywhere near their beds in case one electrocutes them in their sleep. I panic if a family member doesn’t call or text me back within the hour, thinking that they must’ve gotten in a car accident, kidnapped or in the hospital.
And now, I have to wash my hands after touching anything, I refuse to leave my house, and I can’t prevent a panic attack whenever I think about my parents or grandparents and the possibility of them contracting COVID-19.
I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 7 years old. Thirteen years of my life have been controlled by my anxiety disorder, and no matter how hard I try to fight it off, it’s always there. It is powerful, it knows my weaknesses, it is aware of my biggest fears and it continues to remind me of them every single day.
Since I started using social media, I have noticed that anxiety has become a romanticized aspect of society. Some people turn anxiety into a quirk that everyone should have — that everyone does have.
I had one of the worst anxiety attacks of my life the day my mom dropped me off on campus last August. I was hyperventilating, begging her not to leave me, to take me back home with her where I knew I would be safe and have my family to help me through everything. My head pounded for the rest of the day, and I tracked her for four hours until I knew she was safe back home.
And as I sat in my dorm room, I had never felt more alone.
In my experience, people don’t understand that anxiety can actually affect you as strongly as it affected me that day. On social media, anxiety has become a term that people use ignorantly to describe how they are nervous about a big test they are taking or how a job interview is putting them a little on edge. It has become a common way for people to explain the normal amount of uneasiness to feel in uncomfortable and potentially stressful situations.
That is not anxiety.
Anxiety is lying awake at 3 a.m. feeling like you can’t breathe because you can’t stop thinking about the time you found your sister at the bottom of your pool. Anxiety is having a panic attack in the middle of your art class because your mom took 20 minutes to answer your email. Anxiety is having to leave school early because you made yourself physically sick over a test that you studied six hours for. Anxiety is not being able to look at a restaurant menu because you know they list the calories, too.
There is nothing romantic about anxiety. There is nothing romantic about panic attacks, constantly crying to yourself in your dorm bathroom because there is no other place for you to be alone, FaceTiming your mom at 1 a.m. hoping she can help you calm down.
There is nothing romantic about not being able to order your own food, or avoiding dining halls because of the panic they put you through, losing friendships because you can’t get yourself to communicate or go out, taking pills every night, hoping that they will make things easier for you.
There is nothing romantic about anxiety controlling every aspect of your life.
I fight it as hard as I can — I go to therapy, I take medication and I do exercises that are supposed to help me overcome it. But it’s hard. It’s hard to watch my friends handle situations that I am unable to handle. It’s hard to sit alone in my room and wonder why I have to be this way. It’s hard to try to explain what I am going through to my family just to realize that they will never understand.
Anxiety is a prison that my mind has been locked in for over a decade, and whenever I find the key, my hands shake, my fingers fumble and the key falls to the ground and the cycle starts all over again.
But when that happens, I remind myself how many times I have beat it, how many times that cycle hasn’t stopped me from doing what my mind tells me I can’t.
I will never let anxiety beat me, and I will do my best to support others who experience the same. But I also hope to serve as an advocate and educate others on what anxiety really feels like, so we can stop the romanticism that has grown around anxiety. Because it is not quirky or fun, it is debilitating.
Contact Taylor with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @taynsmithh.