a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
a mental condition characterized by excessive apprehensiveness about real or perceived threats, typically leading to avoidance behaviors and often to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and muscle tension.
The push and pull of the waves that only get bigger, faster, and more violent, that form tightening coils spiraling deeper and deeper into an unseen dark abyss. The sea foam bubbles and builds as it flows, overtaking everything and smothering with feet getting pulled down down down. Water rushing overhead with all noise muffled and diluted, fingers and toes going numb, mind going numb just to stop the thoughts. Heart pounding, racing, lungs expanding to take in as much air as possible, underwater - everything's muddled and thick. Legs working, arms flailing, body building with so much energy impossible to disperse.
Anxiety feels a lot like drowning.
I don't exactly know when it started, and why, but it ended up becoming a mechanism - an explanation for my overthinking and over-worrying. Always wanting to be prepared for everything, to have the worst outcome of every situation at the forefront of my mind - just in case.
Just in case.
This became the reasoning, the hush to my ever-racing mind, to give an excuse as to why I was allowed to feel so overcome and overwhelmed.
It’s just in case.
A constant ‘what if’ that never had any purpose in the first place. Because even when situations would get out of control, and become scary; it was all spontaneous. There was no time for preparation or a ‘what if’. It just happened.
I do remember, as a kid, having to rush a lot for different things; school, soccer, Sunday school, and appointments. Rush through dinner, scarf down food, solid panic settling in while trying to tie my cleats for soccer or find an outfit for school.
Well, just be better prepared. Leave on time. Know your schedule.
But, I was a kid.
Time isn’t a concept to kids, at least to the extent it is to adults. And with my parents, things always felt rushed. They worked, they had appointments, schedules, workouts to do, and dinners to make. Looking back on it now, I see the amount they had to juggle and it makes sense. But, as a kid, making your parents late for anything or being late yourself was panic-inducing; knowing people were going to be upset with you if you were just a minute late.
And I hated making people upset.
I hated people being upset with me either for reasons I knew or didn’t. I didn’t tie my shoes quickly enough, I didn’t have an outfit picked out as I should have, and I didn’t wake up and start getting ready when I was supposed to. And yes, that makes sense, I should have done all of that to make sure schedules are kept on time.
But, I was a kid. As young as 8 or 9 years old. It can be taught to children to be better prepared, but preferably without the yelling, the scolding, the blaming, and the shaming.
Maybe that’s where it all started. The one thing I do remember is that it never got better. Even as I got older and started owning my own schedule. I would plan outfits, I would set alarms, and I would have appointments written on my hand and on sticky notes surrounding my bedroom mirror. But, I would still get that gaping feeling in my chest and the tightening in my stomach. Even when I started working as a teen, I’d start getting ready hours before my shift, in part to hype myself up for my shift and to make sure I left on time.
Well, that’s just being responsible.
But I was getting ready hours before my shift. Sitting around the house just waiting, essentially doing nothing. If anything, it was to try to help calm the pounding of my heart and vibrating energy throughout my body. Nervous about the drive, the shift, the work, the people I’d interact with, and the typical bustle of the job. Nervous about clocking in too late, or clocking in too early and being accused of “stealing time” as my manager at my previous retail job explained it.
First-day jitters? Hardly, especially when it would happen even after being at a job for 2 years. You’d think I’d be used to everything by then.
But, it never got better.
It went further beyond my work life, further beyond my life involving schedules and time. It revolves mostly around that, but the overwhelming thoughts stretch to my everyday life and routines.
Routine. A word I’ve come to both hate and love.
Routine is boring, but it’s also safe. It’s so so safe. The same morning routine is done the same way each morning, the same commute to work, the same spot to park at work. The same routine at the end of the day, and I can go to bed feeling safe and secure. Can go to bed not overwhelmed by bombarding thoughts of anxiety and nervousness of an unknown ‘what if’.
Because nothing is unknown in a routine. It’s so so boring, but so incredibly safe.
So, what prompted this? What prompted me to finally sit down and write about my experiences with my anxiety, to address it in ways I haven’t before?
Although, at this point, traveling is not a first for me.
In 2022, I ended up on 13 different flights to different cities and even a different country altogether. Mostly for work, some for vacation, and others for a bit of both. Denver, Spokane, LA, Italy. Direct flights, connecting flights, 2-hour flights, 10-hour flights. In different airports in different languages. Most flights were by myself, others were with people I knew. And while I was anxious about that first flight in June of 2022, not flying before then since I was 12 years old, I was nervous to the point of getting sick. After that first flight, however, it was old hat for the rest of the year. Until that last trip in October to LA, a chance to be surrounded by like-minds and other creatives, a fitting last trip for the year, but I was done. Exhausted.
Because, while I did fly so much, and navigate so many airports and trips and schedules, it still was so incredibly mentally exhausting; my anxiety skating the edge for months at a time. Those ‘what ifs’ plagued me until that very last flight. And when people tell me I’m so lucky I get to travel like that for work, they don’t see what I go through internally and how mentally taxing is it. And I always hope it gets better, that I get used to it. But it’s always there, that sinking feeling and gaping hole in your chest thinking about all of those ‘what ifs’.
And it’s not so much the actual flight itself. I’ve had my fair share of long car rides throughout my life, my one grandmother lives in Ohio, and that trip alone, every Christmas, lasts up to 6-7 hours. But, instead of a car, it’s a giant plane 30,000 feet in the air - and somehow that doesn’t bother me as much as you’d think it would.
It’s not finding my gate, not so much boarding or the people on the same flight. It’s that schedule. Figuring out what time to wake up, what time to leave, figuring in traffic. It’s my brain forcing me awake at ungodly hours of the morning for a flight not leaving until noon. Because what if something happens between here and there, what if I get there and the line for security is out the door - at 4 am? And there are parts of me who know that’s totally irrational. I only live 30 minutes from the airport, why do I need to leave that early? Even my anxiety doesn’t know the answer to that question.
Not only is it the drive, finding parking, and hoping nothing bad happens to my car while I’m gone. Hell, I live on the East Coast of the US and yet my anxiety makes me worry my bottom lip to shreds about a possible earthquake totaling the parking garage and decimating my car while I’m gone. Leaving me with no transportation home, or transportation period! An earthquake?!
But, once I’m able to get past the garage, what ensues after is the bane of my existence.
TSA. The Transportation Security Administration.
My anxiety’s true Achille’s heel.
It’s quick. Standing in line honestly takes the longest time, but it’s quick regardless. From taking off my shoes, putting all my stuff onto the belt, walking through the scanner, and putting my shoes back on - it’s 2-3 minutes if that.
And yet it’s the almost dire actions of the TSA workers and others around me, to just get through the lines as quickly as possible, that creates this immense sense of panic, thinking if they’re going to pull me aside for a pen in my backpack because it might be a weapon, or my asthma medication because it might be drugs.
It’s absolutely ridiculous, and I know this. But, even with an upcoming business trip, just the first one of the year, I still find myself completely overwhelmed. Planning day by day what to do throughout the week to get myself ready. When to do laundry, when to give my spare key to a friend to watch my pets, when to pack, when to get last minute items, when to get gas for my car. It goes on and on. Which, this is also normal, getting everything you need ready for a trip - spacing it throughout the week so you’re not scrambling the day before.
Now, I wanted to do laundry beforehand, get my new work shirts all clean, and definitely have plenty of underwear to pack. I thought, do it Thursday because I live in an apartment complex where 4 washers and 4 dryers are shared among about 100 people. Thursdays in the laundry room are relatively quiet with all washers and dryers usually available, from my experience. But, for some reason, this voice in my brain was begging me to do it on Wednesday. That I had to get it done on Wednesday so it’s just done and taken care of. So, I listened to this voice and saw that one washer was open when I got home, but by the time I actually returned to the laundry room after getting my clothes - all washers were taken. And I panicked, hard.
Throughout that whole evening, I was cursing to myself, upset that I just can’t leave work earlier to get home and just do laundry. Upset that I live in a space where I have to share just 4 washers with three floors, a whole building’s worth of people. First-world problems, huh?
That’s when I had to step back, after calming down, and look at my anxiety like I usually do when this happens.
I’ve learned to separate my anxiety from myself, treat her as this different part of me - this personification - and I picture these thoughts as just a girl. Just a young girl freaking out and panicking over something she thinks is incredibly real to be panicking about. After what happened that day with my laundry, I literally had to take a step back and say “I told you so. Just, calm down”.
Calm down? Ha. Not like I haven’t heard that one before.
But, it was coming from me, who knows myself better than anyone - knows my anxiety better than anyone. And it literally took me, stepping back and looking at this little girl inside of me, that things were going to be ok, regardless. Because when I did laundry the next day, Thursday? All the washers were open in the laundry room with only one person using a dryer. And when I went to switch my clothes to dry, the entire laundry room was still empty. Just how it always tends to be on a Thursday. And I did my laundry like it was just a normal week with ease and the peace and quiet of the laundry room.
And if I had just kept my head, I would have been fine. You would think I’d just learn?
I guess it’s not that easy, to forget years and years worth of worrying. Years of being on edge for no reason, of constant possible scenarios plaguing and overshadowing what is actually happening at the moment. Because, honestly, outside of the trip I took to Spokane, traveling has been kind of chill and easy. Of course with the help of technology and my ability to pack just a carry-on and a backpack, the entire flying process has been just normal, comparable to driving, or taking public transit somewhere. And, if I didn’t have the issues I do have with anxiety, flying all the way to the west coast or another country would be just fine, would be normal.
But, somehow, my brain has made it to be one of the worst experiences ever just due to the sheer anticipation.
Does it help sometimes? Of course. I’ve actually been able to avoid some sticky situations because I’ve been prepared because I plan ahead. And because I’ve done it a good few times now, I know what to expect and can at least mask the internal panic a little better because of it, haha!
Going forward, though, and after typing all of this out so even I can get a better sense of my anxiety - I don’t necessarily want to eradicate it from my life entirely. It keeps me safe. Albeit the ancestral fight or flight instincts are vastly different from then compared to now, it keeps me (hyper)aware of my surroundings and able to act quickly if I need to. It helps me to - as one of my favorite things - appear as a local in a foreign place and adapt to situations on the fly. I read people and environments well, focusing on if someone is friendly or not. Able to adjust my tone when talking to different groups. And my anxiety sometimes has an oddly strange, but great way, of helping me to just say “f*ck it” sometimes when the adrenaline of a situation almost becomes something just needed, craved - like a new roller coaster, places to visit, sights to see - and yes - even a new video game as I’ve experienced recently (screw Beneviento’s house in Resident Evil 8).
So, as much as my anxiety has become something of a nuisance in my life, recently I’ve come to separate it from myself and refer to it as that little girl. A little girl who’s lost and alone in the world, who desperately just needs someone to hold her hand and genuinely tell her, “Everything is going to be alright”.
And it will.
About the Creator
Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!