One and a Half Good Legs
Overcoming Anxiety One Step at a Time
Janie stared at the challenge ahead of her. The staircase looked like a mountain, looming over her in a dark shadow.
Deep breaths, a voice said, penetrating the layer of anxiety coating her skin like oil. In and out. The mountain turned into a staircase, five steps high with her physical therapist waiting on the other side.
Her muscles were frozen solid. Even as her brain screamed at them to move, they didn’t budge an inch. “Come on, Janie. You can do this.” Ian, the physical therapist, encouraged. She stared into his optimistic blue eyes before dropping her gaze to her feet.
Eventually, after an internal battle that seemed to last a century, Janie lifter her right leg onto the first step and was now eight inches above the ground. She let out a suppressed sound somewhere between a squeak and a wheeze while Ian clapped. The next four steps didn’t seem so hard, but walking with a cane was difficult.
There was always the possibility of using an elevator, but getting into one of those mechanical death traps sent a zing of worry straight down her spine into her injured leg.
Elevators weren’t even considered in Janie’s thoughts.
She finished her physical therapy session with more home exercises and a light sheen of sweat coating her hairline. A few stray strands managed to escape her top knot and curls around her ears.
The constant thump click was oddly calming as she approached the stairs of her school the next morning. It was her first time back in class after the accident and nervous didn’t quite meet what she was feeling.
Petrified was more accurate. Her heart was beating so fast Janie was surprised none of her ribs were broken. The knuckles of her left hand her white where they gripped the cane. None threatened to split the skin as stood there, staring at the doors while people bumped into her from all sides like she wasn’t even there.
“Janie?” A voice asked behind her, “Janie!” Two arms wrapped around her from behind before she was tackled to the ground in a bear hug that could have only come from her best friend Tanner.
“Hey, watch the merchandise,” she chided, sitting up once she extricated herself from his arms. “You break it, you buy it.” At least her sense of humor still worked even if her leg didn’t.
“Oh my God, ohmigod, I am so sorry. Here, let me help you up.” Tanner kept apologizing as he yanked Janie from the ground. Sometimes he forgot how strong he was being the star of the football team and all.
“It’s okay, Tanner. I don’t break that easy,” she said, giving his shoulder a squeeze. “Besides, it’s not like you’re an eighteen wheeler.” He gave a nervous chuckle, looking everywhere but Janie’s face.
As odd as it was, other people had to heal from her accident, too. Which was unfortunate because sarcastic coping mechanisms were the only things keeping Janie held together—and, maybe the insane amount of peanut butter she eats as well.
With Tanner by her side, approaching the stairs felt a little easier. It was only 10 steps up to the door, nothing more than a small hill rather than the steep incline her brain made it out to be.
What if people stare at you? What if your shirt isn’t cool enough? Really, ripped jeans? Those are so last season; plus everyone can see your scars. They’re gonna think you’re some psycho who cut themself open. What if they don’t like you’re cane? What if…
“Hey, mission control to Janie,” Tanner said, snapping his fingers in her face. Janie’s eyes slowly came to focus on his warm gaze. “There we go. Now, deep breath in and out.” He took an overly dramatic breath.
Janie managed the smallest amount of oxygen to force its way past the snake wrapped around her trached. The sky receded inch by inch with each breath until it no longer felt like it was closing in.
“Stupid anxiety. Stupider brain,” she said, lightly flicking her temple.
“Yeah, stupid anxiety. Fuck you, anxiety,” Tanner practically shouted into the mostly empty entrance. Other than a few laggers, it was only Janie and Tanner on the front steps.
She stared at him like he was crazy. They were so going to get in trouble if Tanner didn’t quiet down a few decibels. He stared back at her with mischief lurking in his eyes and a huge grin on his face. “C’mon girl. You know you want to do it.”
Taking a deep breath she said, more like squeaked, “Fuck you, anxiety.” Some essence of strength managed to seep back into her bones. She said it over and over and over again.
Suddenly, school didn’t seem too hard to tackle with one and a half good legs. Two more if you counted Tanner who stayed by her side.