Goodbye, Anxiety 

It always starts with a gasp. A rattling in my chest as I struggle to expand my lungs, to catch my breath. The more effort I have to exert, the more frantic I become. 
I’m desperate to find that hitch in breath, that plateau between inhale and exhale, that calming feeling that goes along with an intake of oxygen. 
My shoulders slump, my spine curves. I try and try again, panic bubbling up inside my belly, my muscles tensing with each failed attempt to just get some air. 
I first noticed this symptom in the middle of a high school volleyball game. As captain of my team, I was not performing well during a game and I felt awful. And then, light-headed. I couldn’t catch my breath. Was I out of shape? No, I practiced for hours every day and did tournaments on the weekends. It must be my lungs. Bless my mother, the saint she is, she took me to the hospital that next day and they tested my lungs for any possibly pulmonary embolisms. They tested my asthma. Must be that, I assumed. 
Since then, I’ve had these mini panic attacks sprinkled throughout all my college memories, many a time while traveling, and even a few times in the classroom. Lucky me. Breathing has become optional, it seems.
Actually, it’s always seemed ridiculous to me. The most simple human act, the involuntary inhale and exhale that marks our days. I completely forget how to breathe. I temporarily lose the ability. And let me tell you, it’s terrifying. 
I have other tics, too. Sometimes they follow my ragged breath, chasing one after the other like children on a playground. Along with the struggle for air, my scalp tingles. My eyes dilate and things become frighteningly blurred, yet sharper all at once. 
I clench my jaw until it clicks. I tense my facial muscles and hold until the pain becomes too much. I try to clear my Eustachian tubes, as if I’m waiting for my ears to pop. Over and over again. I count how many times I do this, only in even numbers. Cue the OCD, anxiety’s oldest friend. 
I chew the inside of my cheek until it’s raw and sore and bleeding. I scratch at my skin as if trying to escape it. Healing scabs from my last anxiety attack are renewed, fresh spots of blood threatening to trickle down my leg. 
It used to be so bad as a kid that my legs were covered with bumps and bruises and a myriad of scabs. Doctors gave me frowns and asked if mommy and daddy hit me. Nope, just self-inflicted harm. But how was I supposed to tell a doctor that as a ten year old? It just became the norm to wake up with fresh scabs after a particularly stressful dream. 
Even now, as I think and write about my anxiety, it has found me. I have unleashed the sleeping beast by the mere thought of being anxious. 
Welcome to the prison I have created for myself. My anxiety. I struggled for a long time to even give it a name. And now that I have, I wrestle with the beast inside on a daily basis.
I had no choice. Last year, following the death of my grandfather, my anxiety ate me alive. It crippled me. It plunged me into my first real bout of depression and I felt myself going deeper into the rabbit hole. The more I tried to struggle against it, the more it fought back with a fervor. 
I’ve slowly, but surely been coming back to myself. Dealing with the aftermath. Unfortunately, many relationships were casualties last year to my erratic behavior and I take full responsibility for that. Luckily, relationships can always be healed and people tend to be forgiving. I’ll admit, it is painful to know I’ve caused some irreparable damage due to my anxiety, but I cannot hide behind it. It is not an excuse for the way I’ve acted in the past. 
I just needed to give a name to the silent beast inside. The thing that kills my soul. Anxiety may seem like a mild form of depression, but it can be the most awful thing in the world. It is not only harmful to myself, but to others. It prohibits joy and pure, unaltered happiness. 
I’m realizing that my way of curbing it needs to be a comprehensive plan. 
I used to sedate my anxiety with travel, with pushing my boundaries until they broke. By meeting all of my fears head on. In a way, my anxiety is the reason I pushed myself to bungee jump, swim with sharks while in a cage, motorbike all over Iraq, work in Sierra Leone, and all the other reckless and wonderful things I’ve done thus far. It’s in these moments, where so much goes wrong, that I’m forced to be in the present moment and experience life as it is. 
And then, when I settled into a full-time job, nearly second-home in Azerbaijan, the excitement abated and my anxiety was back to play. So, I turned to nature. Hiking has always been a sure fire way to silence my mind. To return to my inner peace. And it worked, for a while. Until I started turning to alcohol more and more. In my drunkest state, my anxiety is absent. Interesting, isn’t it? 
Obviously, that wasn’t a healthy, long-term solution. So, I was back at square one. 
Unfortunately, my anxiety has shifted. I find myself being afraid again of things that haven’t bothered me in years. I was going from one island to another the other day, on a rickety, old boat and I was terrified. The waves were tossing and turning our boat this way and that, ocean spray soaking us and our things. It would have been refreshing and fun if I wasn’t absolutely terrified. Special shout out to Bob Marley — singing his songs was the only thing that abated an oncoming panic attack. 
A few nights ago, I was on a very turbulent night plane to Borneo and again, I was paralyzed with fear. I frequently fly on budget airlines and I’ve been on many a flight with turbulence, but I was gripping the hand rest so much that my knuckles were turning white, my hand going numb. 
So why? Why this sudden onset of anxiety? It found me once more, despite the exhausting amount of self-work I’ve been doing lately. 
So, I’ve added daily yoga and meditation to the comprehensive plan. I have realized that anxiety hides in questions about the future and in my obsessive analysis of the past. It hides in the unknown and in places where I feel like I have no control (especially anything related to the ocean, it seems). 
My anxiety wears many masks. It can turn me into a fire-breathing, red-faced crazy person. It can also make me hide within myself, as meek as a mouse. 
It finds me when I’m most vulnerable and can make me question my own best judgment. It stands firmly in the way of my confidence, my intuition, my intelligence. It makes my very rational mind a jumbled fragment of what it really is. 
It is the destroyer of my spirit. My relationships. My mind. My kind heart. It makes me into something I loathe. 
And so, I am saying goodbye to my anxiety. It is not something I am trying to hide anymore, and it is not something I am ashamed of. I have let it consume me for long enough. It is time I unlock it from the dungeon I keep it in, and let it free. It has to go elsewhere. It is no longer welcome in my life. It never really was. 
Fear, fear is natural. I accept fear and welcome it with open arms. But, I no longer associate fear and anxiety as one in the same. One is a natural, human response. The other, my own worst nightmare. 
Goodbye, anxiety. Once and for all. 

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