Artwork by my mom
As this is the second time in my life I’ve been seriously affected by anxiety, I have noticed a pattern in the progression. I am attempting to chronicle it here, not just for my own future reference, but in the hopes that it might help someone else too.
It approaches in stealth mode. I don’t feel it coming. Once in a while I’ll feel a tightness in my chest, or feel down for no reason. It builds in a way that I don’t really notice, slowly over weeks and months. As time goes by, I feel more and more a shortness of breath and a growing sense of unreality. My normal mode starts to become angry and helpless. My body becomes affected with everything from nausea to uncontrollable twitching. However, in this stage I am still able to enjoy things when I am relaxed. Up until the tipping point.
Once the tipping point is reached, the dark thoughts begin to enter my head. I lose all sense of reality. My body is completely possessed, with panic attacks, racing heart and nightmares all the time. I cling desperately to everything that is familiar, unable to leave my narrow comfort zone. The thought of getting better again feels impossible.
In this dark place, there is no pleasure, there is only survival. There are days when it feels easier to end it all rather than continue in this hideous state. Somehow, though, I manage to hang on by my fingernails, dangling over the edge of the cliff. This is the absolute bottom, when all I can do is cry for help. I take medication, I go to therapy, I reach out to everyone I know and trust to help me through.
Then, slowly, a change begins to happen. From somewhere deep inside a crack of hope begins to appear. Just a single crack, one day. Maybe the next day it’s gone. Maybe it’s even gone for a week. Then later on, it appears again, perhaps for an hour. Then a few days later, for half a day. A few months pass, and you have one amazing day where everything works out right and the hope is blooming.
After that you have more bad days. Then another good one. Then a bad week, and two good days. You’re whipping back and forth between hope and despair. But the hope is winning out. It starts bleeding into the bad days.
Months have gone by. The crack is now a wide opening of sun. Most days are good now, but during some you walk in the shadow. The shadows are growing smaller, though, and it’s easier to see the sun beyond them. They are like snow melting in the spring. You nervously walk around them. Sometimes you have to go through them. It sucks but it’s getting easier.
Eventually, you notice the season has changed completely. You no longer tremble in fear of the shadow. This is the point where you say, Life is Good. Every so often you encounter the shadows again. There are always clouds moving across your sky, even on the best days. But now you know what they are. You look at them and say, bring it on, shadow. I survived worse.