“Do you know what it is like,
to lie in bed awake;
with thoughts to haunt
you every night,
of all your past mistakes.
Knowing sleep will set it right –
if you were not to wake.”
― Lang Leav, Love & Misadventure
It always starts with the breathing. It gets faster and faster until the sound of it drowns out everything else around you. The cacophony of sounds rushing through my ears like when you were a kid and would hit the side of your head to get the water out.
My vision sometimes blurs and my hands shake to the rhythm of the tremors in my body, an unstoppable, second being within me on its own course to destroy me.
I seek out shelter from the world in small places, my closet, an empty bathtub, the backseat of my car.
I reach for something, anything, my knees, the barred threads of my jacket. I scratch and claw at the insides of my hands to hold it off just a second longer just to stop it before it happens and I lose myself and my composure in front of whoever is there.
The tears on my cheeks aren’t from sadness or any other tear-related emotion; they are from sheer exhaustion, the exertion that I’m feeling from holding back this explosion inside of me.
Don’t reach out to me, or touch my back, don’t bring me water or tissues while my frustrated, cold tears crawl slowly from my eyelids. This isn’t something hysterical in the simplest senses. It’s not something that you can fix, it happens from time to time.
It’s a panic attack.
It’s what it feels like to have anxiety, in my terms anyways. This all-knowing being that preys on your deepest secrets and mistakes, and confronts you with them at face value, whether these missteps in your life are big or small.
Anxiety is a monster that comes to you as your biggest fears, whether its assignments piling up, the fear of rejection or that time in the third grade when you blamed someone for something that you later found out they didn’t do.
I try to think about the best way to describe it, anxiety is like feeling that feeling you get when every nerve ending is on high right before the jump scare in a scary movie. The hairs on your arms are standing up, your pupils are dilated, ready for the jump, knowing that its coming and the letdown that comes when the director was just tricking you doesn’t truly take away the underlying fear or the creepy atmosphere.
You’re scared of every little thing as the character walks around the house unaware of a secret that you, the audience, do know about. You’re on edge and looking at every little detail in the movie, every cut of a scene trying to find the monster hiding in the shadows.
But as the credits roll and the final girl saves the day, you still feel that sense of panic surrounding you. As a kid, it’s reminiscent of seeing something unsettling in passing and then visualizing it for weeks or months, building it into this big monster or force that you can never tackle.
It’s the reason that you sleep with your back to the wall, and cover yourself with blankets, why you close your eyes at scary commercials and why you never stray too far from your parents.
My monster has, and always will be, this terrifying being that I once saw stupidly watching my uncle’s collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the age of five when my mom wasn’t looking. It was some sort of succubus like monster, who would kill children as they slept. No one would question it because the kids were all in the hospital with serious illnesses.
At the time, I never questioned my mental health or anything of the sort, but now that I’m coming to terms with it, I see that my first set of panic attacks started after my imagination would run wild out of fear. As a child, I had no idea what these moments of blurry nothingness were.
That monster, the monster, the one in my nightmares and in my fears, has terrified me to no end for years. It’s no Monsters Inc. sort of thing; it’s the creeping feeling of anxiety, awash over you with its claws in your back, holding on for dear life, waiting to jump out just when you don’t need it. You never need it.