I am trying to remind myself to take deep breaths. That underneath my damp and trembling hands, deep down below my stampeding heart, I am okay. I fill my lungs with air, so much that my chest hurts under the pressure. I can feel my skin flush with heat, blooming from my chest and travelling in waves over my body, each more intense than the last. There is no stillness, no quiet to be found in my brain, no clean psychological space I can retreat to for peace. I need to get up from my desk, to take a walk and seek refuge in a quiet corner or out in the sunshine, but I realize that the edges of my vision are starting to go dark, like shades slowly being drawn. Tears well in my eyes as I am gripped by the opening pangs of an anxiety attack I have thus far been successful in staving off. I am left to hope that no one sees me before I can get myself together.
Later, after I’ve calmed my heartbeat and wiped my tear streaked face, feeling sheepish at my falling apart and grateful I have not been discovered, I try to trace back a trigger that I can avoid in the future. If I am being honest with myself, there wasn’t one. There was no one moment that sent my body spiraling into panic. It isn’t my job; here I am successful, I am fast on my feet. Here I am capable and adept at producing under impossible conditions. I am clutch in crises. I am awesome under pressure. I thrive in intense, make or break, vice tight situations. And much of my work involves operating under such conditions. Here, my hyper ambition is allowed to thrive.
But my life. My life is quiet. And it’s making me anxious.
The difficulty is that there is no real problem here. Things in La Land have been lovely. I’ve moved. Landed an amazing job at a dream organization. I adore my coworkers. I’m making good money. I’ve accomplished some major financial goals. I’m travelling and hanging out with friends I have gone years without laying eyes on. I’m spending time with family and getting drunk on patios and at outside concerts. I am dating and achieving and growing far beyond where I’ve been.
And naturally, I am a fucking mess.
The anxiety that always lives in a dark corner of my heart, swoops in suddenly and uninvited, ricocheting around my chest cavity, travelling out to my extremities. There is a reassuring voice in my head telling me nothing is wrong here but it is often too quiet to drown out the other noise. And if I am really honest, the problem is that nothing is wrong here.
There isn’t. This is not lip service. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG. But this happiness, this contentedness, is foreign to me. I have spent a lot of time surviving. Making it. Scraping by. And now that I’m not? I am woefully unprepared for how to navigate it all. It never occurred to me that I was the type of person who could not be still in times of peace.
I recognize that part of it is my conditioning. The deeply engrained notion that this happiness and freedom is not how life “works.” Years of Catholic guilt wrapped in large swaths of oft-repeated refrains; the personal pursuit of happiness is selfish. Self-indulgent. The desire to be free, to live according to your own whims and vices will bring you low. There will be consequences.
I find myself waiting for the blowback. For the moment when the waters of my life will swing suddenly from soothing rock to violent storm. I am incredibly anxious, debilitated by waiting for everything to go wrong. I am steeling myself for it. Though there is no indication at all that it is coming. But my mind is betraying me, unsure of how to settle in silence, not used to not having constantly plot and plan and execute. Where there is no crisis, I am subconsciously creating them, searching for any minute signs that things are maybe going south. I am assaulted by my thoughts, jumping rapidly back and forth, trying to stay a couple steps ahead of what is not happening. How can this go wrong? Can I fix it? Will I be ok? What is the thing that will fall apart?
Not realizing the thing falling apart is me.