MHAM Submission - Ashley Johnson

Here’s what Generalized Anxiety Disorder is like for me; it’s waking up at two in the morning with my heart racing drenched in my own sweat. It’s not being able to stay at a party for more than a few hours because being around so many people for so long causes me to panic. It’s having to delete and retype sentences because I can’t focus and my words sort of muddle together and my thoughts become disordered. It’s dropping pencils because my hands shake almost constantly. It’s not being able to read out loud in class because my breathing gets uneven if I talk too long in front of people. It’s being alone for half of my senior year because instead of trying to understand what I was experiencing, all of my closest friends cut me off completely. Anxiety for me has been turning to men and sex and distractions to forget how afraid I was of life. It’s entering an abusive relationship, having my life threatened but being afraid to leave for so long because a part of me liked the security of having him. It’s having a screaming fit with my boyfriend because I can’t explain why I don’t want to be at his friend’s cookout anymore, I just have to get the fuck away from Michael’s house.

The story of my anxiety is not a simple one. That’s part of what bothers me about writing about this particular subject because unlike my other work, which is concise and has a specific direction, writing about mental illness (especially an ongoing one) feels disordered and unnecessarily complicated. But that’s just what it is. It’s hereditary, it’s how my mother’s anxiety has affected me, it’s the sickness of people close to me, it’s exposure to the internet and resources that fuel my anxiety, it’s our political climate, it’s love, it’s endless thoughts, it’s my father’s military service, it’s living in DC on September 11th, 2001, it’s being a creative person but not having the energy to be creative, it’s my parents’ divorce, it’s my sister’s overachievement, it’s my boyfriend’s anxiety, it’s my height, it’s my weight, it’s my fear of dying, of being irrelevant, of not touching enough people, of going and no one caring, of failing.

Here’s what I can say now though; on Tuesday I’m supposed to call a psychiatrist about getting put back on an SSRI to control some of my symptoms. On Friday I see my therapist at 11. Today I’m in my room, listening to my favorite band, writing, and eating dark chocolate. It’s foggy and raining intermittently.

The process of healing is not as much about getting rid of a mental illness as quickly as possible (besides, it’s my belief that you’re never quite cured of them at all) but it’s about self-love and working with what and who you are. It’s moving to a place of self-awareness. For me, it’s been sitting up in bed in a panic at two in the morning and saying to myself, truly saying, out loud, “Okay Ashley, you’re having a panic attack. Why, what’s on your mind?” It’s about finding what works for you—chemically, emotionally, socially—and using every tool at your disposal to heal and grow.

The truth is, this isn’t the anxiety you see on TV or in books. It’s not as simple as being nervous walking into class on the first day, at least not for me. It’s complicated and so is the process of growing. Going to a party and feeling comfortable, even if not for the entire time, is a huge step for me. That’s what I’ve learned comes with healing—slow growth and recognizing that growth. It’s applauding yourself for every small change and loving yourself entirely despite what mistakes you make.

I guess above all, as we move through this journey together, my only advice is to not rush the process of healing. To be mindful and feel everything. My anxiety has been a long term struggle that is comprised of more than I can list here now. It’s been good days and bad days, but I feel lighter than I did. I feel closer to people because I feel closer to myself.

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