By Barbara Arevalo
I want to speak about me. I want people to understand, or at least try to. That is all I ask. Because speaking out about one’s own troubles can be scary. Opening up and sharing can leave you exposed and vulnerable. But if we all stay quiet, then ignorance reigns supreme, and any relationships you have, whether family, friends or others is based on a facade. So here I go.
My mind is my prison, or at least it has been for the last three years. If I’m not battling anxiety, I’m battling depression – simultaneously at times. The smile I show you is not always genuine. It has been perfected to an art form so that you don’t feel uncomfortable being around me. I smile to cover up the real thoughts that fly through my head faster than I can interact with at times. I smile so that you don’t see the self-criticism going on inside my head. I smile so that maybe, just maybe, I can believe in my own fake smile. Just for a moment. And experience a moment free of unrelenting questioning of myself. I smile in the hope that I can genuinely feel it like I used to. I smile so that you will continue wanting to be a part of my life.
So when you ask me if I’m okay, of course I’m going to say I’m okay. I don’t want to burden you with my thoughts. If I don’t understand them, then why would I expect you to? In my head, I’m surprised I have any friends/family left. I mean, truly, in the last three years since my breakdown, and four years since my separation, I’ve had more disappear off the face of the Earth than I want to count. So it only stands to reason, in my head, that a happy Barb is one that people want to be around. And when I’m not happy, then they disappear or cause you harm. I know most of you would say ‘good riddance’. If they are not by your side to support you then they are not your real friends or family anyway. An extremely valid point. I hear you – believe me, I do. However, anxiety and depression serve only to reinforce the negativity. They left and/or hurt you, despite all the good you did. So you don’t see your worth, you see only the bad. And that is what drives it. It’s unrelenting and soul destroying, and yet as bad as you know it is, you cannot stop.
Anxiety is the voice that drives your decisions only then to wish you hadn’t. It is the voice that tells you to flee and protect yourself at all costs. It is the voice that shrouds your goodness and accentuates your flaws. It is the voice of constant questioning and negative reinforcement. It is the voice that strips you of your trusting nature and conditions you to expect the worst. It is the voice that pre-empts outcomes before they have happened. It is the voice that wakes you at night, the voice that tells you that you are not deserving. The voice that you could never imagine using on someone else, yet you allow so freely to be used upon yourself. It is the voice that has become second nature.
Anxiety tells you that you don’t deserve love because you will more than likely wreck it anyway. It tells you to distance yourself and run so you don’t hurt others or let others hurt you. It sadistically allows you to catch glimpses of yourself that you are proud of, only to rip it away with a vision or statement of how you will fuck it up again. It is the doubt beyond all measurable reason that you are not worthy of true happiness. Yet it taunts you with the thought that you are worthy too. Worse still, it shows you how happy others are and how miserable and lonely you are. It highlights all that they are and have, and how little you are. That despite everything your world keeps shrinking. And so in your mind, you assume that it must have been something you did wrong. Something you weren’t and still are not.
Anxiety is the questioning. Is this good enough? Am I good enough? Have I done enough? Is that right? Be better, stronger, faster, smarter, prettier. It is the people pleasing. Perfectionism. Because what if they saw the real you? Would they still like you? It is the knowing inside that you have a lot to give but the doubt in your ability to give it. It is the nervousness inside that you will fail again and again and again despite all your efforts. It is the self-sabotage and annoyance in your behaviour. It is the questioning of just about everything you do. It is the cold sweats, fuzzy mind, trembling hands. It is the palpitations and second-guessing.
Anxiety is the constant ‘sorrys’ that escape my lips. The sorry for reacting a certain way, feeling a certain way, thinking a certain way. It is the sorry for not being enough and making mistakes. For being too open and not open enough. For talking too much or not talking enough. It is the ‘sorrys’ for all my actions that I see that have never been enough. It is the ‘sorrys’ for not seeing what others see in me. It is everything I wasn’t and now I am. It is the everything I was and now am not.
Anxiety is knowing that you deserve more but somehow being scared to let yourself enjoy what could be. It’s knowing you’re worth more than what you say to yourself, but the fear of the inability to live up to it. It’s knowing that you do have people that care, but dreading the sadness you see in their eyes when they don’t understand the conversations that run riot in your mind. It’s knowing you need help, but the fear that you will never get better.
Anxiety is the counterpart which robs you of fully enjoying any beautiful moment, thought or opportunity. There is always that voice that lingers in the shadows of your mind, just waiting in eager anticipation to watch you fail, doubt, question – and it’s persistent. All you want is a magic pill and you know there isn’t one. You want to be free, but feel shackled. And no matter how unfair it all seems, somehow you have beaten yourself up enough to believe that you deserve it. As crazy as that sounds and as untrue as you know it is. It is confusion at its best.
And that is what lives in my head. Raw, uncensored and me.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here
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