I think the best way to start is to be as honest as possible. I’ve always had anxiety. I just didn’t come to terms with it until I got older. (After college, I started to go to therapy.) Now I talk about it, often.
I have vivid memories of being nervous during tests in school, and absolutely dreading math exams no matter how much I’d prepared. I’ve always been anxious for things involving numbers, and math has always made me uncomfortable.
My anxiety about math came into focus when I was told I had dyslexia around age 8. When doing math problems, I’d constantly switch + and ÷ signs around. It felt “normal” to me to read addition and division symbols incorrectly. In school, everyone I knew had a subject they didn’t like, so I didn’t question whether that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach might be more than just “nerves.”
As I got older, anxiety was always a bit of a lingering shadow, something I noticed out of the corner of my eye, until it became all-encompassing. I had my first anxiety attack in college after a snarky remark to a rude teacher made me fear I would lose my student job. (It ended up being OK, but I spent the next five minutes in the hallway crying and hugging myself to calm down).
I’ve spent hours on phone calls with friends, asking them to help me reassure myself that the text or email I just sent made sense, that the words were clear and precise and didn’t make me look weird or needy. I remember writing out a text to my now-fiancé after our first date about how great a time I had, about how I’m just bad at flirting and how I hope they had fun too. Rambling on because I wasn’t sure if I’d made that clear on the date itself.
If you can’t tell by the words “now-fiancé,” we worked it out just fine after that. Subway ride home Mimi wasn’t 100 percent sure.
Just this last week, I lay in bed, looked up at the ceiling, and wondered where the next few months would take me, all while trying not to cry. Anxiety Mimi, as I like to refer to these moments, gets overwhelmed with whatever thoughts are the loudest. She likes to shed some tears.
Anxiety Mimi likes to linger, and some days it’s so loud I have to talk on the phone with my therapist—she reminds me that emotions are like the ocean, they change and don’t last, to just breathe and remember that things will be OK. On days when it’s overwhelming, I admit out loud it’s a bad day. Today was a heavy anxiety day and that’s OK.
Other days it whispers, wondering if that text or email went through or am I just being ignored? The quieter moments are easier to handle than the louder ones, I can’t help but admit that. Sometimes the anxious thoughts linger and hover around like flies, but I swat them away and things move on.
Anxiety isn’t exactly something I’ve conquered as an adult, though it is something that’s gotten easier to get a handle on because I speak about it, often. I write out dialogue with it, I talk through it with my friends, my fiancé, my co-workers, even my boss (!) some days. Facing it as “head-on” as possible is scary but it helps.
My best advice is to talk it out loud, write it down as lists—as what’s real and what’s not real—and remind yourself to drink lots of water. Simple things like that help me more than anything else. Having a support system helps, too, like my fiancé. On the days when it’s just you and your anxiety, remember you’ll get through it.