THE MONSTER ON YOUR BACK
Whenever we start something new, we get nervous. Some people call this nervousness excitement, and others, like me, call it anxiety.
I can't tell you the precise moment when the innocence of my youth changed and excitement turned its back on me. The only thing I can tell you is that my anxiety got worse with age, with every new disaster I could see befalling myself or my loved ones. It never got bad enough to be labeled as anything more than 'general'.
I was generally anxious about the future. I was generally anxious about friends' futures. I was generally anxious about my teeth or my hair or my muscles or some hidden illness waiting to strike. Still today, I am generally anxious about nuclear war or society failing to progress due to fear. Ironic, isn't it, that I am afraid of fear holding us back?
Anxiety can take many forms. Mine took shape with anorexia when I was nineteen. I was in an unstable friendship and had been abandoned more or less by my father at sixteen (though he would return and rebuild what was broken), then by my idolized director who had practically been my second father. I would go on to college unaware that these actions had affected me or my mindset whatsoever. I didn't think much of it at the time; I just remember being angry at them and seeking solace in a friend that turned out not to be a friend at all.
When a third and final person of authority told me that I was a brilliant actor, but would never play the lead in 'real' theatre because I simply wasn't pretty enough, I felt the last bit of my anger crumple. It morphed somehow into angst, paralyzing anxiety that would cripple my confidence and slowly kill me from the inside out.
I thought that if I simply starved the the ugliness out of my body, I wouldn't have to fear for my future. I could just go on like I had been and be an actor and make it somehow in the world with the body I was given - I just needed to change a few things. I could starve the negative energy from my absent dad, from my estranged friend; I could eliminate the bad parts of myself. I could just disappear and become another person. Just like I did when acting.
But my plan was a poor one. I almost died because of it and accomplished almost nothing except to show me who my true friends were and what an asshole that director had been. The roommate moved out and love began pouring in from the right sources. I didn't crave the approval I once had from those in positions of authority. I noticed and still remember who asked if I was alright and who simply chatted about me whenever I passed on stick-thin legs. I started to love myself, a lifelong journey that a bunch of hippies and holistic mofos talk about nonstop. But it is an important one, and it is also a never-ending process.
Today, I have been through therapy. I have come back into myself and found relative harmony most days. However, the monster on my back still remains, firmly seated, watching over me and watching out for my future.
It tells me what kinds of things may happen someday, worst-case scenarios. It doesn't always let me put the phone down or fall asleep on time. A few times, it has made me panic, truly panic on the train. It's the kind of panic that makes you nauseous, fighting for breath, shaking, and trying so hard to hide it from everyone else that you sit stock-still, praying you don't puke on someone because your epinephrine is just that high.
But my anxiety has helped me realize just how strong a woman I've become. I am not afraid of anyone external anymore. I am not afraid of those who would bully, belittle, or belie their true intentions. I am not affected by the whims or opinions of others any longer. The monster that once tried to end my life now sits on my shoulders, watching over me, trying to protect me from whatever lies ahead. I understand now that anxiety brought me to the brink of death and just when I thought I might succumb, that fear of seeing that look on my mother's face - the one with tears in eyes as the paramedics checked my vitals - transformed something awful into something priceless.
I have anxiety. I am told that it is general, unfocused, common. I am told that my anxiety may go away someday, that the panic attacks can lessen with time. They're probably right; I know a lot of people that are anxious about a lot of things.
Perhaps, we have created a world in which a person no longer has a choice but to worry themselves sick about their skin, their shape, their finances, their loved ones, their safety, their sanity. Perhaps, we are generally anxious because there is a lot to be generally anxious about. But if we can use the monsters as guardians rather than puppeteers, I think we'll be all right. I think the monsters we create in our mind are there for a reason, for our survival or for our growth or both.
Either way, I hope that if you are an artist, a freelancer, or anyone really that suffers from your own personal demons - I hope that you know you are not alone. Lives that look perfect from the outside are usually anything but that.
Sending you fat love on a Monday morning,