up ahead, off-center.
It was soon after getting a prescription for a pair of thick, flesh-colored, hexagonal glasses that I began to study the placement of furniture and fixtures in my family’s home. I figured if I ever went completely blind, I’d be better prepared if I memorized the basic layout. After a few weeks, I had the landscape down so well that I could make it from the front door to the kitchen, find the Hot Pockets in the freezer, de-package and nuke one, make my way up the steps to my room and eat on my floor by my bed without ever opening my eyes. I was six, prepared.
When I was eight, I began running. At ten, I became competitive. I wanted nothing more than to move faster than the other girls. In fact, I came to take my running so seriously that I bought some ankle weights with my kid money (collected at holidays and birthdays), and I wore them when I ran uphill at the park or up the stairs at home, just to remind myself that running could be far more difficult if I was only a few pounds heavier or out of shape. The weights, I thought, were a measure I had to take in order to prepare in case I ever suffered an injury or suddenly gained ten pounds of fat around my ankles.
insistent upon preparation and absolute certainty.
In middle school, when I knew the answer to a teacher’s question, I would mumble it under my breath then I’d second-guess myself and refer to my notes, to verify my answer. But what if I wrote the wrong thing in the first place? By this time, someone else had answered the question—usually Ana, the girl who sat beside me and believed my mumbling self the first time.
I won’t dwell on my teen years. Suffice to say, alcohol and anxiety go together like crust-less pizza and crust. I had fun with this temporary remedy until I went too far with it. Anxiety demands the mind to travel. During these years, I tried to rebel against it, indulge in the numbing.
an emotive process, not logical enough to benefit from science.
The desire to numb my anxiety remained throughout my early twenties. I figured prescribed legal drugs were the adult way to go about combating my anxious mind. The first few times I tried anti-anxiety medications, however, I stopped them before they had the chance to work because I would read an article about the side effects and think that they might just kill me if I forgot and took a double dose by mistake. There was always a news story catching my attention, about someone who’d died from overdosing on the very medication I was taking, which would lead me to the internet and the myriad other side effects, and my anxiety would tell me to pitch the bottle just as I had the liquor. Weed would be cheaper, I thought, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel—paranoid.
When I began meditating, in my mid to late twenties, I thought about how unproductive I was being, and this made me feel guilty. In a cross-legged position, I would chant or close my eyes and concentrate, but the forward momentum of my thoughts—what I needed to do, where I needed to go, wouldn’t let up. Either that or I’d fall asleep. When I began running again, it seemed to calm me when my anxiety would peak; but my joints would get sore after a mile or two, and I knew that yoga is much better for joints, so I decided mid-run to quit ravaging the cartilage around my knees. I enjoyed yoga immediately, but let me just save a few words here and tell you, I never found a quiet mind in the downward-facing dog position.
To be fair, at thirty-one, my anxiety is far more manageable. And when it does peak, I accept it; I embrace it, channel it even. I’m not on any medications, unless you count Omega-3s and chewable orange-flavored multi-vitamins. I’m thankful and a bit perplexed about moments of relative calm, but I don’t attribute them to a single cure. I just savor them. But oddly, I savor the energy surrounding my anxiety as well, the drive to always move forward. Sure, it’s tempting to say that one specific thing brought me to this acceptance, and if only I could rationalize that it was all thanks to, say, Omega-3s, that I feel this way, I could probably write a decent-selling book and pay off student loans. Unfortunately, half-hearted rationalizations are no good for anxious people. We tend toward brutal honesty. In fact, my anxiety is writing this piece. But with acceptance, I sit with it. I meditate with it. I live with, not despite, it.
published 25 June 2011