I have a pretty vivid memory of being ten or eleven and sitting on my stairs in a cold sweat just turning my head back and forth. It felt like I was moving in slow motion. When I talked aloud, my speech seemed lethargic. My Mom asked me what was wrong. I presume I told her about whatever was going on in my life—oh the stresses of being a ten year old. Being the helpful, caretaking type Mom is, she calmed me down and said that I was anxious. That was the first time I heard about anxiety.
I didn’t have many more childhood episodes like that. But as I got older and my life became more complicated, I did feel stressed a lot more often. I researched anxiety at one point but ended up feeling that my own experiences were trivial in comparison to others. It wasn’t until a discussion about mental health at Brooklyn Beta that I finally let myself say that I had a problem with it. I heard about other people’s experiences of stress, depression and anxiety. I understood that denying its existence, or downplaying its significance wasn’t helping me.
I decided to write this post because, while I was walking home last night, I had a strange experience. It was the most extreme reaction to stress I’ve ever had. I should also point out that I am just fine now.
It was about half twelve at night, walking up Queen street in Toronto and I started to feel an overwhelming need to cry. I knew I had been bottling up some serious emotional junk and I was at a breaking point. Thinking of that Louis C.K. bit from Conan a little while ago I decided to just let it happen to me, stop fighting the feeling. But it was much stronger than I expected and instead of crying I started to dry heave. I can tell you now it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. I was talking quietly to myself saying “what the fuck is happening to me?” in between retches. I thought talking it out with someone might help, but I didn’t feel comfortable getting in touch with anyone so late. I decided that gigantic breaths would have to suffice until I got back to the apartment.
Even with the breathing I got overwhelmed at some point and I went to throw up in a side street. Nothing came out of me—I was trying to puke an emotion. I just wrapped my arms around my stomach and leaned against the wall, hunched in a ball. I calmed a little and began to walk again. I had about 18 blocks to go so I just started repeating the phrase “I will be okay” to myself.
As I repeated the phrase over and over different things were popping into my head like: Was it the food from earlier?, You’re just keeping this going because you want attention, Don’t talk about this online cause Mom will get super worried, This is going to be an interesting song someday. I smiled briefly as my brain did its normal overthinking thing. Then the feeling came back and I focused on the words, now shortened to “I’ll be okay”. I finally calmed down about a block from the apartment. I drank some water and crawled into bed feeling pretty freaked out about what had just happened.
The cause of this attack, or episode, whatever it was, isn’t much of a mystery to me. I’ve just moved to a new country to start a new job and I had been fighting as hard as I could to only talk about how great everything is. I’ve not allowed myself to think about the negatives. At all. Every time an idea would creep into my head like: You’re going to miss people, You have no idea what you’re doing, or the classic What if you get fired, I just forced them down. Which, surprise surprise, isn’t healthy. My head needs these things to be addressed and it was naive of me to think that pretending they weren’t there was going to solve anything. So to that end, I’m sitting on my bed after a great night’s sleep and getting this off my chest.
This is as much for me as it is for other folks who feel the same way. Maybe you, dear anxious reader, always push the feelings away, convince yourself that your levels of anxiety are way less than the other peoples, that you should “just get over it”. That’s not helpful. It does make things worse. The sooner you give it a name, stop being dismissive and start talking about it, the easier it will be to overcome.