Anxiety is my long-time 'friend'. The stigma of simply being 'uptight' or 'sensitive' or 'overreacting' at first smothering the idea of getting a diagnosis or even thinking about why I feel a certain way about seemingly everyday tasks. I never thought I'd get to a point where I was afraid to leave the house or walk down the street. I was like a frog in boiling water unaware of the steaming bubbles growing above me. I kept the secret sewn to my chest since I didn't want to give the kids at school another reason to ignore me, or even worse, feel sorry for me.
I was eighteen when my first panic boiled over. I was a tiny fish in the ocean of university, alone for the first time. I'd forced myself to attend the meet and greet down the street from my dorm. I didn't mind the dark lights of the bar/nightclub as I could hide beneath the curtains of darkness between the spotlights. I forced myself to collect a list of forgettable faces and misplaced names as per the getting to know you 'game' that the student reps. had given us on the way in.
After a few hours, I'd managed to socially exhaust myself and decided to return to my dorm. Once I stepped out into the street, I was surrounded by darkness and unfamiliar faces. I gazed up at the towering buildings masked in black, any landmark or store sign distorted without the daytime sun. My chest clenched and my mind began to shatter into tiny shards of glass that swirled in my head as if my skull was a vacuum cleaner bag. Beneath the gaze of the streetlight, I felt exposed as if I was the perfect target for every crime, as if I was waiting for an inevitable trouble.
Once I accepted the fact that I didn't know how to get back to the dorms, I picked up my phone and called campus security. I had been told by every student rep. that if I was feeling unsafe, I could call security after hours and they'd help me get back to the dormitory. Apparently, the man who answered my call didn't get that message. He barked at me throughout the entire call, saying that I was wasting his time. With a cutting guilt and intense humiliation, I apologised and hung up, just as I began to lose control.
It was as if I was watching myself on a security monitor. I was completely out of my body as I felt the fear take over, my mind blank of any ideas as I stood alone in the dark, tears prickling my eyes as I considered (in my frazzled mind) hiding in the nearby shrubbery to wait until morning came.
To my utter relief, someone I'd met earlier during orientation found me and was kind enough to help me back to the dorm. Yet, even inside my locked bedroom, I still felt as if I was outside alone in the dark. It stuck with me like a sickness, my stomach wedged in my throat and my mind still in tatters as I tried to piece together the last thirty minutes.
What hit me harder was that I thought that I'd gained control over Anxiety. After so many therapy sessions, I thought I could control it like a misbehaving puppy. Yet, all the stars had aligned to create my perfect worst-case scenario. I was outside, alone, at night with no one I properly knew to help me. Bonus points came in the form of the bitter security guard and the fact that I was already on edge due to my additional social anxiety.
However, the whole point of going to university for me, other than getting an education, was to break free from the retrains that Anxiety had placed on me. My Anxiety is like a toxic friend that lives in your head and it takes time and some practice to get them to take their hands off the reins.
by Claire L. Smith
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Claire L. Smith is an Australian writer and filmmaker. Her creative work has been featured in Death and The Maiden, Hour Scribes, Luna Luna Magazine, Mookychick, Anti-Heroin Chic and Moonchild Magazine. A full list of her work can be found on her website.