Get Well

Self and the City: Always Anxious

by Hannah Smith

I believe everyone carries anxiety in some form or another, whether they know it or not. I know I have anxiety – so much anxiety, in fact, that publishing this piece is one of the scariest things I feel I’ve had to do. But whether you feel anxiety for momentous occasions or just hopping on the subway, acknowledging those feelings as real can be beneficial not just for you, but for those around you.  

My journey with anxiety has been a longstanding constant in my life, even before I knew I had it. You see, I was only diagnosed in my first year of college following a sexual assault, but I knew that incident had merely combined with a mess of unidentified feelings from my childhood, ultimately landing me in the middle of the perfect storm. 

Though I spent my childhood indulging in activities that would thrust me into the spotlight such as ballet and playing the fiddle, the anxiety I felt when it came time to perform was like no other. My family told me it was normal, but even as young as eight, I thought it was strange that I couldn’t help but vomit every time something “scary” loomed in the future. High school entrance exams, SATs, college orientation – you name it, I threw up right before it. 

I first went to the doctor with the intentions to talk anxiety my senior year of high school. When I went, both the doctor and my mom suggested I find a few ways to relax, namely, meditation and yoga. To you, this might not sound annoying, but yoga and meditation were named the answer to my anxiety for many years that at one point, I just got so fed up of hearing it. That doctor’s appointment was the last straw. Why did I come to a doctor to be told to meditate? In my mind, I was going specifically to get a diagnosis and to get help, and I got anything but. 

I remember trying to explain my frustration to my mom on the way home, but she wasn’t quite grasping it. Just because meditation and yoga had worked for her didn’t mean it was going to work for me, and I was desperate for a real answer. A second wave of frustration washed over me when my mom said she didn’t think she experienced anxiety – I audibly laughed and said, “Really?”

To me, it was always quite clear where my anxious tendencies came from. My anxiety attacks followed similar patterns with similar triggers, and my reactions would vary between a few different outcomes. And while I’ve never seen my mom have a full blown anxiety attack, it’s safe to say I always saw her as someone with anxiety. You know, needing to plan everything wayyy in advanced, having moments of panic when she realized she missed a call from a family member, looking around the grocery store wide eyed because she couldn’t find what she was looking for – they might not have been existential anxiety attacks, but it always registered as anxiety for me. 

I was becoming increasingly more frustrated with the disconnect we seemed to have with one another, and eventually we started to clash more (but that’s also what you get when both mother and daughter are Gemini). Leaving for college seemed like the break I needed to step away from my family and learn to deal on my own, so I packed my bags and looked forward to the hopeful season of growth ahead. 

Within three months I was assaulted and my anxiety became pretty unmanageable. In fact, only two days afterward while staying with my Aunt for Thanksgiving, I was vomiting so uncontrollably we couldn’t tell what it was. Was I homesick? Did I drink too much wine? Did the mashed potatoes have a lot of cream in them and trigger my lactose intolerance? We questioned what went wrong that night for years.

I, unfortunately, kept my assault a secret for a very long time. You know the deal – the shame, the embarrassment, I didn’t want to go through any of it or divulge any of it to my family. It took years, but with the encouragement of my boyfriend, I eventually gave in. 

When I told my mom, she asked if she thought it caused my anxiety. I said no and explained I thought I always had anxiety, but it definitely didn’t help. My mom responded with, “Do you think some of that anxiety came from me?” I remember being completely shocked. I mean, the pure change in dialogue going from “I don’t have anxiety” to “Do you think you got anxiety from me?” were worlds away. I believe I said no, but that it was big to me that she would recognize she had anxiety. 

Like it or not, we all have anxiety. Some of us have it more frequently or more intensely, and some carry small anxious tendencies with them at all times. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you have, but to recognize it’s something we all feel, and that the more we talk about it, the less power it has over your life.  

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