As I write this, I am working through a rough patch. I have some really anxiety producing things coming up in my life and just went through a very tiring period.
I’m trying to deal with some of my anxieties and what triggers them. Certain situations can set me into a severe spiral. I hide it well and fumble through. I play-act at being normal, at being okay. I clam up and shut down, back away from as much as I can so I can get by.
I hope some day to not just get by. To not resort to my fear based, freeze or flight reaction. I’m working on it. I’ll be okay.
A little back story.
I grew up in a small town, riding horses, involved in 4-H, and spent many weekends in the summer camping. I ran around barefoot and swam in the irrigation run-off in our horse pasture, climbed the massive mulberry tree, picking and eating mulberries until they made me sick.
In school I was in the gifted programs, loved to learn and read, but had few friends. I came to school with hay in my hair, read horse books and collected My Little Ponies until I was in the sixth grade (and after, just not quite as… obsessively). I raised goats and sheep and chickens. We had a cow butchered in our pasture, and I watched with morbid fascination right along with the boys as the animal was skinned, muscles still twitching.
Even in our rural town, and especially in the gifted program I was in, I didn’t really have the average upbringing. We were poor, but not so poor that we were on food stamps. I wore the same clothes far too often and got teased for it, without understanding why. It hurt to be odd, but I had a best friend, my next door neighbor, who rode horses with me. She went to camp with me in the summer along with another friend who was in the same classes with us who lived down the street.
In middle school, my anxieties really kicked in. I had some friends, and did okay socially. Though my honors humanities classes were a safe space, getting up in front of everyone to deliver any sort of presentation would set off my anxiety. I remember so clearly during one assignment, getting up in front of everyone and just freezing.
It was strange. Back then, I didn’t think all the horribly abusive things that I think about myself now. I would learn to hate myself later. Then, I was just wracked with some undeniable, unwavering fear. People were looking at me. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t think. I had to sit down. And that was it.
During this time in my life I read constantly. I had been given a book list of suggested reading, and went about devouring the books I was able to get from the school library. I had already read “The Last Unicorn” more than once because I was such a fan of the movie as a little girl. But until then, I’d been all about the horse books. I’d loved “A Wrinkle in Time,” but hadn’t sought out much else in the realms of fantasy and science fiction.
With this book list as my guide, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into The World of Earthsea, Middle-Earth, Shannara, and most importantly to me at the time, Pern.
I would fake sick to stay home and read. I spent every penny I would save by not eating school lunches in order to buy books. I discovered Tad William’s “Tailchaser’s Song” at a yard sale, I found Jane Yolen’s “Cards of Grief” at the library. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s “Songs from the Seashell Archives” was nestled among my neighbor’s “Conan the Barbarian” books, and I found Larry Niven’s “The Integral Trees” at a used book store.
I remember these early days of discovering all these worlds so clearly. I had never been happier than when I was lost in the adventures of and mind of another person.
Anxiety had hit me first, depression came next. While I thoroughly loved my escapes into the realm of the written world, I became desperately, painfully aware that I was never going to have an adventure like Menolly in the “Dragon Singer” books. I wouldn’t be discovered for having some amazing talent, and my horses, as beloved as they were, would never imprint on me and speak to me, no matter how desperately I needed a friend.
I wrote my first suicide letter in middle school. I don’t think I actually acted out in any way on the desire to just end it all, but I was sick with depression. I never told anyone, I just hid away in my room, rode my horses and got by. These are my coping mechanisms today, established early on. Disconnect, distract, avoid, and just get by.
Apparently at some point, my mom put me into therapy. I don’t remember anything but the module building and the cement, wheelchair accessible walkway to the door. It’s strange that I don’t remember, and perhaps there’s a reason. I don’t know. I was spending so much time in my own mind back that.
During the seventh grade, I started writing when my English teacher offered to give us bonus points to whoever wrote the most in our journals. I filled page after page after page. I still keep these journals to this day, though I haven’t looked back in them in quite some time. I’m not ready to look back on the innocence and pain of those young years. I’m a little afraid of what I’ll find.
We also had a writing assignment at the time to write and turn in a story. It only had to be ten pages or so, but mine soon spiraled far beyond that. I wrote about unicorns and fire lizards and a girl on a journey to save her lands from a poisonous plague. I echo these themes still in my writing today.
I was then that I let a friend read my writing for the first time. I will never forget how it felt to have someone tell me that she was hooked. That she couldn’t put it down, that she wanted to keep reading.
It’s funny looking back now. That friend was more an associate, and we lost touch soon after. I was awkward and just not very outgoing while she went on to do all the normal high school things including cheer leading. She wasn’t the type to fall in love with reading some silly fantasy novel. And yet, she enjoyed mine.
I believed then, and still do now, that I have something. I have some knack to be able to tell a story. Stories live in me, and I still devour books like candy when I have the time.
There are times when I wish bitterly and desperately that I had not struggled so much with anxiety and depression. That I didn’t feel so awkward, broken and just plain wrong. Then I step back and realize that I would not have read as voraciously as I had if I’d not been lonely. I would not have spent so much time in self-reflection and developing my own inner world if I hadn’t struggled.
And when I am able to stop, slow down, breath and reflect, I know I’ll be okay. I’m alright. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m alright just as I am. And just maybe, I have something to give the world. I just have to believe in myself and work with the tools that anxiety and depression have given me rather than let them cripple me.