For the past four years of my life, I've dealt with small bursts of panic; moments in which every exclamation mark on the planet turns into a revolving aura of untamed terror. They would only occur a few times a year, usually triggered by something medical or understandably stomach-wrenching. It was handleable, the fact that I could shakily carry myself to the school nurse or into bed to let the symptoms wear off and away for the following weeks. It wasn't until recently that those symptoms began to wear me. In the last month, I have been held at gunpoint by my panic disorder at a constant doubt of survival. My body has trapped me in its invisible cloak of suspense, my optimism of recovery dangled by a mere thread of hope. I am hung up to dry by the end of it, left by my angry, tense shell to quickly patch myself up before another threat crosses my path, aches and pains zapping the thought of walking away unscathed.
Every time it happens, I feel simultaneously betrayed and attacked by the veins in my arms, lanes of endurance that should otherwise remind me how alive and well I can be. I put unbelievable effort into convincing myself of those facts. I cradle the positive thoughts I've always had like they're newborn puppies and I'm their only source of safety. I have to imagine a lung capacity of ocean waves to catch my breath. I force myself to get a mouthful of sunshine to feel like I've smiled enough for the day. I feel as though I have become a burden to the people around me. Between forcing my mom to hug my trembling limbs at three in the morning and having my guidance counselor write me a million passes to her office a day, I feel as lovable as sleep deprivation and a pen running out of ink. However, I know the truth. I understand the sincerity behind my effort. I get why it's considered brave to endure trial medications and intensive cognitive therapy to unroot my internal struggles. I can logically compose the meaning behind my trials and tribulations, but those realizations alone do not have the power to erase my fear of being in crowded restaurants where I can lose control over my mentality at the drop of a fork.
Fortunately, I've convinced myself that I'd like to stick around for the full four-course meal. I want to be able to experience the zest of life, while unearthing the capability to get better. I want to get on everyone else's level: the common ground where we can all acknowledge that all is not lost, my anxiety does not define me and I won't be held back by it any longer.
I've learned that it's generally hard to empathize with an illness you've never had. You can't blow your nose for the sinus-infected, nor meditate your way into demolishing the walls that stand between someone you care about and their panic disorder, but you can be the very personification of a sunny day for them. You can become a beacon of hope, a Katniss Everdeen in their entirely crumbling district. I've developed an extremely lovable support system in light of the recent situation, and it's remarkable how easily thinking of compliments to give your best friends can return you back to a state of serenity. It's been a struggle: looking at a picture of myself and seeing the simultaneous punctured spark of alertness and the drowsy drip of debilitation in my eyes. I fight to explain myself, to document my situation for those who aren't nearly as close as the complimented. And it is in that ambiguity in which I realize I deserve to document this. I deserve to remember these harsh, seemingly endless moments of my life just as much as I deserve to wake up and sense the sunrise infiltrate through my dust-flaked drapes. People should know what's going on. People, like myself, should be allowed to seek refuge in every facet of the world without being judged or told to simply keep calm and carry on. We have the right and the blessing to be honest with ourselves, and that begins with coming clean and breaking down the cores of our existences into pieces and layers that get more beautiful with age and understanding.
The more I toss and turn through this bad dream, the more I have the opportunity to redefine what it means to be afraid. I understand what is valuable to me, what I absolutely can't miss by staying in bed all day. My situation has put my life into perspective through the sheer blurriness of everyday. In true Augustus Waters fashion, I know oblivion is inevitable, and I understand that my fear of the unknown stems from the extensive knowledge and desire to travel straight into it. The thing is, though, I do not plan on missing out on a single day. The birds will keep chirping, the future, no matter how bleak, will be there tomorrow, and my tentativeness will evaporate with the inclination to give up. I imagine that the universe is a body, and I have the strength to become as fierce as an anxiety disorder within it. The cool thing, though, is that I'm even better than that. I'm not a negative addition to the world. I am not suffering. I am not a source of pain.
I am confidence. I am dignity. I am wisdom. I am vitality.
I have this mantra I repeat to myself when everything becomes too much. This isn't me. I am strong. Life is good. And, if it takes a solid hour to revive my strength, to realize it isn't about survival or victory, but the simple act of breathing the freshest air the world could possibly muster, then so be it. I am going to believe it.
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