02/27/2015 01:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Happened When I Broke Up With Anxiety

I was that girl.

I'm not anymore. I gave up my superstitions, rituals of the mind, paralyzing, inhibiting. I lost opportunities to love and be loved. I broke up with Anxiety around the time I surrendered my invisible credentials in "Master of External Locus of Control." It was hard because I had the thing framed in gilded gold. Okay, it was like faux gold, not even gold leaf. Probably. It was heavy, too.

I was born with an Atlas-back, a shape I tipped around my core. It was before we knew about Pilates. I had it all, the entire world, on my shoulders. I bragged about it (rookie mistake). In my circles, it was competitive practice. Anxiety never wanted me, but I was bored and lonely. I needed affirmation, or something.

I was comfortable in martyrdom, taking responsibility for everything awful that happened. I was a good lackey, shaping my cred, poised as Robin to Batman, great fodder for kids under 7 to wear as a costume for Halloween. I wrote myself out of Batman's will, his cape, his mask. I would never have a butler. Forget the Batmobile.

I had a dead-end job, ghost writer of bubblegum comics. The main plot lines were guilt and shame. It never panned out. I couldn't take off with no real place to land. Anxiety invited me on a date. We shopped around for problems after Jurassic Park. They didn't cost money, so I took them all.

It wasn't Anxiety. It was me. I hoarded issues in case we ran out of material to keep things authentic. Best to stock up if someone needed rescuing. Nobody could do it but me!

I grew up in a superstitious family. Every time a black cat ran across the road while my mother was driving, she crossed herself. I'd be in the back wondering why I couldn't bring the kitty home, sleep with it, cuddle it, and give it a name, which was the line no one could cross, right?


Every time I was at my grandma's house, I jumped when the phone rang. It was a vintage yellow number. She wound its cord round her finger, pulling at her starched hair. She talked to her lady friends about obituaries in the paper, honing in on the "young ones," particularly tragic, since their lives seemed to end unfairly and too soon. I hooked my fingertips into its dials, touched the smooth-coated wire, pastel yellow, like dinner mints we scooped out of cut-glass dishes in silver spoons after supper.

Grandma's face went all slack when a bird missed its trajectory and fell onto a window or glass door. She maintained someone was going to die. She recounted the last three times this happened, and she named the last three people who died within 24 hours of the last three times it happened. I was under the World Book Encyclopedia collection, seated, feigning mutism. Those books were hardly cracked. They were preppy-shiny, all green and white, niched in rows on polished walnut shelves.

I impersonated "calm," which I got all wrong. I wasn't known for robust, layered emotions. I was a natural student of extremes, taught by the amateur dramatists comprising my family. I did the math in my head, even though I failed math. Anyway, I predicted who was next. I sat on the edge of Grandma's couch, stiff and stylish in '80s ikat.

The old TV bulged from its tube, fake wood slicked in mahogany effects. I twisted its knobs between the four channels. I waited for news. Maybe it was my great grandmother, who was going senile and still driving. Maybe it was my parents, who'd flown to Jackson Hole. I'd read the landing strip there was tricky.

I was the girl doing spells, driving panic attacks out of elevators. I amped up my voodoo when they shot up faster. I grabbed Anxiety's hand for steadiness. I had worried eyes, too big and expressive to hide. My heart beat faster than Edgar Allan Poe's beneath the floorboards.

Anxiety and I were together. I thought it was forever.

We tumbled fast through foxholes of youth. Over the hills, through the woods, in trees and valleys, we rolled along, to grandma's house, devoid of merriment but surviving. Negative Thoughts met My Associations. We hosted dinner parties in my neurons. We collected wait lists in the way children with reputations collect discipline referrals, or the way my sister collected parking tickets in college because she just didn't want to walk that far.

Anxiety consumed me, with my permission, digging little pathways, moles hedging under grasses. We were an annoying and ill-fitting pair. Looking back at our photos, I see it now, how wrong we were together.

Control is a superpower we cast with villains. It want to give it a makeover and a new cape. Not a cape, a sword, maybe a shield. I will cover my heart and protect my head, sensibly and strategically, plain but strong.

We have control, you and I. Over thoughts and feelings, situations and choices. We hold the reigns. Shuffling leather lines, passing them between hands, ours is the choice to gallop, trot, stand still, or surrender to the wind. Bound by spitballs, held in cat-cradle strings of fear, spindling, we are dark straw in Rumpelstilkskin's imp-hands, primed for a sweet, golden lifetime exchange of despair for joy.

I'm no expert, but of all the things I've given up, anxiety is my best so far. I sleep at night. I remember to eat. I listen for my laughter in movement and my strength in stillness. I am dating Mindfulness. I think Mindfulness is The One. I'm okay with all of this, all of me.


I am studying for new diplomas, like, "Content," "Good Enough," "Forgiving." I might even frame them. Probably. When it feels right. I'm going with gold. The real deal. I won't hang it up or anything. I don't need anyone's approval. I'll just know.

I was that girl.