My Silent War with the Shadow of Anxietycsudhbulletin October 10, 2021 0 COMMENTS
October 10 is World Mental Health Day and for Catalina Garcia, the importance of this day is personal and raw as she advocates for awareness and advocacy against social stigmas of things like anxiety or depression.
By Catalina Garcia, Staff Reporter
My anxiety has always been a complicated road that I’ve had to learn to walk through since I was in preschool. I was bullied growing up for various reasons like; being the tallest girl, having curly hair, being overweight, and sometimes being a tomboy. Because of the consistent bullying and harassment that I faced by my peers, from a young age, I learned to protect myself.
As I grew older, the bullies grew smarter and they did the bullying in a subtle manner, where I didn’t pick up on it until it was too late to protect myself. This caused me to overthink and become anxious and paranoid whenever someone talked to me out of fear that they would take a jab at me. I learned to be quick; hurt them before they can hurt me. Deflect the pain before it can reach me.
I learned over many years that I needed to overanalyze and overthink every situation to make sure it was safe. Every time I enter a room I look at every single person. I analyze the behavior of everyone before I can adapt to the environment. If I deemed the environment unsafe, I remain silent. If it was safe then I would allow myself to relax but never too much.
Living with mental illness/anxiety is like having a dark shadow constantly trying to push you further back and further down rather than let you have your shining moment. A dark, silent shadow, which sometimes I can function alongside, but sometimes takes over my thoughts and entire being; always waiting to whisper in my ear and drag me down.
Even today, my guard remains up at all times. It shows up when I’m watching movies, reading a book, and sleeping. Yes, even sleeping. I wake from a deep slumber with the feeling of the shadow taking over my body. Sometimes when I am with my friends I get the overwhelming feeling of being lonely, one of the many feelings of my anxiety. The shadow whispers in my ear, “No one here likes you. They are only tolerating you because they have to. They don’t want you here, you’re annoying.”
When at parties or social gatherings, the anxiety gets so bad that eating becomes a problem. The overwhelming feeling of constant judgment from those around me. The shadow releases the voices from past instances where someone has commented on my weight or what I was eating rings in my ear; causing me to lose my appetite or overthink my food choices.
My eating habits became a struggle and until this day still remain a struggle. I don’t eat in front of people in fear that they judge what I order and the amount I intake. The shadow whispers in my ear, “They all have salads but you want the hamburger. What will they think if you order it? What will they think if you actually finish the whole thing? They’re going to say what those kids said growing up, remember?” So I simply order a salad but only eat half no matter how hungry I actually am.
But for me, my biggest battle is the shadow that walks with me telling me that everything I am doing is for nothing and that I am never going to make it far in life. That everything I do is wrong and no one will accept me for who I am.
By being bullied and told that I am not good at anything, I convinced myself I am good at nothing. I’m not worthy of success, love, or friendships.
So, at times when I have great success, I can not dwell in happiness for too long before the voice says, “Why are you celebrating? This is all only temporary. You are great now but what about next week? Next year? Next decade?” I then sink into a great hole and the shadow consumes me.
When the shadow takes over; my body feels like it is floating into the cosmos, straight into nothingness. My skin feeling like it is pixelating away from me and never to return. My mind races and feels like the salt and pepper screen of an old television set. My lungs lose their rhythm and get heavy. My body shakes as if I am trapped in Oymyakon.
When it leaves and I see light, I am left feeling alone and empty. The unforgiving feeling of numbness fills my muscles and heart. My mind goes to the darkest depths imaginable, convincing myself that I’ll never be good enough. I feel embarrassed, silly, and stupid for thinking I can be successful.
My anxiety and depression are constantly telling me I’m a failure, but everyone around me is constantly telling me I am going to do great things. My mind and body live in a constant state of anxiousness and numbness. There are a few rare times where I feel light and happy.
This battle is all me with no assistance other than my therapist guiding me with exercises once a week, and my family and friends for moral support.
My therapy is something I look forward to and dread at the same time. I’m able to talk to someone about my troubles and hardships freely with no judgment. My therapist helps me confront the shadow, evaluate it, see what it wants and why it is showing up. She is teaching me to trust in people again. It’s a slow process that I’ve endured since Jan. 2021, but it is one that is necessary.
During this slow process, my friends and family had to learn along with me what it is that is exactly going on. They understand that there are days where I don’t feel like talking and there are others where I am completely unable to stop talking. They help me by understanding.
For me, my therapy is gold. It is precious to me. I learn ways to tame the shadow, stand up to it, overpower it. One of my therapy exercises includes taking time for myself. Whether it be sleeping in, doing a face mask, reading, listening to one of my favorite vinyl records, or simply making lemonade.
I’ve also realized the ways I am always taking care of other people before myself. I care about others and what they think so much I forget to check in on myself and see how I am doing. I don’t take time to evaluate whether the shadow is creeping up on me or not.
A lot of the time I let the people around me drain me of all I got by saying yes to everything they ask of me. My therapist is teaching me to say “No” more often so I can take care of myself. I have to look after myself before I can look after anyone else.
The journey is not an easy one and I know there are many other people struggling, and to those I say;
you’re worth every second you’re here. You deserve every success you receive. That’s what I have to tell myself when the shadow whispers in my ear. I have to remind myself that I earned that small victory. I earned to dwell in that success. I earned that moment of happiness. And you do too.
From me learning to handle this shadow and win a few battles with it, I know the war is long from over. With each minor victory, I gain, I grow. I become stronger and I learn who I am without the shadow.
This shadow will be my silent battle opponent for life. Im sure we will have our moments where it consumes me, but I’m just as certain there will come when I am bigger and stronger than it.