[CW: SH, SI]
Dear Anxiety, I remember the first time you crept into my life like it was yesterday. It was my first day of high school. You started by attacking my sweat glands, eventually moving on to my stomach, as you maliciously ruined my lunch period and gym class. Your presence was uncomfortable, but I pushed through and brushed it off as teenage angst. Every now and again you would come and go, but overall I felt in control of our awkward relationship.
As I blossomed into a young adult, you became increasingly violent and invasive. I had my first panic attack in my freshman year of university and this is when you went straight for the heart, literally. My heart started palpitating, my chest tightened and my left arm went numb. For a brief moment, despite being a healthy 18-year-old, I thought I was dying. I rushed myself to the hospital and embarrassingly faced the ER doctor who told me I was just experiencing some anxiety. This was the first time I was introduced to you for all that you are; a terrorizing force that takes control of your mind and body. I was shaken, but I kept moving. In the fall of my 2nd year, you went too far. I was at work and I remember the light blurring, my heart pounding and my nerves feeling like they were on fire. My entire body was in unbearable pain as I screamed for help and collapsed. I was again rushed to the hospital, but this time it was real. I remember snapshots of the night like it was a broken film reel, nurses rushing me to various rooms, IVs entering my arm, and a scary moment when I actually thought it would all end. Officially, I'd experienced a life-threatening heart arrhythmia- but after spending 4 days in the intensive care unit and undergoing a battery of tests, they couldn’t find anything physically wrong with my heart. It appeared that I had a massive nervous breakdown, it appeared that this was caused by you, anxiety. This was the first time that you made me face death. Despite getting medication and going through the mental health system, you kept coming back at the worst times in my life and I couldn’t seem to shake you. One month I had panic attacks for weeks on end; unable to get adequate care, I tried to overdose on my own medication. This was the second time you made me face death. Today, you still seem to get your dirty hands on my serenity now and again, but I am proud to say that you did not defeat me. I am alive and well, and despite all of the dark times you have brought me, I still manage to find the light. Hating you always, Aaron
Illustrations by Justice Walz