Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I just got back to my room after a failed attempt to go to class. I’m sitting here, writing this, trying to think of something to email my professor to sugarcoat what I’m feeling, to really drive home the point that class today was unbearable for me. You see if it was the flu or a bad head cold this would be easy. I would simply relay the symptoms and be excused with a general “feel better” and a hidden relief that I wouldn’t be getting anyone else sick. To send an email saying I just had to take a breather on a 4th Ave. step because my lungs felt as if they were collapsing and my body was shaking so badly I could hardly walk doesn’t do the trick.
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I was supposed to go out to dinner with my friends a few nights ago but couldn’t get myself out of bed due to some unwelcomed existential dread about nothing in particular. No, it wasn’t something my horoscope said. It wasn’t something I was anticipating in the upcoming week. I wasn’t “nervous.” I was simply incapable. “But it’ll be fun,” they said. “You never go out with us.”
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I fear having to tell people I’m on medication because the second I do, I see my fears written across their faces. The fact that I have to take a dose of something with an unpronounceable name twice a day just to make me feel like I’m residing on some middle ground that makes me capable of mandatory human function immediately sets off alarms that I am a lesser person, lacking independence and radiating unpredictability. All of a sudden I’m the crazy, mentally unstable girl completely incompetent and incapable of any mundane task in front of me. I don’t even dream of revealing I have a Xanax in my bag in case of emergency, because the one time I mentioned it, the faces of my friends were the same as I’d expect if they saw me shooting up heroin in the bathroom of the bar.
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. In the eyes of others, it makes me a liar. Lazy. Inadequate. Delusional. Crazy. I can’t say I have a diagnosis because everyone I tell is conditioned to think I’m either a deranged psychopath or I’m faking it because I’m simply too fragile to face life like a normal person; underwhelming unable to walk through a typical routine without having an upper to keep me stable. Do they think I pity myself so much to induce a self-hatred strong enough to keep myself so far from mental catharsis? Do they think I find this fun?
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I’ve begun to believe it myself. Every time I feel my chest get heavy, my hands get sweaty, my vision become disconnected, I tell myself to suck it up: that it’s all in my head. Maybe it is. That’s certainly where it lives. But tell that to my body when I’m locked in my room, unable to move or think or breathe. Tell that to my ears that simply decide to stop hearing and scream with hollow ringing that disorients me to the point of defeat. Tell that to the girl who has sat on grimy floors in restaurant bathrooms and called for cabs with no goodbye because, for a few moments, she can’t remember how to exist.
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. They say there’s a science behind it. That it’s just how I work. They say it’s a sickness, real as cancer. But how am I supposed to believe it when I can’t convince myself it’s not self-induced? How am I supposed to survive an illness I’m not convinced even exists? How am I supposed to love my mind if I constantly doubt its ability to decipher reality from fiction?
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I know this because my school only allows three absences per semester. My only saving grace is that the school psychiatrist believes me. I’ve officially been categorized, embossed, labeled with the word “disabled.” I feel like a sick scam. Who am I to say I’m hindered when there’s nothing visibly wrong with me: when some days I function at 110 percent and nothing can hold me back. I feel like a disrespectful fool calling myself disabled when I have a condition so loosely defined, so casual. I have no right to categorize myself as someone with real life problems. There are many who have it much worse than me. And because my vices cannot be seen from the surface they’re perceived as fake. It’s a bittersweet sentiment knowing my flaws are beautifully misunderstood in a way that allows me to pretend they don’t exist while someone is watching. I thrive in the precious moments I spend being normal. I cripple in the instances I must try to explain the place I’m coming from, the place no one will ever truly understand until they feel their heart stop beating in their chest only to accelerate far past a normal rhythm, blood rushing to their head until the whole world fades away to a crystallized screen of silent white. I’m sure the letter sent to each of my teachers makes them think I’m just a student with low self-esteem who whines and pouts my way through life, looking for shallow excuses to half-ass my work. But I want to succeed. I want to live. To live comfortably. That's my dream.
Anxiety is an invalid excuse because I can’t convince myself I’m not insane. I can’t get over the possibility that every trigger, every panic, is rooted deep in my overactive imagination who happens to be a spiteful little bitch that likes to see me squirm. It’s in the calm moments I feel it most. When I’m finally content and that sharp jab of terror hits the sweet spot in the middle of my throat, closing in until I’m choking on invisible tribulations. It’s so vivid I can see the muscles contracting, turning purple as I fear…what? What is it that I fear? It’s the imaginary evils that sneak up and get me in the moments I least expect it. It’s the seconds of doubt that turn into gut-wrenching reservations and claustrophobic convulsing that drive me right back under my sheets until a glimmer of light breaks through the stitching. It’s the darkest days and the brightest nights because sleep is the only time I can fully escape it.
Anxiety is an invalid excuse. So I refuse to let myself give in to the impulses. I’m a fighter. I hate the guilt I feel every time I have to step out of a room, find the little, hidden stash of pills in my purse and sneak one out of view of anyone I know. I don’t know how anyone enjoys that high. It makes me sad, the lowest I’ve ever felt, feeling incapable of performing in my day-to-day life without an artificial aid. But I’ve come to terms with the idea that sometimes there is no other option. I hope one day I’ll be okay with that.
Mental illness is a result of misery, yet still we stigmatise it