A good 99.98% of my days are warm and flaxen.
Even when it’s rainy, even when it’s nighttime, there’s still a brightness. The atmosphere is golden-hued, like the world and everything in it is backlit by the sun. There is a constant thrum of expectancy. Something good is going to happen, even if I don’t know what it is. I’m always looking forward to the next exciting thing—a dinner, a vacation, a new book, a warm cup of coffee. Even when things aren’t so good, even when there are little annoyances, even when my day is a complete dumpster fire, there’s still the sense that everything is okay. I’m hopeful. I’m grateful. I’m happy. There’s always tomorrow after all, and even if something is worrying me, I can still objectively take a step back and look at my life and declare that it is good.
Really, really, really good.
I’m so accustomed to seeing the world this way that it’s not even something I notice on a regular day. I think most of us are like this, you know? When life is generally good and things are relatively easy, it just flows. We’re along for the ride, and we’re so focused on the map and our destination that we don’t acknowledge the vehicle driving us there. We don’t hear the hum of the road under us or feel the wind from the cracked window. Kind of like our breath—we only notice it when we take the time and energy to focus on it or when it’s taken away from us.
I feel the need to emphasize that even on my best day, there is always an undercurrent of anxiety. I think that people who don’t struggle with mental health issues are under the impression that when things are good, our symptoms are totally absent. As much as I wish that were true, it just isn’t. Anxiety is my constant companion. Most of the time, because of coping skills and the incredible support system of people who I love standing by my side, it’s completely manageable. I’m able to function and enjoy life, but it’s always there.
Still, even with that annoying companion, most days have that subtle glow. Most days are good and light and warm.
Until they aren’t.
I had my very first anxiety attack a few months ago. I remember sitting at my desk, my heart beating out of my chest, my inability to do something as simple as take a breath, the feeling of not being in control of my own body. It was one of the most surreal and paralyzing moments I’ve felt in a long time.
I’ve had a few more since, the last time being when I was in Florida last week. The weight of everything going on in the world right now, paired with the news that my grandfather had tested positive for COVID and a very stressful work week was just too much for me to handle. And despite having an incredible time in a beautiful place with the person I love so much, my anxiety still popped in to say hey girl heyyyyyy.
I was in the shower after a run and fainted. I woke up on the ground scared. Confused. Embarrassed. How could I let it come to this? Why do I let the stressors of life get to me like they do?
I’m an empath to the kajillionth degree. I feel things and I feel things hard. When I can’t fix a problem, or when others are hurting, I take that pain on myself. And it often gets to be too much.
My boyfriend said something the next day that really resonated with me, and maybe it will for you as well.
“You can and should only focus on the things you can control. There is so much happening right now; it would be impossible for you or anyone to try and take it all on at once. Breathe. Take it one day at a time. And look after you.”
When my anxiety turns to panic, when my mental health becomes something I have to actively focus on, the very fabric of my world changes. I don’t just mean metaphorically. The world around me literally looks different. The atmosphere seems thick and heavy. I move through the world differently. Slower. I’m disoriented and disconnected. Everything is just… wrong. I’ve left Hawkins, and I’m in the Upside Down. (Have you seen Stranger Things? If you haven’t, quit reading this right now, turn on Netflix, and get your life right. I’ll wait.)
In the show, the characters go to the Upside Down, a kind of parallel dimension where the monsters live. Everything is dark and tinged with blue. The air is full of poison and floating matter. It’s unnatural and unsafe. It’s just not right.
This is exactly how my world looks when I’m in a “season of anxiety,” as I’ve begun calling it. I feel like I’m trapped in the Upside Down. All I want are those warm and flaxen days back. I get upset with myself for not appreciating them when they were here. Will they ever come again? Am I going to live in the Upside Down forever?
Always, always, always.
A ray of sunlight pokes through. The dark blue world around me starts giving way to splotches of gold. Slowly at first, but then it spreads like paint on a canvas. The toxins slowly clear the air. My fingers and toes start to thaw, and for the first time since I can remember, I take a long, cleansing breath.
I call my time in The Upside Down a “season of anxiety” because it always passes. It’s always just a season. A shitty season, but a season nonetheless. Sometimes it lasts an hour, sometimes it lasts for days, but it’s always temporary.
Against all odds, I always make it out. I always get back to that place where I can take a step back, look at my life, and declare it is good. Really, really, really good.
If you’re feeling a bit lost, scared or unsure, please know that you’re not alone. The world is a heavy place right now, and we’re all just trying to get by as best we can.
But also try and look for those golden-hued moments. They’re there, I promise.