Almost two years ago a series of unfortunate health events, relationship troubles and life in general teamed up to take me down. I began to suffer debilitating panic attacks, illogical fears and developed an incapacity to complete even the most straightforward, mundane tasks required by life.
I lived in London at the time, and taking the tube was a literal hell. It was excruciatingly worrisome for me that I would become physically ill and dizzy when descending the platform and waiting for the train. I was fairly confident that it would be the death of me. I’d lived in London for 2.5 years prior, but now for some reason I couldn’t hack something I’d done almost every single day. There was one particular evening commute home through a rammed Highbury and Islington station where I thought for sure I would collapse onto the tracks or between platforms, and be trampled by the hoards of apathetic London commuters.
So I switched to the bus. It took me twice as long to get to work, but I didn’t have to descend to (what my mind had turned into) the fiery depths of hell to get there. The bus stop was also a shorter walk to my flat and work, which helped as (surprise) I was also overly anxious about walking for more than a mile.
The bus was usually quite a relaxing experience for me — one of the few I’ve had since March 31st, 2017. Even if it was crowded, so long as I had a seat (preferably by a window) I could zone out and think about nothing for a while. Even if I was going to be a bit late for work (something which became quite common during this time), I didn’t really care.
Working, however, was truly a struggle. I loved the place I worked, the people I worked with and was confident in my abilities to do my job. But with anxiety lurking around every corner, I found getting through each day emotionally unscathed virtually impossible. My biggest fear was that I would have a serious health scare at work—that I’d pass out in a meeting or have a stroke mid-chat at lunch. It got to the point to where I was always looking for the exit, ready for flight and to call the paramedics (which did happen on two occasions). The Uber app was always up on my phone in case the commute home seemed too daunting (which was most evenings).
I also worked in social media, which isn’t exactly the most conducive industry to tranquility and inner peace. However, beyond the tweets and posts, even answering emails or text messages was a huge emotional task that I would often delay for hours or days. Basically, just as my fears became completely irrational, decision making also became impossible.
This rendered me less productive than I would have liked, and led to further anxiety that I wasn’t being taken seriously by my coworkers and superiors. My last three months of employment were spent mostly working from home. It was comforting to have a flexible and understanding boss who was willing to work with me. But it was also less than ideal, as I was removed from the social aspects of work I did enjoy and felt less favored or trusted for more important projects and tasks.
My fixed-term contract at that job and time in London eventually came to an end, but my anxieties continue to this day. I thought that leaving the city would mean leaving behind my worries. I was horribly mistaken. I now reside in a small, quaint college town in the midwestern U.S. as I work towards completing a(nother) master’s degree. And, although there are far less triggers here than in a global metropolis like London, I still fight with anxiety on a daily basis. I still have to overcome frightening sensations and deal with ignorant people.
This proves that anxiety persists regardless of location or external circumstances. None of us can simply run away from our fears, as our anxious mind would have us believe. Avoidance methods, like taking an Uber instead of the tube or working from home, don’t work. They’re just a way of coping instead of healing. Like avoiding the deep end of the pool instead of learning to swim.
The only way to find peace is from within.