The Anxiety I Carry | Teen Ink

The Anxiety I Carry MAG

October 19, 2018
By Anonymous

My anxiety is a weight that I have carried for as long as I can remember. Once, in first grade, I had to read a book I’d written in front of my class. There was an audience of 10 and it was five short chapters. I walked up to the front, my small legs shaking. I hadn’t made it to the second page when the tears started. I tried to leave, to run away, but the pressure of my teacher’s glare kept me rooted to the seat. “Why are you crying?” asked a classmate. I didn’t have an answer. It would be years before I could put a name to the weight that pulled tears from my eyes. But there was one place that stays, even to this day, a source of stress for me. That place is the front of the room.

The front of the room is a beautiful, terrible place. It is a blank expanse, flanked by white tile floors and cinder block walls. The stark, fluorescent spotlights broadcast my every movement. I stare at the board, desperate to escape the eyes pinning me here. I cling to the miniature remote I’m holding like it’s a lifeline, the only thing keeping me from floating adrift in this great, white, empty expanse. Finally, after an eternity passes, I flee like I am burned, knowing that I will have to return. There is no escaping the front of the room.

And if, in the days leading up to my presentation, I lost sleep, worrying about the quality of my assignment? If I didn’t eat, because the nausea roiling in my stomach was too much? If I obsessively checked and rechecked my project, because it had to be perfect? If I was so consumed with anxiety that I simply ignored the reality of a presentation at all until the last possible minute? “Well, everyone gets nervous. Just go up and get it over with.” Ha. If only it were that easy.

I exist in a perpetual state of dread. It lingers, hovering on the edges of my thoughts, waiting for its chance to burst forth and bury me. When a teacher announces a project at the end of the week, I am nervous, but not for the same reasons as my peers. They fear the hard work, I am terrified that I will be shoved into a group and made to walk up an executioner’s walk to the front of the room. We both fear failure, but somehow I don’t think that it keeps them up as it does me, crawling under my skin and sticking like tar.

Funny how one single emotion can branch out into such a web of misery. It doesn’t sound so bad – everyone gets nervous; public speaking is the number one fear! But social anxiety isn’t just a fear of public speaking, social anxiety is regretting ever leaving your house because you stuttered when someone thanked you for holding open the door, anxiety is throwing up at midnight because you have to give a speech in front of your whole class, anxiety, for me, is being terrified of trying new things because if you don’t know what to expect, then you might make a fool of yourself, and that is worse than a boring life, at least in the moment.

The worst part is, I know I’m not supposed to be this way. When I’m with my friends and family, I’m loud, animated, talkative to the point of annoyance. When I finally pushed myself past the fear of roller coasters, I discovered that I love them. When I bit the bullet and took a cooking class, I made a close friend and discovered a new skill. So it hurts so much more to go back to that quiet, skittish me whenever I’m forced into something social.

What saves me from giving up and accepting that this is just me, is how far I’ve come since those tears in first grade. When I met my best friend, I hadn’t spoken a word to anyone in my class. Now, I have an (albeit small) group of acquaintances who I wave to in the halls. When I walk into a room, there’s usually a couple people who I am comfortable sitting down with. I raise my hand, even when I’m not confident in my answer. And I participate in class, even if it is in a more reserved manner than those around me. I’m still a small, anxious mess if there ever was one, but I’m an improving anxious mess, and that’s what matters.

The author's comments:

My personal experience with anxiety.

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