I have a mild anxiety disorder.
I say that with pride, because the qualifier “mild” did not apply when I was first diagnosed, and it does now. When I was younger (and yes, you may take that with a grain of salt since I am only twenty-seven), there was a period of time when I was taking nine different medications. Not nine different pills, mind you, but medications. That meant I was taking a ton (is that the correct metric term, here?) of pills on a daily basis. The anxiety made me feel nauseated constantly, and for no reason at all except that I was terrified of…something. There were so many days when I felt I was physically incapable of removing myself from the safety of being under my bed covers. I almost failed high school because while the work I did was excellent, my attendance was abysmal. The first rule of success is : Show up. I was really bad at following that rule.
I did graduate high school, and I breathed a bit easier after that. Then it was brought to my attention that I didn’t get to take a little vacation from life. I needed to find a job, or I needed to go back to school. Since so much of my anxiety had been school related, I thought I would try working for a bit before biting the bullet and attempting to get myself a degree.
I found a job at a retail store, a fantastic place called The Body Shop. They had hired me just for the holiday rush, but then the New Year passed, and they thought they might still have a use for me. I stuck around, both because I was intrigued by the ethics of the company (they have some amazing values and are constantly raising awareness of and fighting against major problems in the world, and I think more companies need to get on board with that), but also because I wasn’t sure where else to go from there. The Body Shop was an amazing find for me, because the employees there seemed to be unapologetically themselves. They helped ease back the shell I had created to protect myself from the terrors of the outside world. They poked fun at me, and they let me know that was okay. They taught me to respond to their good-natured jabs with snaps of my own. They showed me how to make fun of them, and that was way better. We danced around the store using makeup brushes as microphones as we lipsynched to whatever terrible songs we’d been sent to play in the store that month. Our boss, Lisa, taught me that it’s okay to laugh wickedly in front of people, and that I didn’t need to stifle my giggles. I don’t know if they realized what they were doing, but my coworkers taught me that I could be myself all the time, and that I didn’t need to pretend to be “normal.”
When I started really going through a bad patch while living at home, Lisa was the one who pulled me aside, sat me down, and told me that what was going on in my life was unacceptable. She told me that I needed to take control of myself–own myself, so to speak–and that my parents were somehow holding me back from that. She made me realize that I was worth something no matter what, and that if I were in an environment that made me feel any less of a person, it was time to GTFO.
Lisa was the one who pushed for me to be a full-time employee, so that I would both make enough money to afford rent somewhere outside of my parents’ house and have health insurance when I inevitably got sick because I had to go live in a cardboard box for a while. (That’s a lie. It was a wooden apple crate. Rent in Los Angeles is insane.) (Not really.) (The wooden crate thing, not the rent thing. The rent thing is totally true.) Lisa was also the one who drove me the craziest when I worked there, constantly changing her mind about the layout of the store and what she wanted done. She sometimes apologized to her employees for the aggravation she was causing them. She never apologized for being the way she was.
I learned a lot from her.
I’m no longer working at the Body Shop. I still love their products and admire their spirit. I sign their petitions whenever I can, and feel the warm glow of pride that I once worked for that fantastic company.
Those years at the Body Shop led to a lot of self-revelations on my part. I spent a lot of time in therapy, working through the particulars of my anxiety with my psychiatrist. I developed more self-confidence in myself, and as I did so, the anxiety dwindled a bit. It’s now gotten to the point where having tranquilizers on hand are a good idea, but likely won’t be necessary.
I still have panic attacks that leave me terrified of nothing which lead to even more panicking, mostly about how crazy I am to be to panicking about nothing. That’s what the tranquilizers are for. Some of the panic attacks I can work through. Some of them I can stare down and make my bitch. And some of them leave me curled up in a little ball, hiding under the covers, and determined to never emerge again. But I will eventually emerge, knowing that this could happen again. I acknowledge that, and I try to move on with my life.
I may have an anxiety disorder, but I am not going to let it stop me from living my life.