Lilia Buckingham: On Anxiety
Anxiety. It’s a word that’s as overused as “FOMO” or “cool”. People say they have anxiety about their outfit, if their crush likes them, a pimple, or whether Archie and Veronica will get back together.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would never dismiss anyone’s anxiety, big or little, about a parent or a pimple. But when you have serious anxiety, it’s not just a word to toss around. It’s a feeling, deep in your core and your head and your fingertips. And it’s the feeling, not the word, that you live in terror of.
I’ve had anxiety since I was young. It would manifest itself in different ways. When I was three, I wore the same dress every day for 6 months. (Yes, every single day). Not because I liked it, but it made me feel safe, it was known. In about fourth grade, I started to have anxiety around math. I had always been a good student, but suddenly numbers weren’t working for me, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t feel relaxed when that class approached each day. In sixth grade, I stared at myself every day in the mirror wishing I was skinnier, prettier. I developed an unhealthy relationship with food.
When I hit 7th grade, I hit an anxiety tsunami. I started a new school and became achingly aware that I didn’t like the way that I looked. On top of all that, my parents went through a separation. On the outside, I was perfect. I still looked the same, I laughed and made others laugh, I competed (and often won) at dance. Even my grades were strong. But on the inside, I was afraid, I was untethered, I was scared.
I started to get regular migraines. Migraines are the body’s way of telling you that no matter how much you hide it, stress (like sweat) is going to find a way out of your body. I would get debilitating headaches and throw up for hours and then sleep a few more. I missed school, I missed parties, I was miserable.
But, I was not a complainer. I was not a quitter. I was, in some ways, one of those girls who the other girls thought had everything perfect. After all, on Instagram and at parties and with friends, I did. Or at least I made them think I did. But the truth was I didn’t.
After almost a year, I finally acknowledged that this was not something I could beat alone. I went to talk to a therapist. I talked to my school counselor. I stopped trying so hard to be perfect. I talked to my friends and my mom.
I loved having someone other than my mom and my friends to talk to. Someone who had no stake in the game and just gave me her thoughts and let me say whatever I wanted. I realized that there is no perfect, and anyone who pretends that their life is, is probably lying. I realized that getting a bad grade did not define my level of intelligence, that getting a pimple did not make me unattractive, that being sad and angry that my parents split up was normal. I loved the freedom to not look perfect and tell someone if I was having a bad day. I reveled in choosing a movie with my best girlfriend over “THE” party of the weekend. Slowly the migraines came less.
I don’t want to pretend that I have no anxiety. I don’t want to pretend that it just magically disappeared like the stomach flu. It’s still there, and I have to fight it, and remember what I’ve learned or what I know. I think we all do. I also have to remember that being anxious is also ok. That I will have times when I feel stronger and times when I feel weaker, and I should lean on others when I do. And that it will get better.
I wanted to write this because I get so many comments saying that it looks like my life is perfect. And please know that I am MORE than grateful for what I have and get to do. And I know that compared to some people, the things I am anxious about pale in comparison. But it is my anxiety. And while you need to keep your perspective (i.e. bad grade anxiety is not the same as being shot at when walking to school), anxiety is real, no matter why you feel it. And I wanted to share it in case you ever feel it.
So, if you do, I hope you can find someone to talk to. Don’t worry about burdening others, because I can assure you they just want to help. Don’t blame yourself for something you can’t control. And remember that even when it seems like everyone else’s life is perfect and yours sucks, there are tons of people who feel like you’re the one with the amazing life.
I hope that makes your day just a little better, and your anxiety lessen a little. And know that the best days are still ahead.