Anxiety: My Dark Passenger

It was a July evening in Yarmouth, Maine. The orange rays from the fading summer sun painted the freshly mowed grass. We took turns chucking baseballs into an old pitching screen. I stood up to take my turn, wiping the sweat from my forehead.

Digging my knuckles into the seams, I wound up, and let the ball float out from my hand. It danced in the air for a brief moment before hitting the top of the screen with a loud clang. Everyone laughed as I tilted my head with a cocky smirk.

Moments later, my life would be changed forever.

Any air that was in my lungs felt like it had been sucked out. My face and fingers tingled, going numb. My heart pounded, skipped a beat, then pounded some more. I had tunnel vision — and I could see my own pulse. My stomach gurgled and throbbed.

I stumbled to the side of the house to make sure I was out of view, then collapsed on my knees. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was choking. I felt as if I was leaving my body. Nothing felt real. I was watching a movie of myself in a world that I didn’t belong to.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my first of many encounters with what I affectionally call my dark passenger.

This “dark passenger” concept was derived from one of the many conversations with a good friend who shares my affinity for Dexter reruns and psychology. In the TV series / novels, it was an enitity of darkness within us — the instability of each person’s personality that can either control or be contained. But I digress.

My anxiety symptoms quickly metastasized until they became debilitating. Chunks of lost time, opportunities wasted, friends alienated. I’ve slowly come to terms with this. And I’ll probably wrestle with it until the day I die.

But I have come to believe that every moment in this life is precious.

Anxiety: what a loaded, convoluted, twisted word. The burden of stigma — weakness and powerlessness. The feeling that your life is not your own. Our society should start to know better by now, right?

That it’s not something contrived. That it’s not something that’s just in your head. That you are not weak. That you do not suffer from lack of faith.

Never let anyone diminish your strength. And never let someone who’s not worth a damn tell you how to fight your battle.

I first walked into the cluttered office of a counselor via the concerned referral from my doctor — and after a failed trial run of a couple antidepressants. He was a soft-spoken and lanky — a hipster with a freshly-cut fade. He had some patchy facial hair that sort of resembled a beard.

He couldn’t have been much older than I was. He looked up, then nodded in acknowledgement as he fiddled around with his road bike before his commute home. I was his last appointment. I remember thinking that this guy had to be fresh out of college.

For the next hour, he asked me dozens of cookie-cutter questions, supposedly connecting the dots that made my anxious mind tick. He was a nice guy, finally concluding our session by letting me know that I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder. And that I had to learn to positively adapt to my environment. He gave me a sheet of paper with some scribbled URLs for a few YouTube videos to help me relax, and went on to send me on my way.

I was late for dinner that night, but on the way home, I parked my car near a train trestle we used to play on as kids — much to Mom’s dismay. I climbed all way to the top, crumpled the paper up, and tossed it down to the jagged rocks below.

My mind was playing tug-of-war. But the warmth of reason and love came over me on that chilly night. I remembered autumn afternoons in that country town. Could there be more of them? My life. The good memories.

I remembered my family. Those who had never left my side, even though I hadn’t always made it easy on them.

After the cathartic experience that evening, I have come to believe that family isn’t the only thing, it’s everything — and not just limited to blood relation. I’m talking about the people that actually matter. The ones that are there for you when it counts.

When I held my baby girl for the first time, she didn’t make a sound. She just stared at me, and grasped the inside of my flannel shirt with her tiny hand. That’s when it all came together.

I had come to believe every moment in this life is precious.

I realized that I couldn’t begin to love and care for others, until I learned to love and care for myself. That knowledge is power, but character will always be more.

Since then, I’ve learned to spend time in nature. To eat right. To meditate. To pray. To rest. To redirect my negative thoughts — evading them by pushing forward. Accepting who I once was, but knowing the true potential of who I can be. Finally grasping that to protect the ones I love, I must first protect myself.

I’m not perfect. And I’m not fully healed, I don’t think I ever will be—not in this life. Thinking otherwise is operating under the supposition that humanity has it all figured out. We really don’t. We are so damaged. Spending years looking for answers to questions that just lead to more questions. But that’s the burden of our journey, I guess.

Anxiety does not define you. Don’t let that stupid word define you. That’s why every summer for the rest of my life, I’ll throw a baseball.

“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

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