by Sunita Singh Hans, Storyteller for RU Student Life
[Trigger warning: descriptions of anxiety and panic attacks]
You first came to me when I was 16. It was nighttime, and my mind was racing. You didn’t announce yourself, you crept up on me instead. You were unlike anything I had ever felt before in the worst possible way, and I thought I was going to die.
Anytime I wanted to go to school, or to see my friends, or to do anything, you were right there blocking me and telling me over and over again that I couldn’t. I hated you so much, but for a long time you became my only company. On my bedroom floor. In the school bathroom. But mostly in the middle of the night, when I was alone with my thoughts. That’s when you liked to visit me the most.
You made me feel the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. You made me look different too. I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore because the circles under my eyes scared me. I didn’t even notice how skinny I was getting. You would crawl into bed and wrap yourself around me to the point where I could no longer breathe. Then you would wake me up from what little sleep I had with aching limbs and no appetite.
They tried giving me medication to get rid off you, but it just made me feel nothing at all so I threw it away. I just wanted to feel like myself again. I was already losing my confidence and self-esteem when you came to me, and then you took whatever was left of it. Teachers started noticing. My parents noticed too. I tried talking about you to my best friend but he didn’t get it. I think it was hard for other people to think of you as real when I was the only one that could feel you. So I stopped talking about you at all. Nobody said a thing, because this was so out of character for me. The usually happy and relatively normal 16 year old girl who was at the top of her class was suddenly crumbling under the pressure of it all, and nobody understood why. Not even myself.
For a long time I thought I would be alone in the darkness forever, but then the first weekend after school started my mum suggested that we go to the beach. I really didn’t want to because I had been locked up in my room most days away from you and that’s the only place I found comfort. If I left, then maybe you could reach me again.
But I decided to go anyway.
We went to a beach town called Bundoran where I spent most of my childhood. You had been with me all morning, but when I arrived at the beach I couldn’t find you. I spent what felt like 10 minutes but what was actually an hour walking by the water’s edge, and it was almost like I was looking for you because I expected you to be everywhere I went. But the more I walked the more the thoughts of you drifted away and for the first time in weeks, I didn’t think of you at all. I looked at the endless mass of ocean and sky and thought about how beautiful it is when the sunlight hits the water. I looked at my parents in the distance and counted my blessings. I thought about my future, and how it was as wide open and overwhelming as the view in front of me, but for the first time in weeks it didn’t scare me anymore. Neither did the thought of you. You held a magnifying glass up to the things that I was afraid of, and you made them seem traumatizing. But when I was so sensitive to the things that I was scared of, it meant that I appreciated the smaller things in life even more too.
Leonard Cohen once wrote “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” You cracked me open, but in a strange way I am thankful that you did. Finding appreciation in the smallest things is what helped me realize the bigger things aren’t as terrifying as they seem. I breathed in the coastal air and let it take whatever was left of you. I felt the warmth of the sunlight comfort me and it reminded me of the power of self care. I wish I could say that was the last day I ever saw you, but you came back to me time and time again over the next 3 years. Except this time it was different, because I started fighting back. I started opening up to friends and family, and they started to understand. I drowned myself in inspiration, and the things that made me feel content like the simple act of reading a book or finding an amazing song that expressed the emotions I couldn’t explain. They showed me the way to the light, and I let it fill up my cracks until I felt whole again.
I didn’t realize it at the time but that simple act of going to the beach that day took an insurmountable amount of courage, and so I started praising myself for doing the smallest things like getting out of bed and going to school. At the time they felt the biggest things in the world. But I took it day by day, sometimes minute by minute. And in the comforting words of loved ones and the strength that I found in myself, I felt you fade away.
This is a goodbye letter to you, and all the control you had on my life. I thought you would be around forever, but time has a way of healing things. I don’t think you’re gone forever and even though this is the first year since I was 16 where I haven’t felt you at all, I’m sure there will be days ahead where you creep back up. But it’s different now, because I like to think of you like this. Before you were this intangible feeling that I could not control but I’m brave enough now to address you. When I feel you coming on again, I picture you in my head as a shape and as I breathe in and out I envision you getting smaller and smaller until you’re completely gone. Sometimes I’ll just tell you out loud that you’re nothing to me, and you’ll disappear. It’s funny how that works. One day you were this overbearing weight on me that I couldn’t control. Now you’re nothing. And I’m free.