Anxiety, As Told Through A Series Of Emojis

A pictographic guide to a rollercoaster of emotions

Mark Starmach
Invisible Illness
Published in
6 min readNov 4, 2022

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Image by Mark Starmach

🙂 “I’m fine! This is fine! I mean, this constant clawing sense of failure and that everyone secretly hates me and that I’m stuck in life and have been stuck in life for my whole life? All fine. Just smile. Say ‘good’ when people ask how you are. Keep taking on commitments. Bigger and bigger. Nod politely. Cry into your pillow at night. It’s fiiiiiiine…”

😐 “This is not fine. But if I let it show, then people will know I’m a failure and that I’m stuck, and then they will really hate me. Maybe if I just act cool for a few weeks it’ll all go away.”

😎 “Nope, still shit.”

😟 “OK, this is really shit now. All I think about all day is how much everyone actually hates me and how stuck I am. I can’t stop ruminating. I can’t focus on anything else. I can’t keep up a happy face. People can’t see me like this. I’m just gonna retreat for a bit. Draw inward. It’ll be like a cleanse. A detox. A getaway from it all. Yeah. That sounds good.”

😢 “Bad idea. Now all I’m surrounded by is my own head. There’s no escape. And I’m worrying about how much I’m worrying. It’s fucking meta-worry. It’s trickling into every little day-to-day task — What should I wear? What should I eat? I don’t know and that terrifies me. I’ve spent the past five days googling self-help articles and doing personality quizzes and YouTubing TED talks about how great I am, but strangely it’s all just reminding me of how shit and stuck and fucked I am.”

😴 “I’m so exhausted even though all I did today was worry. I haven’t really felt like cooking or eating for the past few days. Does a cucumber count as dinner, or a drink? Am I malnourished? I’m just gonna spend four more hours googling the nutritional content of cucumbers and doomscrolling self-help on Instagram until I fall asleep… At least I have sleep…”

💩 “Bubble bubble! Bubble bubble! I am a poo! You need to poo! PoOooOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO!!”

🥱 “That’s a bit better. What’s the time? Fuck, 2:37am. OK, sleep now. Gotta sleep. This side’s not working. Switch sides. Hmm, not working either. Sleep on your stomach. Oooh… my stomach feels — ”

💩 “Bubble bubble! PoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO! Runny black pOoOoOoOoOo!

🥱 “It’s 4:18am now. All I want to do is sleep. Why can’t I sleep? I just want to sleep… I just want to…”

💩 “PoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOooOoOoOoOoOoOo!!”

😨 “Fuck. I can hear the morning birds. I can see the pink sun. My heart is racing and I haven’t really slept. In fact the past three weeks I haven’t really slept. I’ve had broken sleep and stressful dreams. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there. And now whenever I go to bed, all I’m worried about is that it’s gonna be another night where I can’t sleep.”

👹 “OOGA BOOGA!”

😨 “Who are you!?”

👹 “I AM EVERY FEAR YOU’VE EVER HAD. I AM YOUR FUTURE AND YOUR PAST. I AM THE SUN SETTING. I AM THE NIGHT THAT WILL NEVER END. I AM THE DARKNESS. I AM THE STABBER OF YOUR STOMACH. I AM THE HANDCUFFS THAT CAUSE THE TINGLING IN YOUR WRISTS. I AM THE PALE BURNING FIRE. THE GREEN SPERM OF DOOM SWIMMING THROUGH YOU. I AM YOUR DESTROYER.”

😨 “What do you want!?”

👹 “I WANT TO DESTROY YOU. I WANT TO CUT OPEN YOUR HEAD AND MELT YOUR MIND IN THE MICROWAVE. I WANT YOU TO FEEL MY RADIATING HATE. I WANT YOU TO FEEL ALL THE HATE OF THE WORLD. I WANT TO GIVE YOU NO ESCAPE. NO REPRIEVE. NO REST. I WANT TO CLOSE THE DOOR. I WANT TO TURN OFF THE LIGHT. I WANT TO SIT HERE WITH YOU IN THE DARK AND BREATHE ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK. I WANT TO STAND BEHIND YOU AS YOU CHOMP INTO A CUCUMBER AND BREATHE ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK. I WANT TO STAND WITH YOU ON THE EDGE OF THE BALCONY AND BREATHE MY WARM DOG-SHIT BREATH ONTO THE BACK OF YOUR NECK, AND CHEER YOU ON UNTIL YOU JUMP.”

😨 “I can’t… My heart… It’s… Where… Who… Oh fuck… Oh god… Oh god oh god oh god oh god.”

😨 “I can’t breathe. OK, breathe. Breathe… One. Two. One. Two. One… two… one… two… in… out… in… out…”

😧 “… Is he gone?”

👹 “OOGA BOOGA!”

😔 “Maybe he’s right. Maybe I deserve to be hated. Maybe I’ve been fighting this feeling my whole life, because it’s actually what I’m destined for. It’s what I am meant to feel. My fate.”

✨ “Ba-bing!”

😧 “A text?”

✨ “Hey! I haven’t seen you around lately so just wanted to check in. Everything ok?”

😔 “No. Nothing is ok.”

✨ “Do you wanna talk to me about what you’re feeling?”

😔 “I’m scared.”

✨ “What are you scared about?”

😔 “Everything.”

✨ “The world is pretty scary, hey?”

😔 “Yeah.”

✨ “But you’ve gotten through so much in the past. I remember that time when we had just finished uni and we were drunk on cheap vodka and we had cheese pizza. Do you remember?”

😔 “Kind of.”

✨ “And we were scared of what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. It was like we were at the starting line and the gun had fired and we were just frozen while everyone else had started running.”

😔 “Yeah, I remember.”

✨ “And, we started running, right?”

😔 “I feel like I’ve stopped running now.”

✨ “That’s okay. You will start running again. It will just take some time. I know it in my heart. In fact, I’ll sit here with you. On the race track. There’s no rush. I’m going to check up on you each day. Is that alright?”

😔 “That’d be really nice actually.”

✨ “OK, cool. Mark my words. You’ll wanna block my number lol.”

✨ “Hey, how are you feeling today?”

😔 “I feel the same.”

✨ “That’s ok. Mind if I come over and we can watch something on Netflix?”

😔 “Sure.”

✨ “Hey, how are you going today?”

😔 “I’m scared.”

✨ “What are you scared about?”

😔 “I’m scared I’m gonna push you away. I’m worried that you’re gonna get sick of me and leave me.”

✨ “No, I’m not going to do that. I’m gonna stay here with you. I don’t care how long it takes. It’s OK.”

🤨 “You’ve been talking to me for weeks and you haven’t left yet. Maybe you really mean it. Maybe… maybe I can be loved. Maybe it will be OK.”

👹 “OOGA BOOGA!”

🤔 “Who are you?”

👹 “I AM EVERY FEAR YOU’VE EVER HAD. I AM YOUR FUTURE AND YOUR PAST. I AM THE SUN SETTING. I AM THE NI — ”

🤔 “No. Who are you?”

👹 “OOGA BOOGA!!!!!!”

🤔 “I know who you are.”

👹 “NO YOU DON’T.”

🤔 “You are a very old feeling.”

👹 “I…”

🤔 “You’re how I’ve always felt — how I learned to feel. You’re that scared little me that didn’t feel the love of my parents. You’re that scared little me that thought everyone else in the world hated me too. You’re the me that grew up too fast. That always felt unsafe. That needed to depend on undependable people. That could never fail or else everyone would leave and you’d die.”

👹 “BUT YOU CANNOT FAIL. YOU ARE UNSAFE. YOU DON’T DESERVE LOVE. YOU ARE HATED. IT’S ALL TRUE!”

🤗 “No. It was true. It felt true. But it’s not true any more. You aren’t there any more. You don’t have to please everyone any more. You don’t have to be afraid any more. You aren’t gonna die. You are safe. You are loved. In fact, you need a hug. I’m gonna give you a hug.”

🤍

🤗 “How do you feel now?”

🥺 “I feel a little better.”

🤗 “I’m gonna try be for you what you never had, OK?”

🥺 “Ok.”

🤗 “I’m gonna treat you with gentleness.”

🥺 “Ok.”

🤗 “I’m gonna talk to you with kindness.”

🥺 “Ok.”

🤗 “And it’s OK if we have bad days. It will take some time, but we’ll get there, OK?”

🥺 “Ok.”

⌛ And this is time,

🪶 And gentleness,

🕊️ And kindness.

🙂 “Hey, I just wanted to tell you — thanks so much for helping me. You don’t know how deep a hole you pulled me out of. You showed me what I needed to be for myself. I’m so grateful to have you in my life.”

✨ “Any time! How are you going today?”

🙂 “I’m fine. This is fine.”

If you liked this story, you may enjoy ‘Insomniac’, my ongoing series about anxiety, sleeplessness, and finding calm, written from the point of view of an ex-insomniac. You can read it here:

Insomniac

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