When I initially sat down to write this blog, I had a clear idea of which direction I wanted to go in. Before I had a chance to type my first paragraph, anxiety began to set in.
“You can’t write about anxiety.”
“You have too much on your own plate to explain to others how to handle stress.”
“Nobody wants to hear what you have to say. Why bother?”
These thoughts began to swarm me at the beginning of May 2020. Granted, I had a lot of personal factors competing with my will to write but I couldn’t allow my negative thoughts to control me. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to force myself to write. I needed to calm my nerves, understand why my emotions were beginning to feel anxious, and bring myself back to a state of peace.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
The Panic Attack
I’ve always been a worrywart, pondering things in my mind that could go strangely wrong. My mother used to remind me that I need to calm down and not allow my negative thoughts to control how I feel. It was easier said than done but I was able to find positive ways to cope by staying active and allowing my nerves to transform into jokes so no one would notice. It wasn’t until I was 23 years old that masking my worry sent me into one of the worst experiences of my life: a panic attack.
In 2013, I was settling my students down in the cafeteria before class when I suddenly started to feel my breath shorten. My students looked at me with concern. I couldn’t verbalize what I was experiencing. It seemed as if the more I tried to catch my breath, the more difficult it became to breathe. My heart was racing and my hands started to tremble. My supervisor instructed me to sit down and brought me water to drink while another teacher escorted my students to class. I couldn’t stop shaking. As I sat there trying to calm my nerves, all I could do was try to wrap my mind around what just happened.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
Between 2014 and 2016, I had three more panic attacks. Each was a different experience than the first. I was determined to take control of my life and not allow my panic attacks to determine my level of happiness. However, in order for me to begin living a peaceful life, I had to understand why I was being triggered and learn how to bring positive energy into my space.
Some have observed me and told me my presence demanded a room and my smile was contagious not knowing that deep down, my heart was racing a mile a minute. While my heart raced, my mind began to generate simultaneous thoughts I wanted to suppress.
“What if I say the wrong thing?”
“Should I have them repeat what they said...again?”
“Oh, no I’m sweating. Can they see it?”
“I shouldn’t have worn this.”
“Why are they staring at me?”
“Is it because I’m a woman? Is it because I’m black?”
“I’m sure it’s because I’m a black woman. I should probably leave.”
“Simoné! Pay attention.”
My nerves had an endless list of worries that I was determined to cross off. My main issue was that my worries were never the same and I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them. It was up to me to learn how to shake negativity and remind myself that the way I was feeling was a barrier I needed to overcome. When necessary, I would take myself into a bathroom, or any space that was private, to give myself a pep talk and I solidify that was exactly where I needed to be.
Unfortunately, there have been times I tried to compensate for the anxiety by being a “yes woman” and agreeing to do more projects and duties than I was capable of. I was convinced that keeping busy was a great way to distract myself. As a result, I made myself look unreliable regardless of how excited I may have been to commit. I allowed the anxiety to wire me up then burn me out. My nerves continued to become affray until I learned how to say no and properly manage my time.
I even avoided confrontational situations to avoid being deemed as an angry black woman, misunderstood, or expressing how I felt just to be ignored. I was imagining negative endings to situations that most likely wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t let past situations determine my present actions. I had to love myself. Loving myself included putting myself first and making sure my mental health was intact. But just when I thought I had control over my thoughts:
May 2018- My Nana passed away
March 2019- I lose my job
March 2020- A world pandemic took over
May 2020- Modern Day Lynching. Protests. Riots. Repeat.
June 2020- I have two panic attacks in the same night
This uphill battle has brought me to today. Anxiety keeps me up at night, makes me doubt my potential, doesn’t allow me to trust my closest friends, causes me to be forgetful, and keeps my mind constantly running. I can be sitting watching television or reading a book when suddenly, I get anxious and have to do breathing exercises. I hate it. Even though I have learned different methods to properly cope, there are days that my struggle convinces me I will never be able to defeat this beast.
Those who know me very well can attest to the fact that I have a positive spirit. Whether I’m sending gifts, singing songs, sharing motivational messages, or just being an ear to listen, I always try to make sure those around me feel positive energy because that’s what I want to receive in return. There are times I fall short; I’m not perfect. I have spent a lot of time with myself in prayer, meditation, long walks, and journaling to understand the importance of giving out the energy I want to receive. Not only that, I know that the thoughts I put into my mind can be manifested into my reality.
My Nana used to always remind me of this prayer:
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I carry this on my heart every day as a reminder to not stress. If you are anything like me, you may try keeping things to yourself fearful of other people's misunderstandings and judgment of you. I’m here to let you know that keeping things to yourself may not help you in the long run. How you feel may eventually weigh you down and be revealed in an unhealthy response. If you don’t have someone in your life that you can turn to, try seeking a professional. I thank God for my black female therapist every day. She assists in keeping me mindful of my mental health goals and asks questions of me that I answer, which makes my mental health journey easier. I have people in my life who love me and don’t mind listening but I don’t want to burden them with my issues all the time.
We all have something that we are going through and many of us choose to suffer in silence although we don’t have to. Yes, you can try to cope with drugs or a bottle of alcohol but let’s be honest, substance abuse isn’t healthy. Let’s make a promise to work on ourselves and ensure our mental stability is a top priority so that our silent beasts may become a vocal norm. One of the best pieces of advice I have been given to help combat anxiety is to welcome my negative thoughts, acknowledge they are present, and then simply let them pass.
P.S. Feel free to use my favorite affirmation during your next breathing exercise: