How to Stop a Runaway Train (or: how not to be an anxious wreck)

Essay, Personal

Maybe your heart races all the time and you’re not sure why. It batters your ribcage like a dazed bird against a windowpane. You skip breakfast because you have a vague, persistent ache in your stomach. If you speak in class you start stuttering like your pulse.
Maybe you’ve got memories that reel unbidden through your mind,  a movie on mute and fast-forward. You sleep little. Sometimes you shake. City buses make you implode. Your internal monologue is very scared and very loud, much of the time.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” I saw that scrawled on a bathroom stall. I like the the ring of the words, though I don’t know if they’re true. I do know a few ways to quell dizziness.

1. Go for ambling, aimless walks: you need to get out of your head. It doesn’t much matter where– urban and natural landscapes alike are throbbing with Things That Have Nothing to Do With You. It’s grounding to be amongst them. Try to think of nothing but the flex of your muscles and the rhythm of your steps. Take hard, hungry breaths that burn your lungs a little.

2. Make a Playlist for Chilling Out. This doesn’t have to be a slow or soft playlist. Ambient electronica might be soothing for a lot of people, but maybe the rawness of riot grrl or hiphop does it for you. Have no regard for niche or snobbery– if Ke$ha calms you down, have no shame.

3. Clean like a motherfucker.

4. Make art, whether you think you can or not. Perfectionism is paralysis, and breeds more anxiety. Urgent creativity is cathartic and sometimes produces shitty art. That’s great– shit is fertilizer.

5. If these methods sound a little clichéd or superficial, it’s because they are– they’re worth doing, but they won’t provide sustainable stability. Mental illness is cyclical. Severe anxiety can’t be washed away in a bubble bath. Find a good shrink if you haven’t. If you’re uninsured, don’t be afraid to ask about a sliding scale; many therapists will be willing to work with you or to refer you to someone who can. If you’re a student, your campus may have free counselors. Keep in mind, though, that therapy can make you feel messier sometimes. Analysis doesn’t necessarily help the hyper-analytical. Medication is fickle and can be hard to obtain. If treatment isn’t feasible for you, coping mechanisms become vital. Know yourself and what you need. Try not to get entangled in self-diagnosis- the internet can make you into a psychological hypochondriac. You are not a list of symptoms.

Some resources/reading:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Icarus Project
Mad in America
The Magic Bullet by Anita Felicelli for The Rumpus
 On Falling Apart by Sady Doyle for Rookie
 Blue Christmas by Rachel Prokop for Rookie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s