A Story of Anxiety
Updated: May 3, 2020
There once was a little girl sitting at the table with her mother and aunt. She heard them talking about a friend they knew. The two women laughed as they made fun of their friend. She'd worn bathing suit one time, and because she was a big woman, part of her squished out and hung over the top of her bikini bottom.
Later, in the bathroom, she looked to see if her skin hung over, and saw that a little of it did. She decided she would only wear pants and long t-shirts after that, so her mother wouldn’t laugh at her.
Then the little girl was in class. The new boy was sitting in front because it was the only open seat. She had talked to him for a minute yesterday and thought he was nice. A lot of her friends did too. While working on a math problem her good friend tapped her on the shoulder and told her to move out of the way. When she did, she saw a spitball fly by and land in the boy's hair. When she looked back she saw another boy laughing and pretending to have a silent heart attack.
At lunch she saw the boy. He was talking to the one who had thrown the spitball with his other friends. They acted like they liked him, but when the boy turned around they made faces. Even her good friend, who thought he was really cute, was laughing behind his back.
The next year when her family moved to a new state, she tried to sit in the back. She didn't want a spitball in her hair. And at lunch when kids would talk to her, she wondered if they were making faces when she wasn't looking. Once she even heard someone laugh. The girl she was talking to seemed nice, but she still decided not to talk to her anymore. In fact she tried not to talk to anyone. She didn't want to be laughed at.
On another day the girl was in the garage with her father. They had just learned that the neighbor boy was learning to drive and his parents bought him his own car. Even though the car was old and the boy didn't run into anything, her father called him "spoiled" and "incompetent". He told her stories of how hard he had worked when he was a boy and how nothing was ever "handed" to him.
That night her mother brought home a box of toys and clothes from her sister's house. They were hand-me-downs from her older cousin. As she rummaged through the box, looking at the pretty dresses she thought of the look on her father's face as the neighbor boy, smiling and waving at the two of them, drove by. The teen had seemed so happy, but her father had seemed so disgusted.
Looking at her father, who wasn't yet paying attention, she put the dresses back in the box and told her mother she didn't want them. She did not want him looking at her that way.
Most nights she couldn’t sleep. She'd replay old conversations and rehearse new ones. She worried about what people thought and what they would say. She ruminated on the tiniest of details, because if she could just get it "right' then no one could make fun of her. If she were perfect, she would be safe.
This is but one story in thousands, explaining some ways the world teaches us we are not safe; not safe physically, mentally, or emotionally. And when we believe we are not safe, we do our best to change that. Whether it is as tangible as leaving an abusive relationship, or as subtle as changing the way we dress, feeling "safe" is about as basic a human need as it gets, and we will go to great lengths to secure it.
So often I see patients who feel deep shame because of their symptoms. They do not meet any specific criteria for trauma or abuse, and believe they have "no reason" for the anxiety they feel. But I genuinely believe all things are caused. No one wakes one morning with the idea, "I think I'll develop debilitating anxiety today." So my intent in writing this is not to offer ways of healing from or managing anxiety, but simply to validate your story.
If this resonates with you, or if you struggle with anxiety in any of its many forms, please know that what you feel is real, there is nothing "wrong" with you, and you are not alone.
For information on where to find help, or how to seek treatment for anxiety or other mental health disorders, click here.