On Anxiety

Over the course of the past year, I’ve gained weight. Deliberately. I did it without too much anxiety – after all, school became my new focus, and I began to really emphasize food quality over (limited) quantity. I ate more food than I did in the two years prior combined, and certainly more than I had in high school (I certainly don’t miss the days of two Splenda-sweetened low-fat Danone yogurts and five almonds for “lunch”).

Today, I haven’t a clue what I weight. I don’t especially care, either. The last time I stepped on a scale was at a skydiving shop in Fiji; the number was still obscenely low and yet higher than it had been four months prior, which had me feeling anxious all over again. I don’t weigh myself, and I probably never will again. It simply doesn’t matter, and I don’t need to get hung up on a number that doesn’t mean a damn thing.

At the beginning of June I got my period back. My body finally decided that I had restored enough energy to resume reproductive function. I cried in relief that day and could not smiling, feeling absolutely proud of myself. A good friend took me out for a Bloody Caesar, which I savoured almost gleefully. Staring down at infertility at the ripe old age of twenty had been somewhat anxiety provoking in its own right.

Gaining weight was hard. I know I said that it wasn’t too anxiety inducing, but it definitely wasn’t easy. I cried about it, and cried again. I listened to my hunger and ate, without restricting myself, and kind of hated myself for it. I went up two pant sizes and could actually buy jeans in actual stores for actual adults again. My cup size went up twice (at least some of it went to good use). My shirt size remained the same, but my arms filled in. Once again, I could no longer recognize that person in the mirror staring back.

To some extent, I mourned – the loss of the ridges of my spine and my protruding hipbones, my slightly receding clavicle, the spaces between my knee tendons and the crevices in my armpits slowly filling in. I could sit comfortably on chairs again. I could shave every inch of my legs. My hair and nails grew up strongly. And the feelings I had numbed away all returned full-force; the happiness, my drive for success, and – as I knew it would – the anxiety that started it all in the first place.

I struggled with myself. I had days where I wanted to give up. I wrote about it in my journal, trying to keep upbeat and failing somewhat miserably. I woke up and waveringly ate breakfast, lunch, supper. Rinse, repeat. I finally relearned what it was like to feel full, not only on food but also on life. I finally faced up to the anxiety that had plagued me from the age of nine, and acknowledged that what I had been taking out on my body had nothing to do with it.

I still marvel today at how much more energy I have. I walk to and from work, I swim across lakes, I play soccer with the twelve-year-old girls I coach. I want to do things, see people, succeed.

The anxiety follows me everywhere. I still struggle with body dismorphia and an almost overwhelming fear of failure. I say “almost” because it won’t overwhelm me, not this time. I’m still learning to be kind to myself – but the difference is that I am genuinely trying to be kinder to myself. I am aware of my anxiety, and this helps me to recognize and deal with it. I’m working on self-expression. I have yet to accomplish “taking it easy”, partially because being busy is my new coping strategy (arguably less harmful than attempting to starve my brain chemistry into behaving).

So anxiety makes an appearance in my everyday life, but I ignore it. For the most part, in any case. I generally like myself, and can acknowledge when I don’t without falling to pieces about it. I’m learning to adjust to this strange body that is mine, the one that has curves instead of edges and life instead of complacency. I think I like it – it is much better adapted to the whirlwind I experience every day.

Anxiety is the lot of our generation. Most of my friends have experienced some form of anxiety, men and women alike. Many of us take it out on our bodies, perhaps due to cultural conditioning. Some find comfort in food, others in depriving themselves of it. Some work themselves to exhaustion for a bit of peace of mind.

I have to consciously remind myself when I’m feeling – for a lack of a better way to put it – bad that I have a biochemical imbalance, that my body is not to blame. That I have to go on functioning and living. That there are millions of people, men and women, who, like me, know the all-too familiar clenching from a serotonin-deprived brain.

Every morning, I get up and get on with “it”, with whatever might be on my daily agenda. And every morning, I first make myself breakfast.

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