Run into me on any given day and you’ll see a broad smile. You’ll see me making casual conversation with both friends and strangers. You’ll see normal daily activities being completed in a seemingly mundane way.
You’ll see a woman going through the challenges of life seemingly without a care in the world.
You’ll see exactly what I want you to see.
You are seeing the mask I put on on a daily basis, one that allows me to feel as though I’m normal. A mask that gives me the confidence to face the world each day without someone stopping to tell me to cheer up and ask me what’s wrong. What could be wrong?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer.
But I do know that there is a lot beneath the surface that you don’t see. Why? Because I don’t want you to.
What you don’t see is the internal war inside my head. Constantly preparing for battle is exhausting and oftentimes there is no actual battle to be fought. The exhaustion stems from the preparation of it all, working through every possible (or impossible) situation that I can run into the second I step out of the house. And those situations can be exacerbated by a simple word or conversation that can get those two halves of my brain seeking peace but always finding resistance.
What you don’t see is my mind running a million miles a minute, replaying every single conversation and overanalyzing every move I’ve made or will make during the day. You don’t see the inner turmoil that is my decision-making process, which involves weighing every single pro and con possible when I step outside the door each morning in fear of doing the wrong thing for myself and everyone I care about.
What you don’t see is the pure fear hiding beneath the cheerful exterior. While some people are terrified of spiders and heights, my fear stems from an unknown source. Yet it eats away at my soul every single day, limiting me on a daily basis. The fear is never pinpointed but there is a constant feeling of dread, of fear that something bad is lurking just around the corner.
What you don’t see are the constant stomachaches, the physical pain that culminates from my own head working overtime. The nagging stomach pain is a daily occurrence, with the constant twisting and turning at the mention of specific thoughts and topics. I wake up each morning with a knot already in my stomach, bringing constant nausea throughout the entire day. Then there’s the chest pain where your lungs and heart are aching from working so hard at keeping the feelings and emotions at bay. Then there’s also the tingling in my fingers, cheeks and legs, which flares up as soon as a situation becomes too much to handle.
What you don’t see are the late nights spent in bed, praying for sleep to take me while my brain continues its onslaught on my feeble self-esteem. The constant thoughts running through my head, telling me that no matter what, my looks, my intelligence, my personality will never be good enough for anyone I associate with. There will always be someone out there who is far better.
What you don’t see are the words tumbling through my head, spoken by people who don’t put thought or care behind them. Constantly twisting each sentence to fit the narrative in my own head, to explore every possible meaning until it absolutely crushes me.
What you do see, instead, is exactly what I want you to see. I want you to see the mask and costume I wear, the curtain I hide behind when things get too tough.
Anxiety doesn’t always manifest in the ways that we see portrayed in the media and in films. In fact, many people don’t want to make it obvious, don’t want to draw attention to themselves when they are in their most vulnerable state. So that’s why you see smiles and socialization. That’s why you see someone who seems to be able to handle the craziness and chaos of everyday life. It’s what you don’t see that makes every day a challenge, one that I never asked for.
And yet, I do it. I face each morning with the same fears, the same thoughts, the same feelings. And I make it through with the hopes that tomorrow will be different.
Right now, it never is. But maybe someday it will slowly but surely get better and easier. All I have to do is make it through, like I’ve been doing all along.