The music stopped. That’s the best way to describe what happened. Suddenly there was no melody in my head. In its place was my voice telling me everything that was wrong with the way I had lived up until now. I’ve never been the kind of person that craved pity from others, nor have I ever been the type to self-loathe. If something bad happened, I’d wallow privately for a day or so and then move on. But when anxiety struck and the internal walls of my body seemed to come crashing down, I couldn’t help the constant thought that nothing ever works out for me. It made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to feeling sorry for myself, but I couldn’t stop, because the part of me that was happy and carefree had stepped out of my body and I was suddenly this unrecognizable shadow of doom.
Anxiety was constantly feeling tired yet being fully awake. Anxiety was feeling a dark cloud looming over my mind while the sun beamed in the sky. Anxiety was spilling a drink and feeling like a failure. Anxiety was letting out a deep sigh because the day felt draining even though I’d done nothing at all. Anxiety was feeling paranoid that the people around me were sick of me, even though I had barely said a word about what I had been feeling. Anxiety was looking at myself in the mirror and saying “You are enough” but knowing I didn’t believe it. Anxiety was forcing a smile as some foreign enemy ate away at the insides of my brain.
I am a 29-year-old woman. Recently, I broke up with my boyfriend. We had been together for two and a half years and I had conditioned myself to believe he was the one because society convinced me that I was supposed to get married by a certain age, so I could get pregnant by a certain age, have a house by a certain age, and raise a family by a certain age. I loved him, but it always felt like something was missing. I ignored it for years and worked on mending a relationship that was irreparable from the start because I could not imagine allowing it to fail. When the pandemic began and we were forced to be apart, I was no longer able to pretend. After seeing him for the first time in fifty days, I felt more alone sitting on the couch with him than I had when I was sitting by myself. So I ended the relationship. There was no feeling of freedom, no ecstasy, no excitement. Instead, I began to panic.
I broke his heart, so I am a terrible human being.
I hurt him so I do not deserve to live.
Maybe I should stay to avoid hurting him.
His happiness is more important than mine.
I am 29 years old and single again.
I am going to be alone forever.
I am never going to find someone I want to be with.
I am never going to be able to have children.
I can’t afford a house because I make a teacher’s salary.
Why did I take so long to get serious about saving money?
Maybe I should move to the south because I can afford a house there.
Looking at apartments is depressing because I am doing it alone.
I am never going to be able to live the life I want to live.
I am never going to feel better.
These are just some of the many thoughts that ran through my head in a constant circle as if I was on a malfunctioning teacup ride. Eventually, I broke. One day, about a week after the breakup, I woke up feeling as though there was a hole in my heart. I had work to do, but every time I opened my laptop, I stared at the screen, motionless. In an attempt to calm down, I grabbed a book and went to the living room. But before I could read a word on the page, the panic set in, and the crying quickly changed to heaving. A friend of mine had recently told me to say “stop” out loud when I had anxious thoughts. Through my tears, I tried it. “Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.” But the words grew less and less audible as the crying and heaving intensified. I was no longer myself. Something had taken over my body and I had lost control. I was terrified. In a last-ditch effort, I went to my bedroom, opened my laptop, and found an anxiety meditation video on YouTube. Then I grabbed an adult coloring book and colored pencils and slipped into a world of childlike simplicity. Within a few minutes, I had calmed down, but I feared the return of that awful feeling. I felt it lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce.
In the days and weeks that followed, I was up and down, and I remain that way still. Some days I wake up happy, but something miniscule triggers anxious thoughts that cause that initial happiness to be fleeting. Some days I am ok all day long. Other days I wake up with that hole in my heart again and trudge through the day. I used to feel whole and now I am a work in progress. After ending the relationship, I felt like I couldn’t love myself anymore. Even though a failed relationship is something everyone experiences, I felt an added disappointment because I had known all along that it wasn’t working, yet ignored it. The lack of love for myself paired with fears of loneliness paired with fears of an endless pandemic paired with fears of never being able to live the life I wanted to live sent me into a frenzy. Piece by piece I am working on putting myself back together. Sometimes I have a good cry. Sometimes I have to go up to the mirror and give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I have to go on a walk blasting Marilyn Manson. Sometimes I have to dance around my room to Whitney. Sometimes I have to take deep breaths. Sometimes I have to talk out loud to my dead grandmother. Sometimes I have to take a nap. Sometimes I just allow myself to be a little sad. I find a way to get through, though sometimes it feels like I am holding my breath from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep.
This feeling is foreign to me, but I am cognizant enough to know that it is temporary. There is no shame in getting help, but I want to try to handle things on my own. Society has forced us to believe that we need to be somebody by a certain age, but the truth is, life isn’t a schedule. Loving yourself and finding happiness take precedence over societal constructs. This story isn’t a fairytale, though. I haven’t reached the happy ending yet. Each day I grow closer and closer to believing I will, though some days I feel like I don’t have it in me to make it there.
The happy ending has changed its form. Now the happy ending is simply inner peace and love. The rest will fall into place on its own. Most days, I believe that’s possible. On the days that don’t, I remember that tomorrow is a brand new day to start believing again.