Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 12, 2020

An open letter to my anxiety: I’ll win every time

By STEPHANIE LEE | March 7, 2019



The love that surrounds Lee helps her to combat the anxiety that she faces. 

Dear Anxiety,

I’ve never died before, but sometimes you’ve made it feel like I’ve been pretty damn close.

The thing about having an anxiety attack is that it makes you feel like you’re dying but arguably in the worst possible way. It feels like you’re drowning and about to combust into a sizzling spectacular electrical mess. 

Your heart starts pounding so hard and fast that you feel like it might explode, while you’re gasping for air because no matter how many times you try to fill your lungs, it’s not enough. It hurts to inhale; it feels like someone is sitting on your chest. Your skin starts crawling as you start sweating, shaking and fidgeting. 

It feels like if you stop moving, all that pent up nervous energy will accumulate and you’ll combust. You start crying, because your hellish brain is making it so difficult to simply exist in this dimension. You just want to somehow rip your soul out of your body because it’s like inhabiting a toy that’s short-circuiting in hot bath water.

Meanwhile, your brain is basically going into overdrive, like it just took five shots of espresso in one sitting.

Think of as many of your worst fears, your anxieties, your doubts, traumatic experiences, nightmares, stresses, insecurities and your past mistakes. If you wrote out everything you could remember and then removed the spaces between each words and read it, you’d have an idea of the speed of the thoughts that go through your head when you’re having a breakdown.

So yeah, I might not have died before, but thanks for making me feel like I’ve been there.

I won’t sugarcoat this; it’s hard to live with you sometimes. The thing about having you infecting my brain is that you’re always there. I worry so much about everything in the worst way — I overthink everything, and I’m unhealthily obsessed with it. 

It’s an obsession with worrying about the smallest things, like how someone looked at you, or the way you presented yourself to somebody, to overthinking every single social situation you’ve been in. You take everything personally. It starts small — maybe someone’s having a bad day, but you think they’re taking it out on you. Then you keep thinking about it. 

It’s wondering if your friends all hate you if they take longer than a few hours to respond to a text, or thinking that they don’t want to be friends with you anymore if you see them hanging out without you. It’s a feeling of impending doom that something bad is going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do to control it.

It’s hours spent staring blankly at my computer screen, trying to do work but not being able to because you can’t stop thinking about how you’re not good enough for your boyfriend and how he deserves far better than you. 

It’s nights spent crying because you feel alone and frustrated and not being able to control how you feel that everyone is slowly distancing themselves from you. It’s accepting that this will inevitably happen to you, people coming and going, and that there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it. So you cut them all off.

But, dear Anxiety, there’s a catch.

It’s hard to accept this nearly all of the time, but this is all in my head. I may feel isolated, like I have no one left in my life, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

There are friends who, despite me trying to cut them off, understand that it’s not entirely my doing. There are friends who insist on staying and on amplifying my brightest days and carrying me through my darkest ones. There are friends who persistently show love again and again, who make sure I seek the help and therapy I need, and who are prepared to extend a helping hand in a heartbeat. 

My boyfriend reminds me how much I mean to him and how much of a privilege it is to love me. He encourages me to seek therapy and loves and cares for me. And my family — they relentlessly and unconditionally love me for who I am and encourage me to be the best I can be. They have faith in me when I have none in myself. Nothing speaks louder than the love I have surrounding me.

So, Anxiety, it’s very hard having you. You complicate my life and you’re exhausting to deal with sometimes, I’ll admit it. It’s hard to stay grounded in reality, but that’s okay because one thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to have trouble being yourself. 

And even though some days it’s harder to fight you back, it makes me stronger because I’m intent on winning every time; I have hope to win until the end.

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