On one autumn night years ago, my 16 year old self sat on the concrete wall beneath the carport attached to my house. Headphones in my ears with music blaring as I inspected the cuts on my wrist that I had been hiding from my parents using a rainbow wristband. I had fallen down the rabbit hole of depression, and music was my one clear getaway.
Among the many bands I listened to, Linkin Park was prominent. I love all of their music, but one song in particular is my favorite. That song is “Crawling“, recorded in 2000 and released in 2001; Chester said it was about his substance abuse, but it means something different to me.
At 16 I was becoming accustomed to what my depression was putting me through, but I had no idea that its pairing was right around the corner, ready to dropkick me into oblivion. I’m referring to anxiety.
When most people think of anxiety, they think of it in its definition as being “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” It’s normal to get anxiety before a performance, a speech, or the first day of class. In high school, I thought I knew what anxiety was, and I had never considered that it could be something that would nearly destroy me in the years to come.
The psychiatric definition of anxiety is that it is “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” This is the anxiety I live and breathe every moment of every single day. When I was diagnosed with anxiety in high school, and put on Zoloft to help, I still had very little understanding of what anxiety really was or why I needed to be treated for it. It is because of this ignorance that I stopped taking my medication in 2011, believing I was fine.
I may have had it under control on my own for a few years unmedicated, but then my mom died unexpectedly, and with the grief came the worst anxiety I have ever known. Again, I thought I could handle it on my own. I didn’t go to therapy, I didn’t get back on any medication, I didn’t do anything I should have done as someone who had been previously diagnosed and was going through horrific trauma.
Even when I had to flee my college film studies class to have a full blown anxiety attack in my car, because of the infamous Buffy the Vampire Slayer scene in which Buffy comes home and finds her mother dead, I did nothing. I thought it was just grief. I thought everyone who loses a parent goes through this, I thought I could handle it.
The very first line in Linkin Park’s “Crawling” is: “Crawling in my skin“. Until I started having anxiety attacks more and more often, I had always understood that line the same way my 16 year old self did: as dealing with depression. Now it holds a very literal meaning.
People who don’t have anxiety attacks cannot possibly understand this literal meaning and just how unbelievably uncomfortable it is. It is my first warning sign that an attack is incoming, and even if I manage to hold the worst of it at bay, that symptom remains. Sometimes for hours, sometimes an entire day, long after the trigger for the attack has passed.
If the word crawling doesn’t do enough for you, the only other way I have been able to describe this feeling is an itch that doesn’t actually itch. Just under my skin, out of reach. Never-ending, never wavering. This constant, uncomfortable, ungodly itch. It gives me the urge to clench myself into a tiny little ball; to clench every single muscle I can just to distract from the feeling.
To my relief, this feeling doesn’t always happen. I don’t always have attacks but that opens the door for my anxiety to show itself in other ways. One thing that many people don’t realize is a symptom of anxiety, and I myself didn’t know, is anger. I have had anger problems my entire life, for as long as I can possibly remember. I have had outbursts, broken things, hit things, screamed, cried, and every other thing you can think of when it comes to anger. My peers in high school saw it more times than I would like to admit, as did my parents. I kicked a hole through our living room wall when I was a teenager in a fit of rage. I screamed in the faces of my two JROTC teachers, telling them they needed to shut the fuck up and handle the situation at hand. I punched a metal bar separating our school doors and nearly broke my hand. If only I’d known it was a symptom, not a death sentence.
Crawling and anger are the two worst symptoms of my anxiety that I struggle with. They are the biggest two I think of when I think about what having anxiety puts me through, but they are not the only symptoms.
There is this voice in my head, constantly lingering, whispering, convincing, manipulating. This is the voice of my anxiety, and it does everything it can every day to convince me that I am not enough for anyone. If I have a day or two of reprieve, of peace, it still never fails to creep back in eventually.
They hate you.
They’d be better off without you.
They are ignoring you.
They don’t want to talk to you.
They don’t want to be around you.
They’re whispering about you.
You’re a disaster.
Why are you still here.
Just give up.
Those whispers crawl underneath my skin during every anxiety attack I have. Words that I know hold no truth, but still, they crawl. They crawl even when my attacks aren’t active. They crawl their way through my nerves and into my lungs, making it hard to breathe.
So please, dear reader, the next time someone you care about tells you that they have anxiety, don’t shrug it off. Don’t think to yourself that they are being overdramatic, or seeking attention, or lying. The decision of whether to help or hurt in the moment someone trusts you enough to tell you they have anxiety could be the decision that saves someone from committing suicide.
My fight against anxiety is a ceaseless one, and the decision to go back on medication is a monumental one, but if I can do something to make today just a little bit better than yesterday, shouldn’t I?