A busy social life. A size four waist. An anxiety disorder.
Every girl wants them; every girl likes to pretend she has them; most girls are just red hot messes wearing pants a few sizes too small.
Hi, my name is Hannah and I have anxiety.
The last time I had an anxiety attack I was on my way home from work on the train. Normally, when an attack hits, I call my mom or best friend, crying my way through the heart palpitations and shortness of breath, confiding that I feel like I’m going to die, often wishing that I just would, and hiding somewhere dark, quiet and secluded until I catch my breath, whether it’s minutes or hours later.
But this time, I didn’t.
I got on the train. I sat down. I breathed. I cried, and I was terrified. But three-quarters of an hour later, I’d made it home– a train ride, 15 minute drive, and ten minute search for parking somehow accomplished– and was safe in my bed. And I’d done it alone.
This victory is what those of us with anxiety should strive for: being able to look our emotions in the face and tell them they’re not bigger than us, they’re just another part of us. And like every part, they don’t control, merely contribute to, the whole.
I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life. At times, it’s been debilitating.
Because of it, I used to be a cutter. I used to be a heavy drinker. I used to be on all kinds of chemical cocktails that were supposed to even out this side of my brain, enhance that one, quiet the other one down, and at the same time enable me to fly and do calculus.
All of the “solutions” for my anxiety– those I inflicted upon myself, and those that doctors prescribed to me– were temporary fixes to what I’ve now accepted to be a lifelong, permanent condition. Not a problem, but a simple fact of my life.
I no longer cut. I barely drink. I don’t take any drugs. I still have no idea what calculus even is.
And I’m not proud to be an anxious person.
It’s true that women’s brains are more inclined to become emotionally imbalanced than men’s, thanks to something called a uterus and a magic potion known as estrogen.
Basically, bitchez b craz-E.
On some real shit, though, the average girl (okay, woman) is likely to experience sharper emotional fluctuations than her male peers. That’s science, and fact.
That being said, there’s a difference between an off day and an anxiety attack.
Real anxiety isn’t because of any thing; it’s its own thing. When you’re truly anxious, it’s not professors, bosses, or bill collectors who make your heart pound; it’s your own reflection, your best friend, or a call from your mom. Anxiety saps the joy out of everything, even adorable pictures of a little girl and her cat, the sunset, or a kiss from your perfect boyfriend.
True anxiety makes it impossible to look at the wonderful, valuable life that you lead without feeling dread, guilt, or fear toward the future you’re responsible for.
But thanks to Dr. Drew, culture has awarded anxiety with a glamorous, tragic aspect, so girls wear it like a pair of Chanel earrings. Or, via Skreened.com’s riff on The Chive‘s “Keep Calm and Chive On” campaign, a joke on a tee-shirt.
I think it’s good that anxiety-suffers can don a silly shirt that makes light of what can often feel like an unconquerable obstacle in their lives. But I don’t think it’s healthy that young girls are encouraged to embrace emotional instability.
Girls use anxiety as an excuse to skip midterms (school is stressful); we call out of work because we feel an attack coming on (work is stressful); we blame our financial instability on our crippling emotional vulnerability (being an adult is stressful).
Life, it turns out, is stressful.
But learning how to manage anxiety– whether it’s isolated of overarching– is the adult thing to do. I generally don’t wax serious on this blog, but it worries me that young women have such a propensity toward embellishing their negative emotional experiences. There is such a thing as bad attention, but most girls don’t seem to understand, or care about, the difference.
It’s not attractive to be a mess. It’s attractive to clean up your messes.