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  • She Says

An Open Letter To My Friends and Family: I Am Surviving

  • IWB Post
  •  September 11, 2015


This post was first published in The Huffington Post, and is written by Shawna Ayoub Ainslie. Shawna talks about living a life free of anxiety, and unnecessarily negative and anti-intellectual.

She writes about the courage she has developed within herself to fight against such feelings and emerging as a person who is happily alive. Read her open letter and you may relate to it:

“I want to tell you what it feels like to wake up in a bubble. To wake up and look around to find the world is far away and your pillow is not real, or not as real as it was when you went to sleep. When you thought to yourself, “Great day. No blips on the radar. Everything’s alright.”

I want to tell you what it’s like to walk around wrapped in a fog-like haze. For your children to speak to you but you can’t focus on their faces and their voices sound like they are filtered through a can. Like they are wavering echoes in the distance and even when they hug you, say “I love you, Mommy” — even when their bodies are warm against yours and you are laying kisses on them, you aren’t sure if this love is real. You feel guilty. You feel ashamed. You try to look at them and can’t see them because your eyes don’t hold still, or if they do they only focus on a nose or a freckle or an errant hair.

I want to tell you what it’s like to wake up one day fully present. To feel ease in your heart because everything is so normal. To congratulate yourself because you were told you could do it. Your friend said, “You just shrug it off. You just put a different story in your head.” And your story is different now. You check off your multipage list with efficient abandon. You treat yourself to a latte. You skip your makeup because you don’t need to fool anyone. You don’t need to trick them into believing you will remember what they say or that a voice inside isn’t screaming at you to get. out. of. here. It’s too hard.

No lie, most days the world is far away and I wonder if I’m slipping into another dimension. It’s like swimming, but the water is thick and heavy and I never get anywhere. I do mean swimming, not treading.

No lie, I hate telling people I need a break. I hate wondering if my face is making the right expressions. I hate stepping into the bathroom and practicing my smile in the mirror. I try to get it all the way up to my eyes. I hate the effort of relaxing my jaw so I don’t get a headache. I hate the feeling of being not quite here. Of being not quite anywhere. I hate it when you tell me to shrug it off. When you say it’s easy. When you say I can do it. When you discover your absolute suggestions aren’t enough and tell me maybe I should seek professional help.

I want to tell you what it’s like to jolt awake in the dark with your heart racing. To find darkness in darkness through dreams. To struggle awake, shake yourself, roll side to side to slow the beating. To pick off the subconscious webs. To strike your path back into daylight only to find the shadow coats you from the inside. No shower will wash it away. No affirmation will disappear it. You cannot think your way out so during the day you don’t hear words like dramatic, melodramatic, overreacting, loosen up, big deal out of nothing, just calm down, you’re fine, you have to change your thinking, have you tried meditation? You cannot choose something else. You didn’t choose this. You would never choose this.

It’s unsettling, and people look at you sideways when you say you have anxiety. When you shut down, go silent, disappear mid-conversation for no apparent reason. When you talk in circles because you aren’t sure if anyone can understand you. If you said it right the first three times. If you are making any kind of sense because you don’t make sense to yourself.

I want to tell you how hard it is to know why I am this way. How hard it is to self-advocate. Admit I need to walk away. Tell you why I am this way. Tell you I am this way. Tell you I am triggered, or having a panic attack, a flashback, or any other trauma response. Use words pop culture has skewed outside their true experience. Use the words meant to keep me safe but only put me in more danger because they have been equated with unnecessarily negative and anti-intellectualwhen really, they are the bridge of compassion that leads me from victim to survivor.

I want to tell you how much those words sting my tongue. How they crawl red across my cheeks and make me certain I’m a liar. How your sigh when I am working hard onjust being lashes me down.

Anxiety, to me, doesn’t mean getting wound up for a little while. It means body numbness, headaches, backaches, clumsiness, tremors, feeling cold, rapid heart rate, expansive fear, stuttered speech, and words tumbling out in the wrong order. For days. For weeks sometimes. Even with therapy. Even with familial support. Even withclean eating, supplementation and medication.

I want to tell you that not all anxiety is the same, and I know the difference. But most of the time my anxiety rides me like the tearful child on my back who just scraped her knees. Who needles me between my shoulder blades where I can’t reach. Who I am trying to comfort as she squeezes my neck. Who is pushing me down and pulling me close and nestling against me to stake her claim over who I am to her.”

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