When I was a little girl, I was afraid of everything, most notably thunderstorms. Every time storms would roll in, I would get a very familiar stomach ache that would turn me into a shaking mess. I would obsessively watch the sky, studying the formations of the clouds, watching out for lightning, counting the seconds between rumbles of thunder.
In my family’s big, safe, Virginia home, I would round together the things that made me feel safe—my blankets, my stuffed animals—and was ready to evacuate to the basement at any given time. I was born in the Chicago suburbs and spent ages 3 to 5 in Minnesota—I was in several near-tornados as a little girl—and I was always prepared for the worst. Even if I was indoors, even if I was in a basement without windows—I was vulnerable. My family was vulnerable. I had to protect us from danger.
I watched The Weather Channel all the time, learning everything there was to know about my enemy—but even armed with all of this knowledge—every time the sky turned the least bit gray, I had that same stomach ache. That anxiety. That fear.
This was the beginning of my life with chronic anxiety.
The terror surrounding thunderstorms didn’t fade away until I was in high school. But my fear of thunderstorms was replaced quickly by the anxieties of everyday life of a teenager, and now adult life.
What if I fail this exam?
What if I don’t get into college?
Do my friends hate me?
Am I smart enough for this?
Do my parents like Mike more than me?
Am I ever going to learn how to conquer this?
Am I always going to feel this way?
Am I ever going to get over this?
Is this my forever?
Those meshed together with my onslaught of depression, with my undiagnosed POTS, with being a teenager, with the reality of being a normal human being, and I collapsed. Regularly.
I kept wishing I would hit rock bottom, so that at least everything would be upwards from there, but every time I thought I hit my lowest—a few months later, I stumbled upon a new challenge.
It never kept me from rebuilding though.
That’s what we did in therapy: we sat in the pain, we mourned, we made a game plan, and we rebuilt. We always rebuilt. Even if we knew another crash would eventually come.
When I went into remission from depression and anxiety after having transcranial magnetic stimulation, so many anxieties followed (and still follow) me like a ghost.
What if your meds stop working?
What if your therapist quits?
What if TMS doesn’t work?
What if you relapse?
Relapse is a word that thunders in my head and shakes me to the core, reducing me to the 8-year-old who ran quaking from summer storms.
Relapse could very well happen.
That’s the reality of anxiety, of depression, of any health matter.
But the light that follows is this:
In my teens and early 20s, I was so anxious I couldn’t even drive a car. Now, I’m sad because I miss driving.
For a while, I had so many anxiety attacks that I couldn’t hold down a job. Now, I have one with coworkers I adore.
When my friends graduated, I hated myself for not finishing college. Now, it’d be nice to have a degree, but I could dance every day because I’m not weighed down by student loans.
In 2017 I was so depressed that the only good part of my day was watching a three hour block of the TV show ER. Now, the best part of my day is actually talking to people.
A few years ago I sometimes needed to see my therapist twice a week. Now, I go 2-3 weeks without seeing her, and I feel great.
I could relapse tomorrow. It would be devastating. But every day I’m working on strengthening myself so that if relapse ever happens, I can find my way out again, and hopefully help someone out of their depths as well.
I think a lot about what the 8-year-old version of myself would think of who I am today.
Would she be proud? Would she be confused? Would she be angry, because 8-year-old Shannon expected Grown Up Shannon to have a career centered around pandas, and anything less than that is a disappointment?
I’d like to think that my younger self would breathe such a sigh of relief—because now, I like keeping my bedroom window open, especially when it rains, so I can listen to the thunder, watch the lightning, and I’m not scared of it.
And maybe, in a few years, the even older version of myself (oh God… aging) won’t have the same fears I have today.
Maybe relapse will be just like thunderstorms, and it will just be a concept that isn’t so scary anymore.