I do not breathe with anxiety, I don't exist separately from it, I breathe anxiety daily, this is my reality, and this is my lived experience. Sometimes I need to remind myself to do what most take for granted; breathe. Anxiety is that guest that shows up unannounced, that you don't quite want in your space, that you aren't too comfortable with. Anxiety is that guest who you have no choice but to entertain, hoping they will eventually leave. But the guest showing up is not the problem but rather the uncertainty of not knowing when they will leave.
Anxiety is difficult to define because it is abstract. I suppose I should have started by explaining where my anxiety stems from; my inability to control things around me, the inability to protect myself, the constant fear that I will never be good enough. My anxiety stems from uncertainty. This seems normal for the average person to experience until you realise that my arms go numb, completely numb, my hands shake, I struggle to breathe and it feels as though my chest is closing up when I am anxious. In these moments, basic words struggle to escape my mouth.
My anxiety reached its peak during the #RUReferencelist and #FeesMustFall protests as well as throughout my academics. I remember waking up in a panic, gasping for air, trying to figure out why my chest was closing up, why my face was drenched in tears and why my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I tried to stop my hands from shaking, I tried reminding myself to breathe but the air continued to escape me. I knew then that I was having an anxiety attack. This occurred during the Fees Must Fall protest where I consciously decided to ignore my mental well-being because the cause was greater than my health (or so I convinced myself). I later realised that the areas on campus where the most violence was meted out, now triggered my anxiety attacks.
I felt triggered on my own campus, the space that should be most conducive for me to learn in. The worst experience I encountered during the protest was when I was unable to physically get out of bed; my mind did not allow my body to move. I lay in bed, waiting for the time to pass in order for me to regain control over my body. The memories of the protest never really escaped me, there are conversations I no longer engage in, there are struggle songs I can no longer listen to, and even the sight of police vans still triggers me. I am living in constant fear because I don't know when and if we will protest again but I do know that I will never be mentally prepared for it.
I also have social anxiety, something I discovered after the RU Reference List protest. I now have a genuine fear that any male I cross paths with might harm me. I have been groped several times in nightclubs but have always overlooked this until I realised how much it affected me mentally. I don't go out as often because I fear that I won't be able to protect myself. The reality is that whenever I leave my room, I can fall victim to being violated. The worst incident I encountered was when I bore witness to a homophobic attack. This occurred on the evening of my 21st birthday celebration where my friends and I were celebrating life, little did we know that our lives would be in danger shortly thereafter.
Something triggered me, and I broke down, I sat on the side of the road, unable to speak, battling to breathe, body numb... trying to mouth the words, "I am not okay..." but all that came out of my mouth were large pauses in between huge gulps of air. I remember walking to my friend's house and my body caving in along the way because I had lost the one thing that was so important to me; control. This was the longest attack I had. My anxiety in relation to my academics is rooted in the need for me to do exceptionally well, yet having this fear that I will never be good enough.
My anxiety increases when I have to complete assignments the day before they are due hence I attempt to complete them well in advance. This is how I cope; I work in advance. Some people live with anxiety unknowingly. It is not normal to fear being abducted or sexually violated when you walk to town, it is not normal to be concerned as to whether you will get groped or not when you go out, it not normal that you constantly have to worry about protecting yourself.
Anxiety is always there, lurking in the background, waiting for its opportunity, its trigger... There shouldn't be a stigma attached to issues of mental well-being but people should be conscientised. My anxiety is always with me and I can still say, "I am breathing anxiety".