Every night, I lock my room in case someone tries to come in and attack me.
I look around in the dark for shadows, anything that could disturb my children’s rest. On my daily walks to work, the sense of being followed persists in my head, even though I play music while walking to soothe my anxieties.
Once I sit at my desk, the fear that something bad will happen starts its vicious cycle—maybe my co-worker is talking behind my back—and I feel threatened, insecure and awkward.
Being diagnosed with general anxiety disorder has helped me to understand and cope with the symptoms. Over the past year, my therapist helped me develop a set of strategies to face any feelings of persecution and mistrust by putting words to the experience.
Instead of judging the lack of awareness, I’d say, “Fear has enveloped me.” Fear is just a feeling, a thought, not an action.
It is rather complicated for a wise mind to act intuitively. When I feel that every single conversation is aimed at me, it heightens my anxiety to such a level that my suspicions become persecutory delusions. I experience paranoia every single day. My psychosis is transient; I must control myself with DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), coping skills and medicine—or I will end up in the hospital.
Social media plays a huge role in my spiral staircase. It is difficult to manage the time I spend on Twitter or Facebook without making comparisons, judgments and assumptions. Slowly, I have learned to grasp each situation instead of jumping to conclusions.
When my absolute thinking shifts into a dark corner, I wish I could grab a camera and capture an image of all those feelings of paranoia around me. During the long voyage of my thoughts, I can set myself free of fear—fear of getting in a car accident, being kidnapped or dying of a heart attack in the next five minutes. I can sleep in peace without suffering from night terrors or locking my room when I think my mother will grab a butcher knife to kill me.
See how heavy it is?
This is my life; I’m an emotional human being. I confirm pre-existing assumptions. Any piece of information that doesn’t fit with my beliefs is screened anxiously.
Imagine spending all day, every day, struggling to reason your way through your thoughts. With no break. My negative attitude overwhelms me. The feeling that I am being watched while I sleep, that the shadows are moving around, is distressing. Relationships feel threatened, become too rigid for a perfectionist with no moderation to differentiate facts from feelings.
My fear is real and present, but the danger is not present. In a way, my fear is a trigger from the past, a holdover from the hyper-vigilance I developed when I lived with an alcoholic father. Fire ignites the thoughts of past events—especially the bad ones—and can unleash a whole spectrum of anxiety and paranoia. Although I forgave my father for those painful memories, the ashes from the fire still remain.
I write because I believe my universe consists of more than irrational fear or paranoia. In my writing, I meet my inner fears and voices and settle my mind like a stone in the lake.
The sky is blue. The trees are changing into a parade of yellow, red and orange. The air is gentle; I sink slowly, floating through the calm water, and I drift down toward the bottom of the lake, settling my attention within myself.
Everything makes sense; I close my eyes, drawing a smile upon my face, feeling at ease once again.
Author: Stephanie Ortez
Editor: Toby Israel