The subway is cold and sparsely populated—ideal travel conditions—but I am still clawing at my keychain, struggling to unscrew the small cylinder that holds the chalky white pills that keep my heart from exploding. My throat’s already closing up, head so light it may actually float off my shoulders. I imagine it bobbing against the top of the subway car like a balloon. No one will probably even notice. This is, mercifully, New York City.
The attacks have assaulted me since I was a kid, wriggling out of car seats and pews and classroom chairs. Escape, in the beginning, is found atop a toilet, in the private cell of countless bathroom stalls in gas stations and church basements and school hallways, muffling gasps and tears until the waves of panic finally cease. The bathroom stall is safe because four walls protect me from anyone discovering my secret. Skillful at muting sobs in the cups of loosely clenched fists, I practice variations of the same lie: not feeling well, something I ate, a stomach bug; a migraine.
By the time I am in college, the attacks prohibit me from driving more than twenty minutes without pulling over to call 911. By the time the paramedics come, I am a mess of relief, all sloppy smiles and droopy arms. The blood pressure cuff feels like a cozy blanket. Once again, I am secure.
For a long time, I thought the attacks would go away, and sometimes they did—for years. But through some mysterious mix of genetic wiring and the slightest trigger: lack of sleep or food or a simple off day, they have, at times, left me incapacitated. It wasn’t until I stopped fearing them that I learned to live with a mind that can grow volatile, even uncontrollable, because I know, eventually, the danger will pass.
During my last spate of anxiety, I found myself writing a lot. Creativity was an escape from the fear I had of my anxiety, and by proxy, myself. But creativity itself takes courage, whether confronting the darkest parts of a mind unraveling or submitting, ironically, a piece on the empowerment of making the first move in relationships.
The more I accepted my anxiety, the easier life became. Instead of reaching for my antianxiety medication, I dug inward. After Googling “breathing exercises,” I found extensive research on “belly breathing:” deep breathing from the diaphragm. I bought a yoga mat and began regular sessions stretching while maintaining close awareness of my breath. At the gym I practiced my own version of cardio: a “soft” workout involving low intensity biking while listening to classical music. For the first time, old goals—writing more for the public purview, visiting more with friends—became possible again. By managing my anxiety in a unique, personal way, I reclaimed my old self.
My creativity is not yours. There is no correct path to becoming creative because, as humans, it is already an innate part of us. Breathe into it, accept it. Celebrate it. Most of all, accept the fear that comes with a life worthy of participation, a life bursting with possibilities—if you allow it.