Losing Control

I've always liked being in control. My planner, filled with checklists and to-do items, contains my whole life. Filling out forms brings me a weird sense of satisfaction. I like putting all the information in neat little boxes, right where it belongs. I finish school assignments early, I plan social gatherings days, or even weeks, in advance. There is always a plan, or at least a direction in which I'm headed. I was always in control.

I didn't use to know what anxiety was. Even once I learned what it was, and saw people around me suffering from it, I never thought I fell into that category. Is it normal in sixth grade to be so nervous for math test that you can't sleep? Of course, it is. We all want good grades, don't we? That's just a part of school. Is it normal to check multiple times to make sure the car is locked and that the oven's turned off? Of course, it is, I'm just being careful. Is it normal for thoughts to turn around in your mind over and over again? Of course, it is, we all worry sometimes.

Eventually the feelings intensified, but I dealt with it and they'd go away for a time. The first time I felt it in a strong way was when I was learning Tahitian. I was leaving for French Polynesia for a year and a half, and I had three weeks to learn the basis of the language. I felt incessantly that I was too slow, too inept, the worst in the group. I didn't understand the teacher and I couldn't express myself, no matter how hard I tried. It got to the point where I dreaded class. I lived in fear that I would be called on just to embarrass myself in front of the others.

I felt like a wind-up doll that was cranked up too tight. Constantly tense, constantly stressed. One more turn and I'd pop. The worst part is no one knew. I couldn't bring myself to open up to my friends or teachers. Eventually I worked through it on my own, but I just chalked up the mental difficulties to the challenge of learning a language. Why wouldn't it be hard?

Fast forward two years, I was back in school as a full-time student, trying to adjust to normal life after a year and a half abroad. It was my first time holding a job while going to school, my first time taking midterms and writing papers after deferring for so long, and I had a lot on my plate. There wasn't simply enough time for everything I wanted to do. That wind-up doll feeling came back. I was being cranked so tightly. Eventually I worked through it, but I knew if it hadn't gone away I would've needed help.

Fast forward another year and a half, to 2021. COVID was still raging, school was online and I hated it, my classes gave too much work, dating sucked, roommates had drama, and my skin started having problems for no reason. I felt constantly overwhelmed and stressed, and not like my usual self at all.

I'll never forget trying to sleep but with a heart racing at a million miles an hour. My thoughts pounding along with it, refusing to let my brain shut off. Watching the hours tick by on my clock and knowing I would be exhausted the next day. Trying desperately to calm down, to breathe in and out and in and out, in through your nose and slowly out your mouth, like they teach you at school. But your body has a mind of its own and it doesn't want to listen.
When I want to open my eyes, I open them. When I want to hold up two fingers I do it. If I want to jump up and down or spin around I can. We control our body without a second thought. So how come sometimes it stops listening? When we try to slow down our heart palpitations and churning thoughts, why then does your body betray you?

How did I lose control?

Three a.m. turns into six a.m. which turns into eight. Oh man, I'm really going to be tired in class later. My stomach hurts but I don't want to get up. Oh man, I think I'm making myself sick. Thirty minutes later you can't stop the nausea and you're running to hug the toilet bowl. If you're lucky it only happens once.

It's a scary thing, isn't it? To lose control. When the parts of your body that you're so used to commanding decide that they have a mind of their own.

How did I get here? How did I let myself crack?

Fast forward a year, and I'm doing so much better now. I've learned to not worry so much, to take it one day at a time, to remember that it always works out. To open up, to let people help me. To share with others and not be embarrassed, because it turns out that your friend has been feeling the same way.

It's a scary thing to lose control, but I've since then learned that you can get it back. And that's a great place to be.