Recently, I finally finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, which is a collection of letters from her advice column, Dear Sugar. In one letter, a woman is struggling with feeling jealous whenever her boyfriend talks about his past lovers. Sugar (Cheryl) tells her that the crazy lady in her head is running wild as the woman had described her boyfriend as wonderful and kind and also admitted that the thoughts were irrational.
I feel “the crazy lady in your head” is an accurate way to describe anxiety, at least my breed of anxiety definitely feels like that. Anxiety has always been a part of my life. Growing up, I worried about being different and people figuring out that I came from a poor family. Now, it mostly revolves around my fears of failure, attempts to be perfect, social situations, and obsessing over losing friendships. I’ve never talked about my anxiety on social media before, but my close friends and family are very aware of this reality. Particularly rough moments of mental health for me were when during my freshman year of college I was nearly failing chemistry, after had been Valedictorian in my HS, and my first year of teaching where I regularly hid under my desk during my break so no students or co-workers would see me crying hysterically. And seriously any social situation where I would be around all new people would cause me to spend the night prior practicing introducing myself, even still in my adulthood. And yet, during the social event, I often find myself escaping to the bathroom for some deep breaths and quietness.
Over the years, I have found ways to curb the “crazy lady” in my head from running wild. Yoga, hiking, running, quiet Sunday nights, ample time alone but also spending time with those I love most. Deep breathing during moments of panic. And ofc, calling mama Karen, who reminds me of my strength, takes time to chat, and never makes me feel like a burden. Surprisingly, the crazy lady has seemed to take a back seat in my life in SA. Until about a month ago, I hadn’t had a moment of panic in nearly 5 months, which is a big change for me. I think this is due to the fact that I’m not a full classroom teacher and therefore have ample time for self-care. I also think that travelling brings joy into my mind and leaves less room for my anxiety to be at the forefront of my thoughts.
All that being said, its not like I left my anxiety back in the states. She is still here and rears her ugly head from time to time. While we were in Dakar, I had an unfortunate encounter with a taxi driver. You see, there were five of us trying to fit in four seats. Essentially, without using many words (language barrier), the driver insinuated that I was the fattest of the group. He wasn’t wrong; my #Fulbrightbaes are a thin, fit bunch of itches. But what that driver and many people don’t know is that over the last year, my crazy lady grew to include body image issues. I remember, in high school, I felt so grateful that I didn’t have self esteem issues when it came to the way I looked. Now, I knew I wasn’t winning ANTM any time soon, but it just wasn’t something that I was worried about. So in May of 2017, when the thoughts started to creep in, I was shocked.
For awhile, I was able to push the thoughts away. You know, worrying about my dress size, worrying that I had put on weight, worrying that I looked large, feeling guilty about every dessert, and constantly comparing myself to other women. So, in that moment with the driver, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. It was like he was confirming all my body-related fears — that I had gained weight (hello stress-eating during my first 2 years of teaching) and it doesn’t sit well on my body. These fears are not something I’ve ever verbalized so I didn’t say anything in the moment, just got in the car and held back my tears. When we got back to the hotel, I went to the room, had a good cry, called my mom, and tried to bring myself back to my center, back to my peace.
Nearly a month later, I’m still obviously struggling with this new anxiety, but I’m working to remind myself of all the ways that I have worth that don’t relate to my appearance. Listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday convo with Amy Schumer also helped. Amy discusses how she used to struggle with having confidence in her body. She said that now that she is good with herself, she feels like she has to guide other people to be like yup this is my body and that’s ok. She said that she still has bad days from time to time, but knows that tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow will be better.
Remembering this helps me to not be so hard on myself when my anxiety feels all-consuming. (Amy’s movie I Feel Pretty I also loved.) I joined my first gym when I moved here (lack of yoga and running trails) which has been great for stress relief and keeping healthy. I’m trying to find the balance between being my best, strongest, most fit self without being obsessed with losing weight or changing the way my body looks overnight.
Here’s to hoping alway for a better tomorrow, especially when today feels a little tough. To a better gosasa (tomorrow in Sepedi).