It starts as scattered seeds -- kernels anchored by anxiety and waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Some days they are fertilized by memories. Some days by fear. Most often they germinate themselves, arriving with a lunchbox of sunlight and water as they feed one another.
They don't grow up and out, freeing themselves and me, instead they grow in twisted, circuitous paths around my body. From a seed into an invasive vine.
Most of the time I have no idea why I feel anxious. No idea why my brain is trying to prep my body for flight. The more effort I put into getting to the roots of that creeping briar, the deeper they dig, and the faster it grows.
The tendrils move behind my eyes and squeeze. They continue down into my lungs. Unlike most plants, this one eats oxygen and exhales adrenaline. I have to remind myself to breathe. Dizzy and tingling, exhaustion creeps into my fingers, and fills my churning stomach.
I look for a problem to solve, only to discover my mind is rootbound, paralyzed and unsure. I try to tease it apart, to get to the why. Lightheaded, I pull harder. Eventually, I'm just hacking at it with desperate fists and hoping to figure out something, anything. And so it grows.
It spirals and twists, over and under, through my body -- forcing its way out via my skin and stealing all of my uneasy energy for itself. I wonder if it's going to take me out with it, as my skin vibrates and crawls, electric. Every nerve ending is fragile, every touch spreads cracks along the surface. My muscles twitch -- a whole body version of restless legs. My daughter gives me a hug and it's all I can do to not scream.
Finally, the vine slows and I pull the thorny infrastructure apart, once again able to think. I know this bramble will eventually starve itself. I know this, but I am equally convinced that this will be the time it just keeps growing, unchecked. I know this plant is nothing but over-watered anxiety. I know this, but I am equally certain its roots are more sinister and deadly. I don't even need WebMD to catalogue the potential maladies. It's probably cancer. So cliche. It's probably an interesting and creative cancer! What if I'm pregnant? (I'm not).
I swing back the other direction. Maybe I just drank too much caffeine. That would be preferable to pregnant cancer, but man would I feel stupid.
But what if...
What if my brain is just... broken?
I am shaky and weak when it finally dies back. There is still a lot of work to do to get rid of all the rotting vines, and I'm too tired. Weary and hungover and achy from misplaced adrenaline. I step around the wilted and spent anxiety, worried it is only becoming mulch for next time.
I am forever looking for any signs of movement within those seeds, but somehow they always, always surprise me when they finally sprout. I wish I could tell them that they aren't even real, but how do you call out the non-existence of something when it is actively torturing you? How do you detach yourself from something that is clinging like kudzu? How do you separate yourself from something that, in the moment, feels like it is you?
It feels impossible to look at something objectively while it is pulling you apart.
It sure does have interesting flowers, and look at the color of those leaves!
Oh fuck. That's right. It also has thorns.
And isn't that a cute swarm of killer bees...
Rhiannon Giles is an overwhelmed mother who only occasionally considers giving her children to the circus. She has a sarcasm problem and writes regularly at rhiyaya.com. To keep up with new posts and see some of her favorites, join her on Facebook and Twitter.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, please contact your doctor.