We have learned that quiet isn’t always peaceAmanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
Gorman’s poem had other, widely relevant and more poignant take-aways than this, but this part of the longer line is what stuck with me. Because that’s what anxiety is. That’s what anxiety feels like.
I had a complex about allowing myself to say I have anxiety because it felt like a disservice to people who have actually been diagnosed with anxiety. I haven’t been prescribed medication and it’s not an official diagnosis, but I do exhibit symptoms and have done so for as long as I’ve been alive (now that I know to look for them). It’s a term most of us throw around, like saying you have OCD because you need to have your coffee a specific way or you freak out (when OCD really is tugging on the knob of the front door three times to make sure it’s properly closed and look back before you drive away to make sure your cat didn’t run out without you noticing even though you saw her at her food bowl before you left and if you don’t perform this ritual every time you leave the only thing you’ll think about as you drive away is her running away when a dog or loud noise spooks her and how you’ll never see her again because she’s an indoor cat with no collar and no microchip), but most people exhibit different symptoms depending on their different triggers.
The existence of triggers is something I have come to understand and notice the more I notice a specific anxiety symptom. Why does my heart race and extremities go cold after I glance at the clock? Because I registered the time and that a particular meeting with a particular coworker is coming up, a meeting I won’t particularly enjoy and that will most likely demand a lot of my time and energy afterward. All this happens without my saying one word out loud.
When I stay quiet, my thoughts aren’t peaceful. My thoughts race, bounce inside my head like red balls. From a song to a memory to something I need to do back to the song then to what I’m wearing that day to the one thing I must not forget to do back to the song then to what I want for breakfast then how my hair is looking oily even though it’s only day two after washing then back to the song and then to noticing the mind chatter and making myself focus on what I’m doing at that moment. All before I’ve been awake for a full ten minutes.
The mind chatter has been with me for years, and what I thought was me being efficient and using my time wisely by always planning and making the most of all the time I had is actually anxiety. In recent years, I can recall two incidents that triggered my anxious tendencies and put me in overdrive to compensate for the fact that the situation was outside my control. When I wasn’t working at fixing these situations or coming out the other side of them, I was thinking about the work I still needed to do, and when I got back home, I’d take out my laptop and pick up where I left off lest the thoughts I had during my commute home would disappear. It was quiet, with no noise other than keyboard clicking or the noises of the train as it moved from stop to stop. My mind, however, was the opposite of quiet.
The quiet that isn’t always peace is what it feels like every day since that first triggering incident. It was a season of unpeaceful quiet. Of being so out of control and dependent on others even after doing everything I was supposed to do. During this season, I tried drinking black coffee for the first time. I was in an office and someone offered to go on a coffee run. I asked for a soy latte, and the person came back with apologies that the café didn’t carry dairy-free milk (what in the pre-oat-milk-craze hell!) and that he’d gotten me a black coffee instead. I drank it and it was vile. Yet passable. I winced as I drank it and my stomach was cramping within the hour. From that day onward, I take my coffee black. And I enjoy it. It’s been years, but that result of trauma and a trigger incident that became a trigger season has become part of my personality.
Now, I drink black coffee and it’s a toss-up between racing thoughts or simply enjoying the warm beverage (the benefit of being born in South America and drinking coffee since I was eight). All while staying quiet. Quiet isn’t always peace inside my head.
I have heard many times over the years from many different people that I speak too fast. I don’t notice it, on myself or others, and I wonder if that’s another anxiety symptom or just my personality. Like the black coffee. My brain works faster than my listener, so words flow out faster. If I can’t stop the thoughts from bouncing and racing and flowing too fast, why should my spoken words be any different? Maybe my listener should just keep up. Make their brain work faster.
Until my brain slows down, quiet isn’t always peace.