Anxiety moved in with me and my boyfriend around 18 months ago, and to say the transition of our cohabiting has been turbulent, is an understatement. We didn’t really have room for an extra house guest, our cat stumbling between our legs was enough of an inconvenience, but there she was, bags packed and bearing an unsettling smile. The smile I have now become far too acquainted with. On the surface it presents kindness and kinship, but behind that painted smile she is planning something rotten, something that will knock the wind straight out of you. No matter how many times she sits with you on the sofa and pretends to be your loyal companion, she is always alert and ready to attack.

I had all this yet to come. 

When she arrived, it was with full force. She was all consuming. There was no polite introduction, or friendly chit chat; she crashed her way through the house like our neighbour’s dog, startling the cat and tearing down everything in her path. There was no time for tidying, or organising her chaos. It felt, at times, like there was also no point – who knew how soon she would return. 

I spent my days braced for impact. Her visits were sometimes brief, catching me first thing in the morning just as I woke, immediately erasing the pleasure of my dreams and thumping me in the chest with reality. Sometimes they were lengthy, being so bold as to leave the house with me, staying a few steps ahead at all times just so she could let me know danger was always close by. No matter the duration, our time together was always one sided, she constantly overwhelmed me with her thoughts and fears, dragging me into the depths of her conscience as I gasped for air. 

Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. DON’T TOUCH ME. 

The crowds got bigger, the air got thicker, and as always, her smile was all I could see. 

Time passed in a haze and our conversations continued. I had to discuss my new disruptive relationship with my boyfriend. ‘He had been the most understandable and considerate host, welcoming her with open arms, surrendering to her demands.

But she had outstayed her welcome, which had brought us to a crossroads. 

We talked. I cried. He consoled. I was ready for this relationship to burn out. The restless nights and exhausting days were not a schedule I had the energy to continue, but her grip was ironclad. Like a friend that you know is no good for you, but with every embrace you receive and passive compliment they deal, you swallow hard and bat the tears away from your eyes. 

I was consumed and completely confused, catering to her needs, making sure she didn’t get the best of me. He was my safe space. Even after days out together that had been gatecrashed, trips that had been cancelled at the last minute because she needed me, and nights together when she snuck into our covers like a child craving company, his were the arms I’d curl into when her noise was too loud, taking me by the hand and pulling me out from the depths of her despair. 

I grew more resilient to her. I had to distance myself from her false reality, convincing stories and mind games. With every breakdown that made my body tremble with fear, I shook off a piece of her. With every flood of panic, came a wave of clarity. I shut her out room by room. 

She had a good run; I was exhausted. 

Despite the hazy edges of recovery, our space had no longer become accessible to her, our sofa occupied by us and our furry feline alone. She knew it was coming. I craved a life without her suffocation, she needed to leave my head, my home. I wanted happiness, I deserved happiness. I wanted a god damn restful night’s sleep. Of course, she didn’t go willingly, just as I expected, but I stood my ground with the last of the energy I had left, I wasn’t going to let her dictate my next move anymore.  I took back my home. I cleared my head. I enjoyed the extra sofa space.

I journeyed down my new path with hope and expectation. Whether I was walking or running, I was enjoying every step I took. Inhaling the scent of each blossom tree I passed, filling my anxious mind with something sweeter.

I was learning how to introduce myself back into the outside world, stepping out from my solitude. I was living with anxiety, but I didn’t need to be isolated with her.

I spent time at my favourite coffee spot with friends, sharing cake and sipping on a flat white; I started a new and less confusing relationship with a therapist; I practised yoga; I spent an unseemly amount of time in the bath. Turns out, listening to Father John Misty whilst submerged in hot soapy water was the evening routine I didn’t know that I needed.

She still shows up unexpectedly, like a nosey neighbour that wants a cup of coffee and a gossip. I sometimes even bump into her when I’m out with my friends, or at the office. I find a quiet spot, I tell her that I’m ok, to please leave me be. I don’t want to talk, I don’t need to talk: that’s what my therapist is for, she really wants what is best for me. I’m not willing to be tricked by her anymore. I’ve learnt what she craves, my untrustworthy companion.

I know her traits and I sense her presence. I also know that we can coexist without total destruction; that I won’t let her imagination invade my reality. 

Words: Emily Smith