By: Keri Weitzel
My mother sings, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to me as I walk to the bus stop—holding her hand, clothed in fear, tears welled up. I am afraid of my elementary school—that my teacher’s cancer is going to swallow her whole in front of me, that my hair is going to fall out like hers, that my house is going to get robbed while I’m at school, that my dad’s plane is going to crash, that the part of my brain that produces fear is eating the rest of my brain during meal times…that I’m never going to stop worrying and be happy.
Second grade is my hardest year, and I miss a lot of school. I wonder how 7 years of life could possibly make me this afraid of living. I hope tomorrow I can keep my breakfast down. I hope one day I will be happy. They let me move onto third grade and I start to handle things the way my friends have been handling things all along. I still have big worries, but they don’t consume me. I am eating. I am breathing. I am sleeping.
I move on to junior high. My worries get seemingly smaller, but they do not feel smaller. My test tomorrow is soul crushing and my cheerleading competition this weekend makes breathing, sleeping, and eating all chores again for a few days. Everyone around me is ok, and I am not. Why am I not okay, why am I not okay?
I find a quote that I wish my mother had been singing to me in the second grade. “These feelings can’t break you. They’re painful and debilitating, but you can sit with them and eventually, they will pass. Maybe not immediately, but sometime soon they are going to fade and when they do, you’ll look back at this moment and laugh for having doubted your resilience. I know it feels unbearable right now, but keep breathing, again and again. This will pass. I promise it will pass.” I hold on to this quote tightly.
As my age adds up, my anxiety is no longer constant, and I can breathe steadily until I can’t breathe at all. When I can’t breathe at all, I have learned what to do—I catch my breath, turn my knuckles white with tension, and have faith that it will pass. The duration of my anxiety attacks are shrinking and becoming rare. I am not afraid that my house is being robbed, and my test tomorrow has no effect on my soul.
Today I thank my fears—for giving me profound empathy, for giving me an equal appreciation for both simple and full moments, for giving me a deeper relationship with my parents, for giving me strength, for giving me resilience. I am 21-years-old and I still have light worries—I know this is part of who I am. I have hard moments and am damn proud to overcome them. The most important thing I believe now is that the fear woven into my DNA does not have to compromise my happiness. These two feelings can coexist. I can worry and every little thing will still be alright.
I am happy—this, I believe.