Self in the City - My Family Travels

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had anxiety and depression. My doctor told me that the depression was likely passed down to me from my abusive father, but I’ve always figured that it probably resulted from the anxiety that was induced by growing up in a strict Southern town.  Depression’s not a difficult disease for me.  However, anxiety’s sort of like epilepsy mixed with asthma and a plane crash. If you’ve never had an anxiety attack, it’s basically the sensation of the air being sucked out of you and the mental panic that accompanies impending doom. Your heart speeds up so fast, you feel as if there is a motorboat in your chest; your breathing comes in short desperate gasps; and your body breaks out in a cold feverish sweat. Your brain thinks that you’re about to die, so it pumps your veins full of adrenaline so that, ironically, you don’t miss a minute of your episode. It’s terrible.

So whenever I mentioned to my therapist that I was going to New York for a week on a school trip, her eyes bulged out of her head for a moment before she said, “Are you sure that you can handle that? I mean, in your current state?”

I calmed her nerves by telling her that I’d consider not going, but I lied. As terrified as I was, I knew that unless something drastically changed in my routine of lazy depression and Froot Loops, I’d remain in my “current state” for a lot longer than I’d planned. It was this that prompted my desire to hop on that train and head for New York, for better or for worse. 

When I stepped onto the platform at Penn Station, I could taste something in the air besides smog. It was victory, and though it was subtle, it was soon to be mine.

As our group made its way through the busy streets past Chinatown and the on-looking policemen, I was beginning to get antsy. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. Every turn I took, I stepped on someone’s toe, dress, or child. Without a thought, the words “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” escaped my trembling lips until my throat was sore.

Throughout my struggle to keep up with everyone in my group, I could see their blurry outline moving out of sight.

I could feel the panic bubbling in my chest like a lawn mower starting. My palms were soaking wet. I yelled, but no one could hear me.

I stopped in the middle of the street, paralyzed with my disease, but as I stood there muttering courtesies to the passers-by who came into contact with me, my world changed.

I shut my mouth. The next person to clip my shoulder, didn’t get an “I’m sorry” or an “excuse me” because I realized that I was the only girl in New York who worried enough to give anyone else one. I simply had to stop putting everyone else ahead of myself before I could catch up with the rest of the world.

In my newfound glory, I walked with purpose through the crowds of indifferent New Yorkers until I’d finally reached the slowpokes in our group.

It took years of torment and one day in New York City to finally attain that victory. It’s been over a year since I took that trip, and though I still carry with me the loom of a pending attack, I learned on that smoggy city street in the blink of an eye what I’d been searching for my entire life: self-respect.

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