Anxiety Is All in Your Head


The last few weeks had been good; the fog that spent the last year following me had risen back into the clouds, and the unsteadiness of anxiety seemed less promise and more memory. I was lulled into a comfort. Good news had begun to flood my life, and instead of questioning my worthiness or turning the news upside down and examining it for any possible cracks or proof that it might not really exist, I sighed into the possibility of a turnaround.


I watched my diet, shrugging off the sugar and caffeine that didn’t help matters. I hate yoga but acknowledged the calming and steadying effect it had on my life. I chose a yoga-Pilates-tai chi hybrid class that gave me the calm I needed without all the sun-hugging corniness. The writing, as always, is an ongoing process, but it was happening; and when it didn’t happen, I let other things slide into place.

This week, however, tested me. It started on Monday, when plans months in the making fell through. I was suddenly taken off course and scrambling to “fix it.” I spent Monday and Tuesday trying to juggle and defuse the endless bombs that had been thrown my way. I refused to let any of it take root.

“This isn’t our fault,” I tried to remind myself. “We did what we were supposed to. We can fix it.”

I did my best to calm and soothe my nervous circles and my broken brain, but still she persisted.

On Wednesday, I was in a department store trying to replace shoes torn by a school year of kickball and 10-year-old growing boy. I had already spent an hour in Old Navy, and my patience was wearing thin. The week’s disappointment and uncertainty refused to leave me. Every time I wanted to stop thinking about it, it would magnify and my brain would whirl with what-ifs and how-comes.

I couldn’t concentrate on the present and felt worse knowing that I had been congratulating myself for disallowing this very thing just last week. The harder I tried to stop thinking about it, the more it magnified and grew wings, until it was all I could think of.

And then it happened.


Suddenly every sound and motion made my skin prickle and pulse.

It began with me becoming hyperaware of a woman standing too close, screeching instructions into her phone. The distant sound of a child scurrying around felt as if it were coming from inside my head. Even my own attempts at a constant and consistent inhaling and exhaling seemed to echo around me.


This was a familiar place, but as long as it didn’t move into the next stage—blurred vision and spontaneous blindness—I would be fine. I could move through it. I could convince myself that it was just a sudden flu or restless impatience.

My chest felt tight and heavy; I wondered if maybe I could find a way to discreetly unhook my bra to make breathing a bit easier. This is where it usually begins but goes unnoticed until the dizzy hits. Then came the beads of soft sweat dotting my forehead; a sudden rush of blood; and the frantic, rapid heartbeat.


Everything around me began to move in slow motion, and the once too-sensitive hearing became dense and tunneled; the rush of blood in my body crescendoed into a roar. I was willing my body to behave. I repeated over and over that things were OK; there was no reason to “fight or flight.” But all I wanted to do was throw my items to the side, slide onto the floor and press my cheek onto the cool tile. The other option would be to close my eyes for a second and wait for the floor to rush up and meet me.

I may have wobbled and swayed or let a wrinkled, heavy sigh escape, because the man ahead of me turned around, and his eyes widened upon seeing what must have been a panicked, ashen face.


“Are you OK?”

I tried to smile and nod a reassurance but could manage only to stare blankly as his question floated past me. I felt my stomach lurch, and pictured myself vomiting all over his pressed white shirt.


I put the items I’d been holding on the nearest rack or on the floor; I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I was rushing toward the exit, trying to outrun the walls closing in. I startled a young woman attempting to enter when I barged through the doors.

I sent her an “Excuse me,” but the words never left my mouth; her “Rude bitch” followed me to the car. I fumbled to find the unlock button and threw myself into the driver’s seat, careful to leave the door open—grateful for a world without walls.

I sat there, steadying my breath, with my head pressed against the steering wheel. I counted backward from 200, and by the time I hit the 50s, the world had stopped spinning and my brain had emptied into a quiet.


Once I was certain that all was clear and calm, I put the car in reverse and eased my way out of the parking lot. The ride home was quiet, and I made sure all the windows were down, and allowed the wind to wrap itself around me. I was tired and disappointed, but this wasn’t the first time it had leaped up to attack me, and it wouldn’t be the last.

I’m just proud that this time, I managed to make it out and away without waking up with strangers peering over me, speculating about whether it was drugs or pregnancy that caused it.


It’s the little things.

American-Nigerian, ex-poet, current writer, constant mental health advocate (The Siwe Project and No Shame Day), underachieving overachiever and memoir procrastinator (Harper Perennial 2019).



Anxiety attacks and panic attacks suck. I had my first one at six years old. I’m glad you’re coping. They don’t get easier - you just get better at handling them.