Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon, where she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.
I am 18 and a freshman in college. My theology class, which mostly consists of upperclassmen, is about to start, and I am in the bathroom. During the first week of class, my professor called on me and I didn’t know the answer. I was so embarrassed. So twice a week now, I sit in my front-row seat — everyone has already claimed theirs for the semester, making it too late to pick another — distracted with fear that he might call on me. But before I even get that far, I huddle in the metal stall, clutching my stomach, demanding that it calm down. Stop it, I tell myself. You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.
I am 22 and in an empty newsroom. It’s my first grown-up job at a Big Media Company and I have been assigned the solo Saturday shift. The lights are off, but I don’t bother to turn them on. I try to focus, but it’s hard because, at any moment, I might be confronted with an urgent request, a crisis that I won’t know how to fix. Hours later, when I leave the office, I suck in the cold air, relieved in the kind of way you feel when the spin instructor finally gives you permission to slow down. You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.
I am 27 and it’s my second day in Los Angeles. I am driving home from the dealership, gripping the steering wheel of my new car. After living in New York and not driving for five years, I feel overwhelmed. My chest tightens while sitting perfectly still in traffic. You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.
“You’re overthinking,” a yoga teacher once told me as I struggled to contort my body into a pose.
You have no idea, I wanted to tell her, sweat rolling down my back.
I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t anxious, when I didn’t constantly feel like I was trying to hold a balloon underwater. I wish there was a switch to shut my brain up, but there isn’t, so I’ve been forced to find other alternatives. I have a white-noise machine in my bedroom. I pay for a meditation app that reminds me to breathe. I listen to podcasts or sleep-themed playlists on Spotify before I go to bed at night in an attempt to block out the noise in my head. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.
It’s taken years to figure out, but a big part of managing my anxiety is acknowledging that it exists. It’s learning to say “I’m feeling anxious” instead of “I’m fine” when I’m really not. It’s understanding where it is rooted, taking a moment to sit back and ask myself, Why am I really feeling like this? Most times, I’ve found that the answer can be traced back to a lack of control, to the what-ifs. Then it’s remembering to tell myself that everybody fails. That I won’t always know the answer, and that’s OK. That car insurance exists for a reason.
There’s this viral video of Kristen Bell on The Ellen DeGeneres Show recounting the time she burst into tears when her husband surprised her with a sloth for her birthday. “If I’m not between a three and a seven on the emotional scale, I’m crying,” she explains to Ellen. “I’m crying if I’m too sad. I’m crying if I’m too excited.”
Every day, I hover between a three and seven on my self-created anxiety scale. I don’t think I’ll ever make it to zero because I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely free of anxiety, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to take each day as it comes, to accept what is in my power and what isn’t. To make a conscious effort to slowly move the needle on the scale just a little bit lower than it was the day before.
And I can’t move the needle alone. I rely on medication prescribed by a doctor, my best friend’s reassuring Gchats, my mother’s voice on the phone. Therapy has helped me in the past; I know I should probably find a new therapist in my new city, and I will, eventually. In the meantime, I’ll continue to breathe and scroll through photos of puppies on Instagram.
When I was younger, I used to tear up sitting in my seat on airplanes, listening to the engines start up. Once in the air, the seat belt sign turning on as a result of turbulence was enough to send me into a sweaty panic. Today I still don’t like flying, but it’s because of bad in-flight movie selections and gross, tiny bathrooms. We could still take a nosedive, but I no longer freak out. I know what is in my control and what is not. Realizing that distinction helps me to feel calmer. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
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