The Pain Behind the Mask

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Anxiety is a gut-wrenching thing. You feel it in your heart, Beating…beating…beating in your chest over and over again. The toll it takes on your lungs is unbearable. Can’t breathe…need air. The smile on my face covers it up. No one can see past the mask. No one can know who I am.

   It’s easy to assume that everything is fine on the outside. People expect to see others’ problems pinned on them like a scarlet letter, like you have to be wounded to be in pain. But that’s not the case. People with anxiety can cover up their pain with a simple smile. It may not be so easy to see what they’re really feeling through the mask they put on.  Everyone has the occasional anxiety or worry about everyday life, but an anxiety disorder is when someone’s worries don’t go away. Over time it can get worse and will start affecting their everyday lives. 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder and 1 in 8 children are affected by one too, that means that about three people from our class has it. Not all anxiety is the same. There are six major types, for example, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Social Anxiety, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to name a few. Things as simple as being introduced to new people and being in public can cause people to be anxious. Common symptoms are shortness of breath, restlessness, and nausea. If you see that someone is anxious, make sure they know that they are okay and not alone. During an anxiety attack one of the biggest feelings going through the victim’s mind is hopelessness. The best remedy is positive talk, although it could be hard for the victim to express their feelings. Make the person know that they will make it through.

“Running Like the Winded” is a narrative/script that navigates between the thoughts and feelings of Kelsey, a girl with both social and generalized anxiety disorders, and her best friend, Amanda, who is unaware of Kelsey’s mental illness. Amanda believes that Kelsey is perfect and doesn’t have a care in the world, even with the upcoming class essay presentations. In all reality, Kelsey’s anxiety is eating her alive as the time for presentations draws nearer and nearer. As one of the authors, I took my own personal experiences with both anxiety disorders to create Kelsey’s thoughts. Personally, I used to experience 2-3 panic attacks a day and my brain still becomes cluttered with constant worry and self-deprecation in my everyday life. I have felt the same panic and pain that Kelsey does and wish that I would have discussed it with a friend like she so bravely does when her time to speak up arises. As you read, “Running Like the Winded”, notice the differences between Kelsey and Amanda’s feelings towards the presentation and how Amanda comforts Kelsey during her panic attack.

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“Running Like the Winded”

Kelsey: Anxiety is a gut-wrenching thing. You feel it in your heart, Beating…beating…beating in your chest over and over again. The toll it takes on your lungs is unbearable. Can’t breathe…need air. The smile on my face covers it up. No one can see past the mask. No one can know who I am.

Amanda: Why is my best friend so perfect? Perfect grades, smile, personality. Nothing to cover, nothing to hide. And then there’s me who is the definition of life sucks. I have an essay to write tonight…an ESSAY! We have to present it to the class, which is something I don’t mind, but it means I have to do work…Ughhh I can’t believe this. At least, Kelsey is in the same boat as me for once.

Kelsey: I am going to fail this essay project. I can’t do this. I’ve been prepared for two weeks, but I can’t stand in front of the class and speak. Thirty pairs of eyes focused on me. I can’t handle that. Salt stings my eyes. Don’t let this get the better of you. Hold it together. Breathe..1,2,3…this isn’t working. I’m a loser broken in two.

Amanda: So ready to get this stupid presentation done and over with. I don’t have it memorized like it’s supposed to be, and I really don’t care. I’ve never cared what anyone thinks of me and I never will. I bet Kelsey’s will be perfect like always. She’s good at this type of thing. I never will be, but I don’t really want to be…high expectations, you know.

Kelsey: Just walk into the room. Pick up your stupid feet. Stop standing in the hallway like an idiot. You’re frozen and people are looking. Sit down in your seat. What is wrong with you? Just sit down! I’m raising my hand first for the presentation. I just want to get it over with. First to go…no expectations, you know.*Time comes to raise my hand* I don’t raise my hand. I’m a failure before I even begin. A girl named Julia goes first and knocks it out of the park. She’s confident…. Isn’t afraid to show others who she is…everything I wish I could be. Ms. Smith calls Amanda’s name and I’m instantly scared for her. She didn’t prepare for this at all. Her speech isn’t memorized and she used a 32 point font, but I’m sure she’ll be fine, right?

Amanda: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and blah” And the crowd goes wild. That’s not really how it happened, but I’ll imagine it that way. Ms. Smith looks annoyed. I laugh. She frowns. I sit down and my grade pops up on my phone, 79%! Hey, that’s better than the last time.

Kelsey: I continue to clap for Amanda until my name is called to present. “Kelsey.” I freeze. My eyes lock in on a specific point on the wall. My heart rate rises. I feel it in my chest. Stop. You’ll be fine…Not really. I walk to the front of the class. I’m not really even sure if you could call it walking, more like some combination of skulking and and a waddle. I look at my classmates. Josh is asleep..29 pairs of eyes all focused on me.

Amanda: What is wrong with Kelsey? She’s usually so upbeat, care-free, and confident.  Her face is as red as a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes. She looks like a hunched-back whale looking at the ground. She’s hiding her face with her hair. I try to make eye contact with her. I want to smile at her to show her it’s okay. She doesn’t look at me.

Kelsey: I look at my feet. The world is spinning. I’m breathing too fast. It sounds like I’m dying. I hate that sound the most. I hear Ms. Smith tell me to start. I open my mouth…no words come out. They all look at me with the one thing I never wanted…pity. Amanda is looking down. Amanda pities me. My legs are shaking so fast that I’m afraid I’m going to fall. I open my mouth again and what sounds like a foreign language comes out. I feel the tears well up in my eyes. I look at Ms. Smith and then the door and make a run for it.

Amanda: I look at Ms. Smith. She nods to tell me to go. I get up out of my seat and run into the hallway after Kelsey. I turn right then left and walk into the only place she could’ve entered that quickly, the bathroom.

Kelsey: I put the toilet seat down and sit. I hear footsteps from outside and put my legs up so they can’t see my feet. They are still shaking. My chest hurts. Amanda calls my name.

Amanda: “Kelsey.”

Kelsey: I stay quiet…don’t say a word. Holding back the tears and countless breaths that are pounding their way through me is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. She tries all of the doors and realizes mine is locked. She pounds on the door.

Amanda: “Kelsey, please.”

Kelsey: My tears break through the wall that I’be created.

Amanda: “What’s wrong? Let me help you.”

Kelsey: More and more tears escape. My heart tries to break through the cage of ribs it’s trapped behind. No words…no more words.

Amanda: “Do you remember that one time when I got my wisdom teeth taken out and I was so out of it that I thought my mom was Lil Wayne?”

Kelsey: I laugh. She actually made me laugh. I remember that day perfectly. She kept trying to get her mom to rap for her and stood on the chairs in the waiting room screaming that Lil Wayne was in the house and that he was going to blow our minds. Her mother literally hid her face in her purse and got out of there as quickly as possible.

Amanda: “See, I told you I could help.”

Kelsey: I open the stall door and walk out. I probably look like a mess. I look down at my legs. They’ve stopped shaking. My heart’s at a steady beat and my breaths are normal. With my very last ounces of courage and trust I say, “There’s something I’ve never told you about. I have an anxiety disorder…two different types actually. It’s really hard sometimes” I begin to panic if telling her was the right choice and start for the exit, but she stops me. She sits on the floor…probably not the most sanitary thing to do… and pats for me to sit down too.

Amanda: “Tell me more.”

Kelsey: I look at my best friend and realize that she cares about me as much as I care about her. I open my mouth as strong and completely fluent words find their way into the world for the very first time.  “Anxiety is a gut-wrenching thing…”

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If you have anxiety, never feel that you have to keep your feelings bottled up inside of you. Don’t put on a mask. It’s your time to be brave and show people who you really are. Your real friends will listen to you no matter what you tell them and won’t judge you for anything. Friends can remind you that laughter exists in darkness and that smiles can replace the most impenetrable frowns. There are 7.4 billion people in this world. One of them will listen to what you have to say. Find the person who helps bring out the best version of yourself and remember that there is someone out there that will understand. It’s your job to take the first step into unknown territory and SPEAK.

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