A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My Anxiety Is Not An Excuse


The first time someone said the word anxiety to me was my doctor. I had just returned from having been in Paris for 4 months. I was supposed to stay for another month, but I changed my flight to come home early. There was this fear in my chest that I couldn’t get rid of, and a light headedness I couldn’t shake off. I thought I was sick. While travelling in Greece for 4 days, I ended up in a doctor’s office and told them that I must’ve had diabetes because it ran in my family, that thyroid disease ran in my family too. That maybe I caught an STD. Something was wrong. The Greek doctor took my pressure, checked my blood sugar. He had me rest quietly in the one-room clinic with open windows  before showing me that my blood pressure was fine, charging me 10 euros, and sending me back to the beach, to enjoy my vacation. "It's all in your head", he said while smirking.

But I couldn't just continue vacationing like nothing had happened. You see, I had just had a very real anxiety attack before going to the hospital. My anxiety isn't just in my head. My anxiety is not an excuse.


Mykonos, Greece, 2011


During my anxiety attack, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know that it was anxiety, I just knew that I wasn’t okay. When I returned to my temporary home in Paris, I knew I had had enough and that’s when I called my mom to ask for money to change the flight date and return home sooner than expected. Back in my doctor’s office in Jersey, I told him my symptoms, and he said it just sounded like anxiety. He sent me home with some “calmantes”. I can’t remember the name of these pills, I just know they made me sleepy.

Since then, this thing I was suffering from had a name and I couldn’t escape it. It’s become like this character. This presence in my life underlying everything.
It’s telling to think that it unleashed while studying abroad in Europe, the continent that caused the demise of my ancestors and entire generations. It was the place where my anxiety was triggered to the extent where I couldn’t escape it. That, and perhaps that I had smoked several times to the point of getting a panic attack while under the influence as well...those events brought out this part of me that had already manifested itself in many other ways before.

--

There comes the anxiety again, literally standing in the way like a giant block that can’t be removed, so I must climb over it, or walk a long distance to get around it.

I watched I Am Not Your Negro this weekend, and it reminded me of my own subjectivity as a woman of color, of black descent, living in the Western world. When I returned to the United States to live here permanently after living in Santiago for my entire childhood and formative teenage years, a change happened. Yes, of course it did, I moved to another country. But it was more than that. I stopped being surrounded by people of color reinforcing white supremacy on one another via racial stratification and aspirational whiteness, and went to a country with a majority white population. In the United States, I became the other. I was in a country with white folks who directly benefit from the violence that is enacted upon populations of color. And even while being in a high school where most of the students were Latino, Dominicans were black. We were [are] vilified, seen as ugly, as loud, as disrespectful, as speaking bad Spanish, as stupid, as criminal. We are hated, made fun of, and often the butt of jokes.


I Am Not Your Negro reminded me of my own experience, and made me see the racial politics of this country and its impact on the lives of black and brown folks in a way that I somehow still hadn't been able to fully absorb before.

It showed me that my anxiety doesn’t even have to be ancestral, that my trauma doesn’t have to be ancestral...I’ve been living and going through shit now. I say it showed me that about my anxiety because not acknowledging my anxiety has gone hand in hand with not acknowledging how my own reality as a black woman has affected my day-to-day American life, not at least at a “deep level”. I’ve ignored this very real thing that is my anxiety, and often felt that I was just using it as an excuse when the truth is I really hate not handing in work on time, staying home as opposed to going out (especially on a nice day). And it has come to affect the relationships in my life in ways I have yet to understand. For example, I’m difficult to live with which is probably the most hurtful realization to come to, only because any task can feel so daunting that they paralyze me.

Not acknowledging racism's effects in my life goes hand in hand with not acknowledging my anxiety because we're taught to be super women, to fight through the obstacles, to not complain, to meet challenges in the face. How dare I feel entitlement to anything? Especially if that anything includes somehow asking others to accommodate for me, to accommodate my own anxiety. I would never be worthy of that.


As a part of moving here, something else, particularly in high school: I was heavily discouraged in a way in which I hadn’t been before from pursuing knowledge and intellect.


Sometimes I think that I exaggerate when I acknowledge how being in this particular body has impacted my life outcomes, but listening to James Baldwin’s words reinvindicated my own reality. And my own truth. It also has made me realize how little I have been able to absorb of the readings I’ve done these past couple of years, because I was so heavily discouraged whether directly or indirectly from speaking up. Not only do I feel my own vocabulary fails me, but I have seen the progression in these past few years from being a very outspoken woman when I started my undergraduate career, to being afraid of speaking up in class or any environment now. And of course, I still participate, but apologetically so.


I really just feel dumb.

And while I know that I’m not, listening to Baldwin made me realize how my own hunger for knowledge was completely replaced by a hunger for something else, a hunger to gain humanity, a hunger to survive. My 10 years living in the United States have been underlined by an exhaustive amount of work and a ridiculous competitive drive, and it breaks my heart to know others without documents, in situations of further marginalization, who aren’t able to get a degree for example, work even more, at very strenuous jobs.


The way in which we read decolonial texts in academic environments, whether that be Fanon, Cesaire, Said, always require complete objectivity; I felt ridiculous centering my own experience in some of these texts although I often saw myself in them. The conversation felt too elevated. I remember for a class that I took on International Relations while in undergrad (a class that thinking back to it was ridiculously conservative), we were supposed to do talks on US interventions. I did mine on the US intervention in the Dominican Republic, and felt afterwards that perhaps had I presented on a subject that wasn’t close to home I would’ve been taken more seriously. And I see this happening a lot, where students apologize for studying subjects related to their own life, whereas a white student presenting on the Dominican Republic would be seen as interesting, and in clear pursuit of intellectual growth. Furthermore, I never fully read these texts, while in undergrad I was also working part-time, and dealing with the very anxiety that I’m speaking of in this post, so getting through readings that are often dense is nearly impossible. Now in grad school I’m working full time, and going to school part time. I’ve been too busy trying to survive, to heal, trying to compete in the journalism field, and trying to carve spaces for myself in this busy life that I lead in New York City, trying to build sustainable relationships that just continue to fall apart whether that be with friends or partners. So no, I can’t give any book it’s adequate time.

As a woman (here I go, centering my experience again), I feel even smaller, invisible, as if these thinkers weren’t even writing for me. And so I’ve read Audre Lorde, and I’ve read Gloria Anzaldua, and I’ve read bell hooks, and I’ve read Danticat and Alvarez and Arundhati Roy and Angela Davis. But to bring up these texts by women of color in intellectual spaces feels once again like I’m centering myself, and I’ve learned that we’re not allowed to do that. But dammit, I will.

I Am Not Your Negro reminded me that I must. I reminded me of my soul. And it reminded me of the horrible legacy of colonialism on my body, and the bodies of people of black descent particularly in the United States, but that can translate to the entire diaspora.


--

I sign up for projects that sound exciting, promise articles to different publications, and when it comes time to get to it, I freeze. I can’t describe the feeling. I only have metaphors for it. It’s like a rope tied in my chest that fills me with paralyzing fear over whatever that task is, and I cope by running away. Sometimes I write a blogpost, sometimes I eat and watch tv. Sometimes I lay in bed and think about the future. Anything but that task. Until the deadline has passed, until I have to apologize for being late, until I build up the courage to untie the rope. And building up the courage is not even the word because the courage is there, but the rope feels too literal. It doesn’t feel imaginary. It’s as if a force was choking me, stopping my fingers from doing what I have to be doing. And when I start doing what it is, my hands tremble. I make swift movements with my fingers, lazily with expectations already set too high, with incredible fear of failure, lifting each finger to type, to grab the sponge and clean, to get out of bed, with a giant wait that makes every step slow, until I give up and pat myself in the back for getting through some of it today, even if it was just coming up with the title, even if I only rearranged the mess, even if I’m 2 hours late to work. The patting in the back has to happen, because otherwise the anxiety of feeling like a failure will make it impossible to continue doing anything.

Until recently, I really felt that it was an excuse. “My anxiety this, my anxiety that”. But midway through this week, I had a sort of epiphany that made me see just how much it got in the way of everything. It’s a mental health condition. It’s undiagnosed because I currently don’t have a therapist since I had to fire the last one, and finding a new one that takes my insurance requires work that, well, my mental health condition itself doesn’t let me do. As soon as something becomes a task, and doesn’t just happen naturally, it is daunting.

And yet I admire my bravery for doing everything that I do knowing I do it all in constant fear. Knowing writing is my passion, even if sometimes it’s scary, so I still do it. Es que I have to do what I have to do. There’s no way around it. I’m a pendeja con coraje.

I think about what the source could be all the time, trying to find a cure, and I come up empty handed. There’s no clear source.

As I write this, I have a twitch in my right eye, it’s been like this for weeks.

--


The most difficult part lately has been accepting that life never stops being hard and that I can fight to cope but it might not go away. I can only keep learning to love myself, to nurture myself, to be gentle with myself.

Because capitalism slowly kills us so I have to remind myself that I’m worth more than my productivity. Even though if I don’t produce, I won’t survive. So I get tired. And stop caring. And start caring again. And start giving. And sometimes I have to remember stop dreaming or yearning so much.

But...without stopping the dreaming or yearning completely. Some hopes must remain that make us keep going at it.

I’m writing this while fighting sleep because sleep means I have to do this tomorrow all over again. I don’t want to do this tomorrow...all.over.again. I wish i didn’t have to work, and that I could dedicate myself to writing, to intellect. To art. Let that be my work. But when it becomes work, will it then become a source of anxiety?

And I keep feeling that the moment when that’ll be my life is going to come, but it just doesn’t. Bills have to get paid.

As I write this, I feel anxiety about going back to edit it. Because I’m tired.  because it’s tiring. And I’m afraid. The truth is I’ve been writing this for two weeks because I wanted it to be perfect, but it can’t be and it won’t be. It is this. I want to revisit the whole thing with I Am Not Your Negro, it was such a fantastic film. It was life changing. It made me pick up reading in a way in which I hadn’t again...without that being a source of anxiety. It was the last piece of a puzzle in connecting needed to help me see the United States for what it is, validating my experience and thinking through what that means for me having just “celebrated” being here for 10 years straight.


There’s more. There will be more. But I’m trying not to let this become another source of anxiety. And that's okay. Because my anxiety isn’t an excuse to not do something, it’s a real thing.

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