Building a bridge between myself and my thoughts


Photo illustration by George Frey

Saly Seye

The many-worlds theory asserts that there are infinite timelines in a massive multiverse, with a new timeline in an entirely different universe created with every single way our lives could’ve gone, down to the shoe we decide to wear first in the morning. If I choose to wear a black dress rather than a white one, the many-worlds theory says that another universe is born at that very second, one in which I donned the white dress.
My worry behaves like the many-worlds theory: it’s parasitical. One worry ends up breeding dozens, generating more anxiety by generating more things to question.
Generalized anxiety disorder is nothing short of an enigma. Some say it might be a serotonin deficiency, while others say it’s possibly due to malfunctioning neural pathways. Maybe it’s increased activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, or could be a result of excess gray matter.
So many uncertainties exist about anxiety, the culmination of fear mixed with every single unknown in my world. Every theory regarding this disorder is an unsure statement sounding identical to anxiety itself: Possibly, it could be, maybe, conceivably, they don’t know; we don’t know. I don’t know.
This mysterious illness manifests itself in every twisted way possible. It pummels me and destroys me, and makes me crumble myself into a constant state of loneliness.
I can walk down the halls surrounded by giggling freshmen and raucous seniors, trapped within my own thoughts. I can hold a conversation, laugh at my friends’ jokes and still feel a sense of frightening solitude.
My thoughts have a wicked way of wrapping themselves around my brain, bullying it into making more and more anguish that strangles me as my mind falls deeper and deeper into a pit. It seems like no matter what, no matter how many things I’m thinking about, no matter how fast my breaths are or how long I’ve been staring at a wall, my brain just churns out thoughts continuously. It never gives out, and I never stop thinking.
Basically in any second, I’m actively making myself aware of everything I don’t know. I’m in a perpetual state of worry, pondering all the whys, how abouts and the what ifs. The questions I can get caught up in are endless and often rely on hypothetical ideas with little connection to my reality. Still, just one of them can turn an already bothersome flurry of thoughts into a treacherous blizzard, one created with billions of tiny pieces that join together into a catastrophic mass.
Even worse is that voicing the mere presence of my anxiety is painstaking. Last year, during a particularly severe bout of anxiety, I once rushed out of class when the noise in my brain became deafening. My teachers, after scolding me, tried to find out what motivated my uncharacteristic behavior. I knew exactly what was wrong: my grades were slipping, a friend had gone to the hospital earlier that day and my acrimonious relationship with my father had recently taken a turn for the worse. Yet, the words couldn’t find their way out of my mouth. I literally became incapable of forming coherent speech: once I tried to speak it seemed like every thought wanted to tumble out at once.
With anxiety, expressing one thought out loud turns to two, which turns to five, which turns into infinity, which turns into shallow breaths, which turns to tears and tunnel vision and guilt and embarrassment. Which turns into more anxiety.
I recently decided to cope by simply pretending the illness isn’t there. It’s easier to be alone, easier for my thoughts to be a little less real when I don’t say them out loud.
But, the loneliness I’ve chosen isn’t much easier to deal with. It’s a catch-22, a rock and a hard place.
At first, not speaking about my own demons means they get to stop existing. I get to stop feeling like a burden, stop being a killjoy. But after a while, it gets hard to regulate my own emotions. I know I’m anxious, I just can’t capture why. I know I’m angry, but I don’t understand what set me off.
It’s painful when I want to do something as simple as answer the question: “How are you feeling?”
The answer: I don’t know.
Researchers know there are two main parts of the brain that control language: the Broca’s area and the Wernicke’s area. They haven’t figured out where thoughts come from, or even biologically defined a thought. Likewise, I know how to speak, but my anxious thoughts come in an incomprehensible language from a part of me I can’t put into words. There’s a disconnect between what I can say and what I can think. The world knows how we voice our thoughts, but not where those thoughts come from. I believed if I couldn’t speak my mind, the only other way I could deal with my negative thoughts was to pretend they were fictional.
Unfortunately, I have to access the source of my anxiety to manage it. All I can do is become a translator, versed in a tongue I’ve known my whole life but never comprehended. Once I speak the language, I can confront the mental illness that has overtaken my mind, my sanity, my time and my life.
Anxiety is traumatic, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. It demands to be understood. All anyone can do is make their way through the seemingly-impenetrable wall of thoughts, and hope to make peace with their mind.