Tiny Tornado: A Brief History of my Anxiety

When I was about 10 years old or so, I had my first anxiety attack. But I don’t think I knew it at the time. It was an autumn day, I believe. And it was when my family was living in a tiny modern apartment in Siauliai, Lithuania. That apartment had been a bright, lively place that always made me feel safe and at home. But on that day, those apartment walls began to close in on me.

 My mother and I had come back from going out to town, and she had realized that she forgot her cellphone at her hair salon. We weren’t even through the door when she said, “Stay here, I’ll be right back”. And she left. My father and sister were out. She’ll be right back- I thought. Alright then. It was broad daylight, and mom will be right back. So I reacted normally and went back to my room to watch cartoons. 

It was about 20-25 minutes until I started to worry. At first it was just a ping of worry. A ping. A little nudge. I can still remember it now, the first tiny wave of uncertainty. The first tiny stomach flip. You always assume it’ll go away. I tried to focus on the cartoon in front of me–I even remember what it was; Cow and Chicken. I hated that show, so there was soon nothing to distract me from the emptiness of my apartment which was slowly starting to become more and more menacing. I walked around the empty rooms, realizing this might be the first time I was home alone. Either way, I started to feel sick. 

That ping inside me started turning into a monsoon, and soon, a tiny tornado. It was still something small. It felt like a small feeling of air and force that was whirling around in my stomach. I started to panic. I went into my bedroom and tried to lay down and sleep. I knew this wouldn’t work. I shut my eyes and tried to seal them shut, trying to run away from the feeling of the tiny tornado slowly sucking in my insides. Forcing myself to sleep continued to be a tactic against my anxiety to this day–it rarely works. And it didn’t work that day either. I shot up, tears in my eyes. Where is she?

The tornado in me continued to spin, making me dizzy and weezy. It became hard to breathe because I was hyperventilating and eventually, screaming. The tornado grew. I couldn't’ tell what i was more afraid of; my mother not being back yet, or the terrifying reaction my body was having. Suddenly, there was debris that the tornado was hurling at me; irrational thoughts. I started to assume that every bad thing that could ever happen to my mom, happened and that’s why she’s not back from her salon yet. Eventually, I left the apartment and started banging on the door of my neighbor. That would be the first time I officially met her. She was scared, because she figured the only reason a young, healthy girl would be freaking out like this would be for good reason. She tried calling my dad but he didn’t answer. At this point, the tornado was picking up everything in sight and causing utter chaos. 

Finally, our nanny came home with my sister. They found me shaking on my neighbor’s couch. This didn't’ help because our nanny, although as caring as she was for us felt the need to scold me for my behavior instead of making me feel better. A couple minutes later, my mother came home and heard what happened. Her warm arms held me and helped me calm down. She said she took a little longer because she ran into a couple friends on the way home. I knew that. My parents always ran into someone they knew, and it always make our outings that much longer. I knew that. It made sense. I wasn’t dumb, I thought. The logic was there but it somehow got lost in the storm inside my head.

What was I even afraid of? For years after I couldn’t figure it out. Nothing added up to why I would become so paralyzed by fear and paranoia. I wouldn’t have thought about that incident so much if it hadn’t happened again, about a month later. The exact same thing, except with my father being gone. That time I called my mom who was at our country home, and caused her to worry. My father wasn’t happy. He didn’t understand what I was afraid of. He kept asking me what I was afraid of. I didn’t know what to tell him either. 

Years later, my dad calls me into his room. We’re in Cleveland now, living in an old house in a colorful suburb. It’s close to my 20th birthday. It’s about half a year since I started considering I had an anxiety disorder. It’s about a month after I started explaining to my parents what that was. Until now, they just thought I was extremely stressed an that I basically had to “stop” being so stressed or it will affect my health. I mean, they weren’t totally wrong. I walk into his room. He tells me he has been doing research on anxiety. He apologizes for the times he didn’t understand it, and he asked me again, what are you afraid of?What are you stressed about? Just like 10 years ago, I had no idea. But I was happy my parents were trying to understand what I was going through. I hadn’t had any huge anxiety attacks lately, but there were other symptoms. I was still having high anxiety and stress. couldn’t sleep at times. I found myself in tears over school before it had even gotten stressful. I over anticipated things. I doubted myself. I had trouble approaching people. I overthought everything. Worst case scenarios wouldn’t leave my mind. 

Worst of all, I could still feel it. I could still feel that tiny tornado in my chest, my mind, my whole body, spinning and spinning and spinning. I couldn’t keep my damn mind still at times. It just felt like everything was moving. All the time. Like a tornado, that refused to calm down, and was just grabbing everything in sight and turning it into chaos.  

Someone once told me a good analogy for depression; a storm cloud. Something that follows you around and keeps you in the dark. Even if it goes away, you always know it’s not too far behind. Anxiety is a tornado because it’s always not too far behind, but when it hits you it forces you become aware of everything all at the same time. It’s something that stimulates you and makes you notice and care about things too much, instead of not at all. Because the way I have experienced anxiety, I don’t have attacks every day. It’s just that tiny feeling of uncertainty inside you that just won’t go away. It always seems to be there, waiting to grow and expand when it gets the chance. All I can hope is that when it goes away, I can pick up the debris and put everything back in order. 

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