I am having brunch with my girlfriends who have become family, and as I take my first bite of pancake, my gut clenches. Again. I woke up this morning with a loud and chaotic mind, and painted and cartwheeled all morning to quiet it down. My success lasted a couple of hours, before it went to waste because of a single thought. Now as I sit and watch the beautiful ladies converse and laugh, and as I try to listen to their conversation, my body is transported to fourteen years ago. My eyes see today’s pancakes and coffee, but my body is washed over with the emotional pain of 2008. It is like I have two people fighting to control me: today’s Nesma, here with her physical senses, and fifteen-year-old Nesma, here in my internal world.
I recently read a social media post that said something along the lines of, “When you’re at your worst, remember that it is musicians, signers, and actors that you turn to. At the end of the day, art is what saves you”. This is how true that rings for me…
Everybody has a private world
Where they can be alone
I try to escape to my private world and its seclusion to support today’s Nesma to win the fight. I sit through brunch and excuse myself from joining the afternoon shopping trip. I need the seclusion of my bedroom to calm my internal self, but as soon as I set foot in, I find my anxiety welcoming me, estranging me from my world for hours on end.
My anxiety attacks never cease to make me retreat to my bed. It is an automatic reaction. It is as though my mind believes that anxiety is caused by the outside world, and my bedroom is the most predictable space I can be in, where nothing can exacerbate it. The funny thing is that my anxiety is triggered by my thoughts, not the outside world. Still, I self-regulate in my bedroom. And I sit there for hours on end, trying to deepen my breath and lift the mountain that’s resting on my chest…
And I know some sh*t’s so hard to swallow
But I just can’t sit back and wallow
I want to toughen up. I need pick myself back up. I need to get better. I need to not be crippled by anxiety attacks and my history. It is taking too long to pass over. Not just this attack, the entire many-month-long slump. I want to just get over it. Everyone goes through tough times. Many get back up. I think to myself: Maybe I shouldn’t pay any attention to my anxiety. Power through. Pretend nothing’s happening. Pretend all is good. Fake it until I make it.
But I know that resistance does nothing but fuel anxiety. So I must accept it and sit with. I must be patient.
A challenge with trauma is that sometimes it reaches its arm out from your past and drags you back into it. So while you are living today, your emotions are back in your past. You relive the sensation, not necessarily the memories. And this is harder to stop. Should it be memories, it is easy to distract yourself. But when the same old anxiety engulfs you, with no explicit memory accompanying it, you struggle to identify a tangible hook to hold the anxiety from and ask it to leave. It’s intangible and it roams inside you the way a ghost does a haunted house. You can’t pin it down.
Over the past few months, my younger selves have been showing up and dragging me back into my past sensations. I do not know how to be there for them, and so I try to kick them out. They, instead, would rebelliously take over and wreak havoc. I struggle to acknowledge them, communicate with them, or give them the space to pass through.
Today, however, Eminem’s Beautiful created a language for me to show up for them. I used to listen to this song as a teenager, and it would calm me down. It would calm the critic inside me, and the panic and the loud. So as I listen to it now, I can visualize my younger selves listening to this and other songs that have saved my past selves.
But you’d have to walk a thousand miles
In my shoes, just to see
What its like to be me
I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes
Just to see what it’d be like to
Feel your pain, you feel mine
Go inside each other’s minds
Just to see what we find
Look at sh*t through each other’s eyes
This song reminds me of the thousand miles I have walked. The rough and the easy of my life. It stirs up compassion in today’s Nesma and allows it to create space for fifteen-year-old Nesma to sit for a while and recollect. It allows me to acknowledge the pain that’s causing me to relive my memories. I am able to accept the hurt I felt, and be okay with how I dealt with it. This chorus helps me fight off the judgmental inside voice that tells my younger selves to “just get over it” and “move on”.
God gave you them shoes to fit you
So put ‘em on and wear ‘em
Be yourself, girl
Be proud of who you are
Even if it sounds corny
Don’t ever let no one tell you, you ain’t beautiful
At the end of the day, my life has been tailor-made for me. It’s challenges and blessings suit me. I can handle them. I can thrive because of them. They will make me a better person. They make me, me. And they are part and parcel of who I am. I shall wear my scars proudly—even those decades-old scars I have been trying to cover up. I am who I am because of them, and the more scars, the more me I become.
I would like to accept this—all of it, anxiety, depression and all. It is who I am. And if I work through it, great, and if not, it is me. I am who I am.
So, to Eminem, thank you for helping me through today’s anxiety attack. It is simmering beneath the surface. It is no longer wrangling my mind and lungs.
And to fifteen-year-old Nesma, this song is for you—this time from me. You’ve come a very long way, and I am now here for you.
P.S. If you think it's weird that I feel (and converse with) different versions of myself, you're not alone, lol. I think it's quite bizarre and concerning, too, but it works for me...