Anxiety + Massage Therapy; Anxious Life
One of the largest largest reasons why I am not out at work and choosing to continue to pass as cisgender is my undiagnosed social anxiety. My name is Symba Luna, I use they/them/g pronouns cause I take Chicago with me everywhere I go. This blog is called Chi As Shit because I’m also shy as fuck. At least shy is the only word I knew before “anxiety”. The only conception I can recall that I had about anxiousness was that Bible teaching, “Don’t worry, be anxious for nothing,” something like have been a worrier just as my mother and her mother before her. I didn’t have a single clue that the anxiousness I felt every day as a child was bigger than someone telling you not to worry about what you could be stressed about. As if any descendant of African people doesn’t have so much to worry about daily.
As a young person, I was able to mask my anxiety by adhering to my responsibilities as the eldest of my siblings. On their behalf, I was and could be cool, calm, collected, relaying information or delivering information from and to their teachers and my parents respectively, as my parent’s liaison. Afterwards, I could find space in my room to exhale. Recently. My brother and I had a conversation where he reminded me of a conversation we had back in high school. That was a reminder for me that “social anxiety” wasn’t new to me in my 20s. I cherish remembering some of that conversation, but I also don’t remember all of it which leads me to believe that I ignored it at the time, and not going any further internally or talking to anyone else about it, especially my parents. Then at 20 years old, financially cut off, and on my own really, for real this time, everything hit me. I would have panic attacks all throughout the day, times where it was impossible to keep from crying in public, and I even wound up going to the hospital, almost forced by my friends, to check out chest pains that were restricting my breathing. After that hospital visit, I would have moments where I was exhaling not realizing I had been holding my breath. How long had I been holding my breath? I had never had a good, consistent relationship with therapy, which is why I shared that my anxiety is undiagnosed. I visited a psychiatrist one time and was prescribed anxiety pills, but there was no kind of tests or follow up. My journey with therapy fell off as I aged out of my mothers health insurance. I have struggled with finding affirming care that I could afford to continue. I’ve struggled to afford healthcare so much that I’ve stopped looking.
As a smaller child, before my siblings reached elementary ages, I remember being nervous every time I was called on in class. I remember my hands sweating if I had to stand in front of the class, all eyes on me. I remember having difficulty with making eye contact. I remember a nervousness I would feel even around my family as if all my words and actions were presented and displayed, if anything, as a good example of a good child. On the flip side, I also remember my first time on a stage being as early as 5 years old. I remember doing performances at church and for family with my cousins and siblings, all throughout elementary school. How did I do both? What I don’t really remember is any of the performances themselves. I only remember stage lights and applauses. Maybe I was a good performer because I kept getting involved, especially in the church things my parents approved of. I remember the moments before like being nervous in the bathroom, waiting for my cue, shaking, and then coming to, at the end. Exhaling. For a long time, I have hesitated to bring up or speak about my anxiety. As many of us know, your credibility surrounding the knowledge of your health is usually only taken seriously if a doctor backs you up. For those of us Black folks who have had negative experiences with the medical industrial complex and for profit healthcare system, how often does that happen? The white endocrinologist that spoke to me for 5 minutes without barely even locking me in the eyes, never followed up with me when I found out I had hyperthyroidism at 25. I was privileged in childhood to not have many health issues that kept me seriously ill. At 3 months my parents noticed I wasn’t hearing and responding to them on my left side, but the result of multiple hearing tests is a condition a hearing aid can’t help. I have never been stung by a bee. I have never broken a bone. I sprained each ankle once or twice over the elementary years, but nothing ever more serious. I had to manage tension headaches every now and then that turned to migraines I started getting monthly in college. At 8 years old, I consistently dealt with UTI’s that we’re painful and made it difficult to sleep or be comfortable. I remember being strapped to a cold, steel table for a bladder test. I don’t remember knowing where my mom was. I remember a group of doctors huddled and talking, not to me, while waiting for me to essentially pee myself in front of them on the cold metal slab. I remember crying softly and not wanting to pee on myself because it hurt so much. I would develop these UTI’s because I was only allowed the group line bathroom breaks we took as a class. I remember many times throughout the 3rd grade where I peed myself on the way to the bathroom or right in my seat because my teacher hadn’t allowed me to get up and go. I believe I could further back, examining my childhood anxiety, but memories like those began my first feelings like adults don’t even want to listen to me. My mom understood because I inherited this small bladder from her, but I only knew how to follow the rules, not advocate for myself. So I had to figured out peeing as much as possible at school without getting in trouble. Like what in the fuck? Truly. This only added to my social anxieties with my classmates as I got older. FOMO meet anxiety. Anxiety meet FOMO.
In my 30th year of life, I don’t trust doctors. I avoid them unless it’s an emergency, and the most recent emergencies maybe a year apart, I’ve had to count my breaths to remain calm until I can get out of there. I take what they tell me and do what feels good to me. I don’t recommend that for every person reading, but this is where I am. All growed up, anxious, no healthcare, and not the gender I was assigned at birth. I share all these recollections because the journey of me beginning to learn myself began with me getting on massage tables for the first time in my life at 21 in massage therapy school. I had no idea. The thought of receiving never crossed my mind. I was frozen in shock listening to my first massage instructor with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out of it. I’m grateful that I didn’t try because what I learned on that table and every time going forward, was that I needed to be well in order to do this work well. It was time to start being honest that I was in fact, not well in many areas. What I have learned over the years, and what we’ll keep discovering on this journey together, is the body is always communicating with the person inside, and it will always respond whether we choose to listen or not. Every massage I receive, I can feel the ways in which I’ve ignored my body since I was a child. I’m very anxious and nervous about putting these writings out there. Would anyone even read or engage? But if you’re here with me, I also write this to have you hold me accountable to the foundation and fabric of which I’m building in Journey Spa. This is one of the first bricks. I am getting out of my discomfort zone and will allow myself to be seen authentically as I share my journey as a healer for my community, all Black people, and all who love me.
April 17, 2022