Five years ago during rehearsals, I found myself enclosed within the confines of four tight walls: the upper left wing dressing room, painted black, with three people around me. Suddenly the walls didn’t seem as concrete anymore, instead they were liquid in form, gradually consuming my surroundings until I started to feel the numbing on my face, which slowly crept down to my shoulders and arms, until it was down to my feet—and next thing I knew I couldn’t feel my body anymore. Where was it? I thought it was slowly floating away from me, slipping away to non-existence. Then I looked down on my fingers, when did they start curling up in a ball? I had no idea. My breath was next—I began losing control and could not inhale and exhale properly, I’m dying, I can’t breathe, I’m dying I’m dying I’m dying, was all I could think of. And then my heart wanted to jump out of my chest. I remember my friend Conn snapping me back to awareness, asking me what’s happening and are you okay should I call for help because Chia you’re pale all over and maybe you should go home and rest should I call for help now should I call for help, but I could not speak—I realized my voice went last. I shook my head because it was the only thing I could still do.
Within the next few minutes there were arms around me, carrying me out of the theater, down the stairs, out of the building, because I couldn’t move a muscle, couldn’t stand up, couldn’t walk, I knew there was pain within but because I was numb, everything seemed painless—and then I was rushed to the university health service emergency room. Comfort materialized in the form of an ambulance on my way there, while someone pushed a brown bag to my mouth to help me breathe. Still, my body felt numb, with the pain on my palm overtaking as my fingernails started to push on the skin there even harder. My first anxiety attack happened at eight in the evening and I was sent home right away once it all came back down to normal.
This happened for a second and third time in the same year (2016), and then a fourth and a fifth the next (2017). I like to think of these as my formative years, perhaps I’m a late bloomer. Looking back, it’s insane how anxiety snuck its way alongside everything that happened in between, making it even more difficult for me to navigate situations that took place. Most of the time, I found myself acting on impulse and meek in the way I presented myself in few, particular circumstances.
And then I learned to be more forgiving of myself and everything I had done wrong in the previous years. Now, things are different. I am pretty much the same on the outside but not until last year, certain elements that make up my life went through transitions.
My books are organized in a different way; and there have been additions to my collection, too. Sometimes, I think about giving away some of the paperbacks I never got to read, or did not like, but then I end up choosing to hold on to them a little longer, maybe give them a second chance. I dress differently than I did a few years ago. I’ve also grown fond of the idea of wearing jewelry wherever I go just because it makes me feel like a proper twenty-something.
I choose friends carefully now, my circle drastically smaller than it was four years ago. The people I surround myself with, the friends I choose to really open up emotionally to, the things I share—I realized that life is much more stable when you’re extremely selective about these.
I care more deeply about the people I encounter. I try to be kinder and gentler with the way I talk and use my words to communicate.
Nowadays, I share fragments of my writing on the internet (mostly on Twitter) simply because it somehow helps me heal—something I would not be comfortable doing years back because of the fear of appearing vulnerable. Well, as it turns out, vulnerability isn’t so bad after all, is it? I think there’s something beautiful about certain people I have in my life: their voice, their comforting presence, the way they sing about someone they love, their eyes, the little whiff of air that brushes past their hair when they turn their head as they see you approaching—most of what I write are inspired by these small details I notice about some of them, and if I do in fact know you, you probably have once been the subject of one or two of my poems, lying around somewhere.
I try my best to be more expressive of the way I care for the people I know and whose existence in my life I value—by checking up on my friends once in a while, sending them gifts from time to time, and you’ll most likely hear from me when I notice you don’t seem to be feeling fine. Ever since I was a little girl, genuine friends didn’t often come my way; I feel like I owe it to these people now that I make sure they are doing well, and be there for them when they’re not.
And then there are the things I miss, too. My awkward phase at 15. The times I used to go on air at the radio station a few years ago. That old friend who used to listen to me whenever I did. The friends I made back at the station and those I used to go on air with. An old best-friend who I went to camping with, not by choice, but because we had to for class—although I admittedly wouldn’t have survived that trip without her, and possibly my first years of college, too. The church back home. Home. And, when the world wasn’t cruel just yet—the way my fourth-grade crush gave me a Crunch bar for Christmas and a marshmallow candy, too, just because my first name was Marscia (which sounded like marshmallow), he probably thought it was cute—I thought it was cute. The good old days.
I hold these memories fondly, very close to my heart. The few pieces that keep me intact.
Right now, I know that this isn’t me at my best just yet. I’m only in my early twenties and I still have a lot to learn and improve in myself. But I appreciate the things I’ve learned so far—on life, friendships, family, possibly even love. I’ll meet more people in the years to come, both the good and the not-so-good ones, but I know I’ll be okay. Sometimes, I feel the anxiety starting to kick in again, but I fight it back. My last episode happened in 2017, and ever since, I was able to handle it whenever it tried to intervene. I’ve learned that the best trick is to tell yourself that at the end of the day, everything will just be alright, no matter how painful and uncertain things may seem, it will pass, you’ll get through this, you’ll be alright.
In the meantime, knowing this is enough.