“This is Al,” I say, “my anxiety.”
My friend looks him up and down, looking somewhat startled by his appearance. To anyone else, I suppose he would look odd. He’s short and has jet black hair that covers half of his face. His body is somewhat…unsubstantial. Like you could see right through him in a bright light. It makes him good at blending into the background, which he spends most of his time doing.
My friend extends her hand to him, and he takes it briefly before letting go and stepping back.
“Uh…Hi?” His eyes never leave the ground.
I continue to chat with my friend, and Al says nothing. His body language reads “I do not want to be here,” and he has positioned himself so that he is halfway behind me, hiding. I almost never see him this quiet.
When I am on my own, he never stops talking. He constantly points out every flaw, every potential way that a situation could go wrong. Even walking to school, he finds something to nag me about.
“What if you give the wrong answer in class?”
“What if you do something dumb in front of your friends?”
It seems petty when I say these things out loud, but they’re terrifying when Al says them. He has an ability to make any situation nerve-wracking. Or, he did.
I can’t remember when Al started following me around. It must have been sometime around when I was 12 or 13, but I’m not sure exactly. His voice just started worming its way into my brain. A little at first, but he got louder over time. I used to listen to everything he said. He would convince me to stay home, to ignore my friends. It was incredibly isolating.
Recently, though, I’ve been learning how to tune him out. If I challenge him in the things he says, he suddenly loses his power over me.
“So what if I do something dumb in front of my friends?” I say. “They’re my friends! They might laugh at me, but they won’t judge me. If anything, it’ll bring us closer together.” Al doesn’t have much to say to that. When he tries again with “but what if your hair is a mess?” I just shake my head. “It doesn’t matter! I’m human, and my hair isn’t made of plastic, so it’s bound to be messy sometimes.”
Fighting back against Al is easier than I thought. He’s still there, trailing behind me like a grumpy, overly-critical shadow, but he’s quieter now. I don’t let him control me, and we’ve almost become friends. He can be frustratingly distrustful of people sometimes, but we have found a balance between caution and fun, criticism and confidence. In the end, Al might not be the worst thing to ever happen to me.