I hate my Aunt Anxiety. She turns up to visit — unannounced and uninvited — at the worst of times. Like when I’m walking down a flight of stairs or chopping up some onions or boiling water for pasta.
You’re going to fall, she whispers. You’re going to fall and knock your teeth out.
The knife will slip and cut your finger clean off.
You’re going to stumble and all that boiling water will scald you, right in your pretty little face.
Her voice is dry, like dead branches. But also shrill and really annoying and very persistent. She shuffles too closely behind me, whispering whispering in my ear like a crazy old dingbat.
You’ll get run over when you cross the street…
This plane you’re on will fall from the sky…
You’ll crash off your bicycle and crush your head…
She thrives on fear, my Aunt Anxiety. Creates it, feeds off it, revels in it. If she feels like I’m ignoring her, she makes sure to make herself heard. She paints vivid images of her proclamations in my mind, plays them aggressively on a loop in my head. She wants the fear front and center, blocking the light of anything else.
She’s even pulled me from my dreams once or twice, screaming at me WAKE UP! SOMETHING BAD IS HAPPENING! SOMEONE’S HERE! and I open my eyes and I’m in my hallway, dazed and confused and afraid. And Aunt Anxiety says, with a casual flick of her hand: Oh, it was nothing. Go back to sleep and forget all about it.
“You’re making me CRAZY, Aunt Anxiety!” I think. And for a while, I think it’s true: I must be losing my mind; I must be the only one with an Aunt like this?
I’ll be walking along, minding my own business, and she’ll push me over and sit on my chest. Just like that! Her big, wide bottom just sitting on me so I can’t even breathe. And then she’ll get up and just walk away like nothing happened, leaving me a little dizzy, a little panicked. Just needed to rest her feet, I guess?
Sometimes she’ll stay away for days, weeks, months…and then all of a sudden, she’s back. “Aunt Anxiety’s here again,” I’d sigh, with the slightest hint of fear. Because it was true, I was afraid of her. Where did she come from? Why was she here? I didn’t know she existed for most of my life but, truth be told, when she first turned up she seemed very familiar. Like she had been lurking around the corners of my life, just waiting to make her presence known.
She usually only stayed for a brief (yet horrible) visit, but once she moved in for a whole entire week! Tormenting my soul. Whispering and whispering and whispering and never not stopping with the god damn shushushushushu in my ears.
But that was Aunt Anxiety’s first mistake. She had become too comfortable, too cocky in her role. She thought she’d got the best of me then. But fear is exhausting and I had become tired of her. So I’d searched and I’d searched for a way to rid myself of her annoying little chuckle, her certainty that I would end up in pain and in tears.
And it took a while but then I met Prana Vayu. And she never whispered. She spoke confidently, proudly. Loudly. And at first I wasn’t convinced; she didn’t really ever say much. In fact, she only ever said one thing.
Breathe, she said.
Breathe long, breathe deep.
Breathe down into your belly. Do it again.
So I did. I breathed and I breathed and I breathed. And I filled myself with so much breath that after a while, there was no more room for Aunt Anxiety. And she wasn’t very happy about it. She tried to pick a fight, but the breath is always calm. She tried to claim her space, to push the breath to the side, to shout and yell and make herself heard. And my ears would prick — was I tempting fate? — but still I inhaled and exhaled until my ears were filled with the sound of my breathing and her voice was drowned out.
But what if and what if and what if, she asks? And I take my deep breath and I shrug and I say, well then it’s so and it’s so and it’s so, Aunt Anxiety.
And then, it was her turn to be afraid.
Because now, when she tells me I’m going to fall down the stairs, I breathe in, I breathe out, and I don’t fall. Now, when she assures me I’ll get run over in the street, I breathe in, I breathe out (then I look left, I look right, I’m no fool!) and I walk boldly to the other side. And when she tries to sit her big, fat ass on my chest, the rise and fall of my breathing knocks her off. She can’t find her sea legs on the waves of my breath. And she gets angry, and she skulks away. I’ll come back another day, she grumbles. And she will. But she’s a shadow of her former self.
And I almost feel sorry for Aunt Anxiety. Almost.