My anxiety usually manifests itself in dizzy spells and nausea, tingling in my fingers, swimming vision, a pulsing headache. It usually comes with an overwhelming sense of insecurity and panic. I feel like I’m falling, but there is no ground to ever end the aching rush of the drop.

My anxiety twists the way I think. It takes my thoughts and overshadows them with doubts. It inserts ideas and feelings that aren’t mine. Anxiety lies. It tells me things like you’re not smart enough, you don’t deserve this, you’re an inconvenience, you’re going to fail no matter how hard you try. It teaches me to believe them, too. It takes those planted thoughts and alters my perception of reality, so I think other people have those thoughts about me too.

My anxiety has many triggers. Sometimes it’s an overcrowded room or sudden, loud noises in a confined space, like yelling or even laughter. Sometimes it’s looking at a list and counting all the things I have to do and how little time I have to do them. Sometimes it’s too much caffeine or not enough sleep. Sometimes it’s not anything I can pinpoint, just an inexplicable panic seeping into my muscles, my bones, my brain and my heart.

My anxiety is like a demon sitting on my shoulder, digging its poisonous, needle-sharp claws into the safe places of my heart and mind. It turns my reality into a maze of second guesses and sudden drops. It gives me a false face, a face that hides the panic behind a calm, “I’m fine.” My version of fighting back is ignoring the claws and ever whispering voice of that demon, internalizing it, not letting anyone else see the battle going on in my head. I put up walls and moats and fortresses, villages, cities, kingdoms, just to protect my vulnerability. It doesn’t really work. Anxiety and all it’s physical manifestations cannot be easily ignored. But I’m learning that is okay. It’s okay to panic. It’s okay to let people see that I’m not fine. It’s even better to fight it by facing it, by not retreating, by looking that demon in the face and saying “I see you and I know you, but you can’t hurt me.”

My anxiety is not my definition. As much as it tries to, it does not control me. It’s certainly a battle, but it’s not a war. It’s a vicious, exhausting cycle, but it’s not an unbreakable one. It’s a demon, but I have God. I can fight it. I will fight it. My anxiety fixates on a false, albeit believable, reality. So when I start to panic, I fixate on truth, on things I know and trust. I am loved. I am loved by my friends, and my family, and my God, who is far greater than all my insecurities. That may not feel true in that one moment, but that’s okay because I can see that it’s true through every moment of my life. I focus on each slow breath—in through the mouth, out through the nose, in through the nose, out through the mouth. I make lists and plan and break things down into manageable portions. I minimize the overwhelming. My anxiety is not my definition. My God is my definition. My family, my friends, my love of books and writing and dogs and nature—those are my definitions. My anxiety is real, but the false face it wants me to believe is certainly not.