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I’ve never seen it, but I know it’s there.

It’s always there, right behind me, waiting to strike. It follows me to school. It follows me home. It follows me to the bathroom, the kitchen, my bedroom, even into my dreams. No matter what I try, it always comes back.

It almost feels like a routine now. I get up in the morning and greet it. It acknowledges my presence, and I go on with my day. Sometimes I don’t feel it, but it always comes back. Just when things are going my way, it whooshes up and smacks me straight in the gut. Then I can’t breathe, I can’t think; I can’t do anything but scream silently.

Nobody hears me. If I try to tell them what’s bothering me, they just shrug or say “Oh, I know how you feel! I’ve had that happen to me too!” But they really don’t know what they’re talking about. Whatever they’ve been through could never compare to the horror that has chosen me as its host.

It doesn’t have a form, really. No misty figure, no creeping claws, no rumbling voice. The only way I know it exists is how it makes me feel. One moment, I’m just walking along and the next I’m fighting back tears and chewing my fingernails. Just one touch from this monster can do that.

I feel like it’s my fault that this creature has chosen me. Maybe if I did something differently with my life, I wouldn’t have this. There must be some way to control it. That’s what I like to think, but I know the truth. Even if I could get it to back off for just one second, it would come back.

It’s not corporeal, but it’s a part of my body. If it were visible, you would recoil at the shocking hybrid I have become. Its tentacles grasp my heart. Its breath caresses my ears. Its teeth sink deep into my bones. My face has become its mask, conveying what it wants against my will.

It makes me stay in my room, clutching a pillow and peering fearfully at the outside world. What if they hurt you, it tells me. They don’t like you. They never have. You’ll only be safe if you listen to me.

And I listen. I listen so well that I’ll tear my own life to pieces just to please it. I’ve skipped classes, hidden under blankets, avoided friends because it told me to. I try to tell it to go away, but it still harasses me. It’s very clever. It knows just what to do to set my heart racing and my nerves blistering. Just one word from this beast will leave me paralyzed in my own body, unable to do anything but lay in bed and hate myself.

People tell me to get under control. They tell me to calm down, take deep breaths, do something, anything, to stop acting out. If only the monster were visible. I think people would better understand why I freak out so much if they knew what I knew. Most people couldn’t last a day with this kind of insanity descending upon them. How do you think I feel, dealing with it twenty-four hours and seven days a week?

I can’t sleep sometimes. It won’t let me. It keeps me up at night, sneering as it carefully reminds me of everything I did wrong in my entire life. Why did I say that to her? What if I can’t get my homework done on time? What if I have to leave early because I’m too afraid to keep going like this? What if I actually kill myself? Would that help? Or would it follow me into the afterlife too?

I’m not the only one who suffers under the wrath of this creature. I’ve met others who struggle too. They’re in as just much silent pain as I am. Some of them deal with their monster better than me, some worse. I don’t see them very often, but they exist. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m glad I’m not alone, but I don’t want to be a martyr. I’m just a survivor who fights monsters every day. There’s nothing special or inspirational about that.

You might be infected with this monster, too, or know someone who is. You’ll probably have heard the name of the monster at least once in your life. You might laugh when I tell you what it is, but I guarantee you that it is the worst beast one will ever have to slay.

So I will tell you the name of the monster so you will know, just a little, what it feels like to be one of the warriors who fight it every day:

Generalized anxiety disorder.

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