I have butterflies in my stomach — but I’m not nervous. I just ate some caterpillars.

My head pounds. My hands shake. My heart races.

I recognize these symptoms. I thought I had done away with them a long time ago. But he comes back. He returns like the flaring of an old flame who I can never get out of my head even though we ended our relationship years ago. It was one-sided; I wanted him to leave and never come back. Somehow, he always manages to get a grip on me when I’m not looking.

The bitter bile burns in the back of my throat as I say hello to his familiar ugly face.

Anxiety.

When I was child, I would get nervous about anything and everything. There was one time in elementary school when I was so scared to start the first day of third grade that I got sick in the car and puked up the few pieces of blueberry muffin I had managed to swallow. My mother enjoyed that day immensely, I’m sure. My shoulders were always tense, tight as a result from imagined crises. If I had a speech or group project, I wouldn’t sleep for days before because I was so busy worrying about everything that might go wrong. And I was 7!

Even the smallest of things would set me over the edge. If I had to do a group project, I would memorize exactly what I was going to say and if I slipped by one phrase — one word even — I would go back to my seat in a cold sweat, hoping that I would get a decent grade. Needless to say, I did very well in school at the expense of my health.

I’m not what happened exactly in the transition from middle school to high school. I didn’t feel the cold fist of worry in my stomach and I wasn’t constantly breathing down my own neck. I was blessed with a few short years of relaxation as I coasted through school. Oh, I did my work alright and I did very well in school, but there was never worry lurking in the shadows of my mind.

But I sense my old companion again tonight. I packed today to move back to college and — though I shouldn’t be nervous at all because I already have one year of experience under my belt and plenty of new friends to go back to — I can hear him whispering all my doubts in my ear. Just like old times.

I didn’t let him in, but I found him sitting on a chair, making himself at home in my mind. I offered him a cup of tea, which he took graciously. He didn’t say much. But he never does at first. He would prefer to sit and wait until I almost forget he’s there. That’s when he does the greatest amount of talking.

You’re going to be so lonely. What friends could you possibly be going back to?
I have roommates. And I’ve already set up coffee dates with people.
Roommates that have to be with you. If they could room alone, do you think they would still pick you?
I don’t answer. Which is as good enough as one.
And coffee dates? I expect they will all be too busy to spend any time with you. Or if they aren’t at first, they will be.
I can’t argue. People do get busy, especially at college.
I saw your schedule. Those are some difficult classes.
I nod. He’s right. They are the hardest classes I have ever taken. There was nothing like this in high school.
You won’t have enough time to study for all of these. A full class load was quite ambitious.
His poisonous tone seeps into my brain and paralyzes all thoughts I have to reason with him. I bite my lip as I wonder if he’s right. It is a lot of credits to be taking…
If you’re that busy, you won’t have time for friends. That is, if they even want to waste time being with you.
That’s true. School comes before friends and I wouldn’t be surprised if I slipped to the back burner.
Poor little lonely girl who doesn’t do well in her classes. What a shame.
I lower my head and I feel the cold sweat dripping down my neck as my shoulder tense with the thoughts of all the things I should be doing now in order to have a better school year. I should organize my school supplies so I won’t be overwhelmed when I get there. I should only take a few hours to unpack so I can see my friends. Maybe I should offer them my help. Would they want my help? Would I be annoying?

And the questions go on and on until I’m choking by his hand around my throat. Eventually I manage to claw him off but I know he only released me because he wanted to, not because it had anything to do with me. He keeps me on a short leash and if I try to run, I can feel the chain tighten in my stomach.

Hello again, old friend.

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