I Was Wrong, Anxiety Is Not A Superpower

Photo: Courtesy of Author
Kaia James as a young girl, and today

Around the age of 10, I received a diagnosis that would shape my life: Anxiety. It was during this time that I penned my very first article, "Anxiety Is My Superpower."

To my surprise, the article went viral, capturing the hearts of readers worldwide and empowering them to embrace their own struggles. They marveled at the courage of a 10-year-old who embraced a part of herself that made life challenging. 

As a young girl, I was thrilled to help others find acceptance in their faults, but as the years passed, the magnitude of the article's impact on me and its readers came to light. I didn't realize the price I paid for preaching acceptance as anxiety slowly tightened its grip on my world. It seemed that the more I accepted my quirks, the more they grew into overwhelming obstacles.

If I could turn back time and speak to my 10-year-old self, I would whisper, "Stop accepting and fight."

But what was I supposed to fight against? At that young age, people called me "quirky" and "very sensitive," implying that these traits made me unique and mature beyond my years.

They assured my parents that my fear of dark rooms and quiet houses at night was normal and that overthinking every encounter with peers was merely me being observant. That crying every day before school was just a phase I would grow out of, and even my people-pleasing nature at six years old was brushed off as just the "sweetness" of a good little girl.

RELATED: 10 Signs You Grew Up With Anxiety

One vivid memory from my early years stands out: The day firefighters visited our preschool offering us all a chance to sit in their big red truck. As the sirens wailed upon approach and the firemen rushed to the scene, my heart raced with fear. Instead of being curious like the other children, I checked my surroundings and sought comfort with the nearest teacher, ensuring my safety. I warned my peers to stay back, fearing they might get burned.

As they rushed toward the monstrous red truck with wide eyes, laughter, and smiles, my eyes filled with tears as my mind screamed at me to run — even though all there was to run from was popsicles and nice men giving out plastic hats.

There was never a fire. My teachers praised my cautiousness, labeling it extreme emotional intelligence and the heightened ability to 'connect the dots.' Yet, in my heart, I knew this wasn't a superpower to be proud of; it was a childhood lost to apprehension.

I would have never wished the consequences of this acceptance mindset on this little girl. I would also never have the guts to tell a 10-year-old me what she would endure as a result in the years to come — and it seems no one else did either. 

High school brought a startling turning point, as my childhood quirks took on a more serious nature. Social anxiety made every social setting feel like a maze of discomfort, preventing me from forming meaningful connections with other people my age, and leaving me feeling a deep sense of loneliness and panic.

My panic attacks increased in frequency, from once a month to once a week, to multiple times a day. The feeling of my chest collapsing, the world spinning, my lungs running dry, and my head yelling at me that I wasn't safe, telling me to run, to fight.

But to fight what exactly? I didn’t know.

RELATED: 15 Self-Soothing Techniques To Manage Your Anxiety & Stress

A revelation struck me during a period of illness — I had Long COVID and with it came heart issues, vertigo, and constant exhaustion that forced me to stay home from school. It was then that I realized my anxiety had stolen my chance at a normal life.

I had accepted this as my fate, believing my sickness was beyond my control. I was exhausted — even just existing and staying awake was overwhelming.

My anxiety made this all worse — nearly impossible. Months passed, and nothing got better. I started to accept that this depressing reality was now my life. Halfway through high school, I wasn't a fraction of the girl I once was. The word "acceptance," often used in a positive light, was actually ruining any chance I had of leading a normal life. 

It was at the point when my anxiety and sickness were at an all-time high I couldn't even leave the house aside from doctor appointments and hospital stays, and every night, one after another, was sleepless—when I began to think and fight.

As I reflected on the current state of my life, I noticed my pattern of acceptance had held me captive. It became obvious that I couldn't allow my anxiety to dominate my existence; I had to confront it and break down the barriers that were blocking the way to my path of fulfillment.

With a newfound purpose, I delved into research, seeking wellness rituals and treatments to regain control of my life as much as I could.

From EMDR to Craniosacral Therapy, nervous system exercises, like ice baths and breathwork, and nutritional changes after being tested by a holistic doctor and prescribed a gluten-free diet and a new vitamin regime that helped minimize my symptoms, I tried it all until I figured out what worked.

I had to get to know my body and mind before it would let me breathe again. I had to actively fight against the urge to quit when something failed and I would fall back into the same patterns. It was work — but it was work that was worth it.

RELATED: The Simple Way To Tell If Your Child Has Anxiety (Or Is Just Stressed)

The journey was not easy, but as I slowly embarked on my path of self-improvement, I could feel a transformation taking place. It wasn't just my disease fading away; it was the feeling of resilience and the birth of true inner strength through perseverance.

To that young girl scared of the big red trucks, I whisper, "Fight for us." Your true superpower isn't anxiety; it's the strength to rise above it.

To that teenage girl who was lost, bedridden, and perpetually afraid: You are far more significant than the constraints that hold you back.

We are all the authors of our own stories and within each and every one of us lies the power to write future chapters filled with adventure and endless possibility.

Anxiety is not the main character — we are.

RELATED:If These 5 Signs Sound Familiar, You're Secretly Struggling With High-Functioning Anxiety

Kaia James is an author, tennis player, and high school senior. She writes about issues affecting children and teens including mental health, social issues, friendships, and more. Her pieces have been published in Buzzfeed, Parenting Magazine, Girls World Magazine, The Mighty, Yahoo, Huffington Post, and more. Her work has been featured on The Daily Mail and Hello Giggles.