There's a wild little animal that lives inside my chest. In my teens he wreaked havoc, rushing around, knocking me over and pushing me out of control. In my twenties I learned he was there and I rushed around trying to tame him, like a sheepdog herding its flock. Now though he mostly lives there quietly, curled up by the fire of my heart.
But sometimes -
Sometimes he lifts his head and pricks up his ears, sniffing the air for danger. I make some soothing noises and he realises things are under control, so he lays back down and goes to sleep, his little nose twitching away.
Sometimes he gets panicked, racing around my chest cavity not knowing where to turn next. He yips and yelps and howls, sensing danger but not knowing how to fix it. When I know why he's riled up I can make him calm by explaining what's happening and why it's not the problem he thinks it is. He'll back down a little but remain on high alert, sitting up tall - eyes darting around like fruit flies in summer, tail aquiver - waiting for The Thing That Scared Me to come back and frighten us again.
Sometimes I don't know why he's upset, and we spend hours circling each other, each knowing that the other is not the danger but not knowing what the problem is and being suspicious anyway. He keeps telling me there's something wrong and I keep telling him there's not, and we remain at an impasse - sometimes for days at a time. Eventually we relent, make peace with one another and curl up together, sleeping soundly in the comfort of protection and good intentions.
It's not always smooth sailing but somehow I rest easier knowing he is there. He is the sum of my experiences, reminding me that I live with my past every day. He is the is the canary in the mine, letting me know when there's something going on that I've missed in the hustle and bustle of daily life. His warm sleepy silence is the clarion call that all is well, and I can be at peace.
You might know him by another name. I call him Anxiety.