When we met as undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s, neither of us thought of ourselves as particularly anxious. Sure we had bad stomachs, but didn’t most students on the Penn meal plan? We also worried a lot, but we figured we owed that to our Jewish parents. It didn’t occur to us that we were both experiencing the beginnings of a lifelong struggle with anxiety, and we had no idea how important each of us would become in helping the other learn to manage her disorder.
Over the next 20 years, we continued to be each other’s touchstone, often talking more than once a day, even after we relocated to different parts of the country. And, although each of us had a different presentation in terms of symptoms and triggers, we battled our anxiety disorders side by side. Our anxiety disorders were so intense and unrelenting that, for a while—a long while—neither of us thought we could ever live happily again. We panicked and felt sick and missed work and cancelled trips. We cried together a lot. We talked each other through scores of panic attacks. We tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to make sense of our anxiety every day. And we were willing to do anything, go anywhere to get some relief.
Eventually, after seeing dozens of specialists and trying a number of medications, each of us learned how to manage our anxiety. It was touch-and-go at first—neither of us believed that our respective symptoms could really be caused by anxiety—but very gradually, our daily phone calls took on a different tone. The desperation and fear and hopelessness began to fade as we became better and better at figuring out how to outsmart our anxiety-ridden brains. By 2008, we each had come to feel [mostly] in control of our anxiety and [mostly] optimistic about living happily despite our disorders. We still talked each other through the occasional panic episode, but they became fewer and further between and much less intense than their prior versions.
And then, on one weekend visit, we realized how much our connection—sharing our experiences, fears, laughter and tears—had contributed to our healing. We recognized that, had we tried to go it alone, we’d still be in the fetal position our anxiety often left us in. “We’re anxiety sisters!” Mags announced, and thus began our mission to create a safe, nonjudgmental community for anxiety sufferers worldwide. After more than 30 years of friendship [and anxiety], we are committed to helping others learn to manage their anxiety and live well.
Maggie Sarachek is interested in both counseling and teaching people to find strength through community. As a social worker in a New York City high school, she specialized in the development of youth leadership as well as counseling individuals and families. Maggie has also worked as a special-education advocate, helping families to access services for their children and teens. She became a full-fledged anxiety sister in her mid-twenties while dealing with debilitating anxiety attacks. Since becoming an anxiety sister, she has become the wife of an anxious husband and the mother of two anxious kids proving that anxiety is, indeed, contagious.