Ever found yourself uncontrollably fidgety, inexplicably scared as if the world was ending, or had trouble falling asleep because your mind kept conjuring dreadful scenarios? Anxiety is that throbbing in your chest when you feel like your heart might come out, the intense sweating or trembling, or the barrage of unpleasant thoughts in your head, like raging dogs off their leashes. If you are wondering how I know this- well, I too have been a victim of it. Read on, to find out how…
I now realise that I had been somewhat anxious even as a child, but anxiety as a disorder, for me, probably began when I was in the eighth grade. It was then that I witnessed my first brush with active anxiety. I cannot attribute any one reason to it, but it was also the year when my father and sister moved out of home, to other states, for work and higher education, leaving back only my mother and me. Although, I could not feel much of a difference, and neither did I miss them dearly, or so I would like to think, a night before my final examination, I lay on the bed sleepless and restless. My father was home at that time and I used to be a bright student, but oddly enough, I still felt perturbed.
Disconcerting thoughts and disturbing visions clouded my headspace and I was drenched in perspiration, turning sides and growing more impatient and discomfited, as time passed. I had not studied just one chapter and the fear of missing out on something that might cost me dearly, struck me so hard that I spiralled into a black hole, dreading the consequences of it. I was terribly fatigued and wished that I could ‘switch off’ my over-active brain at that time. Dead-tired and scared by the dawn of the next day, I snivelled at the thought of appearing for the examination; but gave it anyway on my parents’ urging. I came home relieved and slept peacefully, thinking it was all over. Little did I know that it was just the… beginning.
This repeated again the next academic session and became a regular phenomenon before every examination. Sleep deprived, shattered, restless and feeling sick to the gut was how I felt during examinations – even though, I had previously been giving examinations calmly and scoring well. The uneasiness grew and so did my fears. I started getting severe headaches especially before examinations. My parents thought it was just examination pressure causing the suffering and gave me medicines to help deal with the headaches. Meanwhile, the anxiety, untreated, went on building up inside, so gradually that nobody could detect it, not even me.
A couple of years later, my father returned home and things gradually started looking better. I regained my peace of mind, or that is how it seemed then, and was finally able to sleep better and write exams with lesser fear. The excruciating headaches were gone, too. It seemed like that was the happy ending and that the ‘bad days’ were over, but… as fate would have it, things were far from getting better. Although the sleeplessness had ceased and I could brace exams without feeling ill, my anxiety manifested itself in other ways, which, back then, I did not think much of. I later developed Depression (I discussed it in my first blog) and OCD (which I shall shed light on, in my next blog).
My anxiety developed into a more general form of fear, of everything. Every little thing either scared or vexed me to no end. I kept second guessing myself and frequently felt irritated, restive, agitated and on the edge. Anxiety also had physical manifestations for me, starting from tense or heavy limbs and strain in the head to nausea and palpitations. Hypersensitivity (being easily troubled) and silence also go hand in hand with anxiety- when there is a storm raging inside, we often choose silence as no words can depict it better. Anxiety consumed most of my time, peace of mind and energy, and left me flummoxed.
Anxiety can make us want to fix things that are not even flawed, or bother about the trivialities, because people with anxiety find it tough to accept things the way they are, for they are constantly seeking perfection. My anxiety initially started off as perfectionism, which helped me excel, but over the years, it turned into setting the bar unattainably high- which meant never being satisfied with my performance. The fear that nothing is in control and that there is absolute disarray can leave one feeling helpless and powerless, which is how people with anxiety often feel. Chasing perfection can then mean trying to regain a sense of control in life when everything seems to be falling apart.
I began procrastinating as work made me anxious- I started dreading not performing well. I delayed work because I was afraid that I might not be able to give it my best and I did not want to perform below my abilities because that would open the door for criticism and disapproval. As the unfinished work piled up, I would become even more anxious and overexerted myself at the last minute. Delaying work acts like an escape, from anxiety, which ultimately looks me in the eye at the eleventh hour as I procrastinate when I have the time. I keep myself engaged with other mundane tasks to kill time, which help me stay distracted or avoid, for avoidance is just disguised fear.
I was plagued by constant fear of the future, conjuring up negative scenarios and feeling petrified. I would often find myself overthinking, so much so that it would make me feel sick and weary. Consequently, my productivity went down, as my ruminations kept me from concentrating on the task at hand. I would also lose sleep at night, trying to over analyze everything. Another strange thing that anxiety makes people do is- personalization– or thinking that everything is about them. This means that most of others’ actions and words, especially if negative, seem (unintentionally) to a person with anxiety, to be about them. It feels like others are constantly watching, judging and mocking or criticizing us and that anything negative is directed towards us; because anxiety does not realize that the sole purpose of people’s existence is not to bring us down. It convinces us that the world is out to get us and that we must always be on our guard. I used to feel like there was always an impending sense of danger.
Another common problem with anxiety is magnification, or when faced with a certain situation, instead of looking at the whole picture, we zoom in and focus on one negative aspect and give too much weight to it. Further, we also engage in catastrophic thinking – when something happens, we draw a sweeping negative conclusion and tell ourselves how this would lead to a big cataclysm. That is, unintentionally concocting the worst sequence of events, due to a lack of certainty of how things would pan out. Moreover, it can mean discounting the positive qualities we have or not taking into account the good experiences we have; or not noticing them as often as the negative ones. We forget that we have an identity outside of our flaws and that this identity is fluid (we can be whoever we want to be).
Anxiety can leave us unsure of how to act in social settings and feel gratuitously self-conscious. Thoughts like “Was that the right thing to say? Or did I just embarrass myself?”, “I bet they are judging me. I feel so small”, “Are my posture and expressions fine? Why is everyone looking at me?”, “Why did I do that? That is so weird,” etc., eat up the mind of a person with anxiety, especially those afflicted with social anxiety. For me, it meant ‘losing’ my communication skills, feeling timorous around my family even though I have always lived with them, getting frazzled in social gatherings and feeling as if something (probably, fear) was stifling me whenever I tried to speak up. I felt paralysed by fear and kept having inner monologues around people, instead of having actual conversations with them. I always held back in fear of saying the wrong things, forgetting that the only person judging me so harshly- was me!
Social anxiety can mean feeling left out or like the odd one out, even if there is no reason to feel so, because anxiety is that voice in one’s head that constantly says “they do not like you.” A sense of alienation creeps in as anxiety can make us feel detached or different from others, since everyone around seems to be thriving when we are barely managing to stay afloat. Many people with anxiety need constant reassurance, because they mostly feel unwanted. Besides sullying my social life, anxiety did not spare my performance in school and college either, as I started withdrawing into a cocoon and went from performing on stage and being a topper to not even speaking in class and avoiding the people I once talked to. It affected the way I saw myself and I started feeling uncomfortable in my skin. Low self-esteem and self-doubt enveloped me. My family was worried about my self-isolation, even though I had always been a shy kid, because now the once chirpy girl was unusually quiet.
Till date, I face many of these problems, though the severity of my condition has reduced, or so I believe. Examinations still pose a great challenge – they come around like an obnoxious fog and leave me an anxious wreck. My social anxiety has watered down, but is still there. Perfectionism, which makes me delay work with a hope to eliminate all flaws, is what kept me from posting this blog, which I had written months back! I still overthink, but try to use it in a constructive way, to write and create. I have almost given up on personalisation and magnification and try to form meaningful bonds with others, but it is not always a smooth sailing. Anxiety is a daily struggle and can be persistent – but so are we! This blog is a testament to the renewed spirit.
**There are a lot of elements of anxiety which I could not include here as the blog would have become too lengthy. I am also thinking of writing a book on my struggle with anxiety and other illnesses, to help others feel less alone… less unwanted. Would you be interested in reading a book about my travails and triumphs? Do let me know with your comments.**
Follow the Blog for more!