Here are a few thoughts about anxiety, which is something that I have.
I like the world. I think it can be a pretty great place. I know it has its faults, but I always try to remember the bigger picture and live each moment to its fullest. Sometimes, I realise the cliché that is thrown at us by our parents and teachers – life is too short. I am moved by the movements of the clouds, or the setting sun as it casts golden shadows, or the drumming sound of rain. Everything shines and sparkles.
When I’m in this nice happy place, joy and love and compassion drown my negative thoughts. For instance, I barely get FOMO (fear of missing out) because the joy of doing something else overpowers my need to fulfil social obligations. But there is a dark side to this. Carefree, happy-go-lucky me is tethered to its nemesis – the anxious, self-conscious and self-critical me. I am prone to overthinking and am so easily thrust into a dangerous cycle, where I focus on every tiny detail of my life and put a negative spin on it. This negativity genuinely becomes my reality. I become crippled by a fear of missing out on exciting events, and am overwhelmed by romance troubles and gossip.
So when scrolling through my Facebook feed triggers a full blown panic attack, I feel sick with myself – have my standards gotten so low that my priorities are to have as much fun as I can, rather than to enjoy sobriety and solitude? Are my priorities now parties, getting drunk, making sure my Facebook profile looks exciting, and basically looking as sparkly, colourful and happy as possible?
When I’m in a good mental space, I enjoy sobriety and solitude more than anything in the world. I have a joy of missing out, not a fear of it; I would rather skip a party to read a book, or bail on a group trip to a festival to catch a quiet coffee with a good friend. When I am in the negative cycle, I can remember this feeling but I cannot quite capture it – it is a distant memory that I desperately chase but to no avail; it is the word on the tip of my tongue; it is the breath of air that I know is there but it is just out of my reach and I am drowning too deep in this bottomless ocean –
– and my mind becomes a conflicted mess. I feel stupid for being overwhelmed by romance troubles and gossip, for worrying about what so-and-so said about me behind my back – especially as my reactions seem so ridiculously out of proportion. Why would I have an anxiety attack and panic attacks and feelings of nausea and depressive bouts and not holding down food all because she said he said she said I said something that I didn’t do? Or over that guy I fancied who went off with some girl at some party? It seems hysterical.
With mental health, it’s near impossible to know why you think things, because there’s just so much going on that you barely understand it. Yes, I recognise the onset of a panic attack, or paranoia and fear as anxiety; likewise I recognise exhaustion, rawness or being overwhelmed by life as depression. However, when these feelings last for days, weeks, I can forget that I ever felt anything else. This is especially so as anxiety does not necessarily manifest itself physically, so there is barely any reminder that what you’re feeling is anxiety. It’s disorientating and stressful when this happens, and in the same way, if you were to forget about, say, having broken your foot, it would feel totally out of proportion that a breath of wind was causing you so much discomfort.
The thing is, I’ve come to realise that this is all part of anxiety and a reflection of my mental space: being overwhelmed by tiny details and inconsequential events; the consequential conflicting confusion. Again to take the broken foot analogy – it’s super sensitive so any pressure on it will be sore. If you keep applying that slight pressure, your foot will get worse and worse and take longer to heal. In the same way, if you are suffering in your mind, something as slight as not being invited to a party can trigger huge amounts of anxiety-related symptoms like nausea, panic, intrusive thoughts or just general self-hate.
Mental health is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional and so, very complex, and it should be addressed as such. Yet as a society, we like intellectual, chilled individuals who are rational and level-headed: a mental breakdown over FOMO is in stark contrast to the personality that we approve of and strive for, so it can be difficult to admit to this seemingly irrational side – yet it is an important thing to acknowledge.
As I experience anxiety, I am learning to trust myself. I try to let myself feel whatever I feel and worry about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ later; I hold onto the fact that reacting violently to ‘petty’ incidents does not reflect my priorities. Sometimes I fail at this and sometimes I do not, but I guess it is all a learning process and perhaps it all contributes to this great, vast, and complex thing called life.