Let’s talk about the anxt

I have been a worrier for as long as I can remember. I have squirmed my way around public speaking, dreaded every minor possibility of failure and adopted the identity of a sad, avoidant girl.

I do not remember when it started, but it was around the time when I realized I had to be a certain way, and accomplish certain things to level up in life. And in the process, realized I hated having to fall flat on my face, watch my world grow pixelated and start over. I simply did not have the social skills to walk it off like a champ. I’d just look less cool walking the same way I always did: slumped, small, not wanting to wake up the neighbors.

So I anticipated challenges before they manifested themselves, saw conflict and displeasure in people’s faces a nanosecond before they articulated it, and whenever I could get away with it, delegated, postponed or avoided any task that involved direct communication.

But that did not, in any way, erase the lump in my throat, or the burn in my stomach every time I was at a decisional crossroad or in front of a human being that was outside my comfort zone. Anxiety was like this orange ghost that zoomed into my life whenever it got the chance, to ensure that I never ever reached my potential.

I never got used to living in anxiety, but weirdly enough, over time, an odd kind of familiarity did set in.

I still fucking hated the anxiety, and was envious of people who did not second guess every element in their lives, but I also had no choice but to get to know anxiety better. After so many one-on-ones, it was inevitable.

And over time, I realized:

  • While too much anxiety caused me to curl up into a ball and not do anything, anxiety did not always intend to hurt. In fact, it made me better. It allowed me to zoom in on the details, double-fact-check and in general, give people accurate rather than half-assed information.
  • I am a very complacent individual, and it took that anxious I-am-going-to-lose-it-the-world-is-going-to-fall-apart rush for me to sometimes, give pressing problems the attention and priority they needed. It would, surprisingly make me sit down, take deep breaths, tell myself that no, I was not going to fuck this up before giving my full, undivided (basically, no social-media in the side) attention to every piece of that puzzle before I miraculously arrived at a solution, did what had to be done and experienced that sweet a-ha moment.
  • That bittersweet anxious sensation would push me to prepare for, research-to-death and conquer every possible caveat that underlay whatever I was freaking out about. Catastrophizing, in a way, prevented the actual catastrophe from happening. Even if shit did hit the fan, since I’d already pictured and dreaded the catastrophe a billion times before, it simply was not as impressive in real life. I could jump right into problem-solving mode.

Recently, a friend asked me how I had learned a random hack that I’d showed her. As I explained to her about the time when I “got anxious” because I had to get something done and couldn’t because I did not know said hack and therefore, had to look it up, I found myself talking about it rather nostalgically, and fondly. This AMAZED me but also made me realize that over time, while my world remained pixelated, anxiety, the orange-neighborhood-ghost, had leveled up from enemy to frenemy.

Anxiety and Me

Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

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Things that human beings could do to live the good life

  1. Eat while you are eating
  2. Study when you are studying
  3. Watch TV while you are watching TV
  4. Cook when you are cooking
  5. Say what you are feeling (you don’t get coolness points for not saying what you should be saying, and are thinking, and are feeling so intensely)
  6. When you are on the phone, listen to what the other person is saying and respond to it
  7. If you can’t help someone, say you can’t help them
  8. If you feel like staying in, stay in
  9. Tasks that take less than ten minutes, start and finish immediately. This includes random shit that bugs you, which you can just clarify (“Did I annoy you too much that day?” “Was that insensitive?”)
  10. Text when you are texting, but probably not when you are studying, eating, talking, on the phone or in the middle of an urgent task
  11. Ask for what you want
  12. Accept that people will put themselves first, because they are protecting their interests and their heart
  13. Put yourself (and your friends and family and anyone who contributes to your well-being) first

If you are thinking “well, duh” and “this is intuitive” – great. Oftentimes though, it should be obvious but it isn’t.

From: The girl who eats while she studies, lets the pot boil over when she’s worrying about a term paper due in 24 hours, texts when she reads and reads as she texts, says something and means something else as she’s scared she’ll lose coolness points

Introspektshun: Dear 13 year old me,

hi. -__-I’ve lived the past few years knowing I’m not what you quite thought I would become. I haven’t,

– magically turned into a swan (though my braces are off and everything. weird!)
– somehow gotten my act together and gotten admitted into oxford… or hogwarts.
– managed to meet mr.fantabulous who reads amazing books and just ‘gets’ me
– suddenly become ms. sociable
– had it all figured out

In a way, it’s more because you, 13 years old and naive, assumed things happened “magically” “somehow” “worked themselves out”. They don’t. They require an enormous amount of doing. I learned this from a bubbly, overly enthusiastic junior of mine in school (I was in twelfth, she was in eleventh)… through observing her from a distance.
I neither liked her nor hated her or even knew her. she annoyed some, she was revered by some but most importantly she DID. she did not cower under the false facade of indifference and pretend everything came easily to her. she didn’t think of enthusiasm as shameful or cheap. she actively DID and that’s one thing from my two years at that school that stuck with me more than anything.

19 (20?) year old me is still socially awkward. fumbles over the ends of her sentences. interrupts at the wrong places. trips over anything solid. dances around things and gets so freaking anxious. she’s even more neurotic and competitive and perfectionist (in a messy way) than you. imagine that. but she’s also stood for college elections and done other things you never imagined you’d ever do… not necessarily the awesomest of things. but DIFFERENT things.

no, things didn’t go smoothly from there.
in fact, they lead to stickier spots, lonelier roads and moments of claustrophobia…
but you have learned far more this way than through the life of smooth nonchalance and unjustifiable privilege you dreamed of.

if we bump into each other, you might think, what is with her? who is she? what is she even doing? where is she even headed? i know you will. things are so different from how it was for you.

i’ve forgotten how to laugh off a bad grade. eat chocolate and watch fluffy or high-on-angst movies every.single.day.

i’ve learned to take the bus. do things on my own. love solitude.
i’ve learned to keep away.
i’ve learned to get what i want. scratch that. you taught me that when you were at your brattiest.

i don’t manufacture sadness like you did. i’ve cried with my heart. broken down. started over. and over.

i’ve learned to take NO.
i’ve learned that some things happen because they need to happen but that’s okay. nothing has more than a 15 minute impact.

But you won’t stick around to understand me. At least I don’t think you would. You would take one look at me, my hair in an unmade bun and my rumpled blue kurta and… probably not even notice me. I don’t think I’d even make it to your awareness. I wouldn’t even make it to your sensory memory though if I did, we might be okay friends.

That hit me the most.

And that hits me the most.

Indifference in the eyes of your thirteen year old starry eyed self is worse than failure. Your thirteen year old self is at its judgiest- always. 

I’m twenty now and it’s funny how nothing anyone says will matter as much as your approval does. Nothing hurts more than not falling in line with your unrealistic expectations. But I don’t hate you or anything. I love you the most. Isn’t that weird?

Love,
me

PS: Happy birthday to you. And me.

cathartic cleanup

Sociology papers covered in red ink
Dated three years ago
Yes, three YEARS ago.
Smells of a different era
Crisp shirts, blue skirts
The feeling of dread manages to envelope
The smell of the ghosts of the past
the past
past
(past)
of when i never belonged
(belonged).

I got a 68
My neat blue scrawl dominates
The page full of tiny red squiggles
“This is not the right answer.”
“See me!”
68 wasn’t so bad.
For her it was.

The beginnings full of promise.
The end of lost hope.
But in a way, it ended how it began.
I can laugh at it now.
And how.
Surely, that counts.