I’m old enough to remember a time before we could pin our feelings and actions on our anxiety. Talking about mental health as openly as we do now was probably not something people imagined they’d see in their lifetime. For a long time, being open about mental health issues of any kind was a taboo, and for some people, they still exist in circles where this is still their reality.
If someone was socially anxious, they were labelled as shy and simply needed to “come out of their shell more.” If someone spent days in bed and lacked the motivation to get up and go, they were labelled “lazy”. Nowadays, these kinds of traits can be tied to a number of mental health issues like anxiety or depression. The progress we’ve made as a society surrounding the conversation of mental health has done wonders for so many. Being able to attribute your feelings to something much bigger has made people feel seen. Discussing these issues on public platforms like social media and seeing those we look up to going through the same thing has made people feel validated.
I myself suffer from High Functioning Anxiety (HFA), and I often get anxious about the smallest things. When I get in a state, I know exactly what to blame. I tell myself it’s OK, and I do my best to remove the catalyst that caused the flare. However, I can’t help but think about a time when I didn’t know much about anxiety and therefore couldn’t use it as an excuse – no matter how valid.
In that time, which now feels like a million years ago, I just had to endure things, and most of the time, it turned out OK. Anxiety is intrusive, and it blows perfectly rational things out of proportion. Let’s say you get asked on a date. You spend all hours leading up to it crying about your outfit, going over the worst possible scenarios in your head, crying a little more and then you arrive. None of the awful and dramatic scenarios you envisioned occurred, and you make it home in one piece… maybe you even had a good time. I’ve been in that situation, and I’m sure a lot of us have, be it a date, job interview or entering a social situation with people you are unfamiliar with. The only way to get to the other side sometimes is through, and I can’t help but feel that, for me, being able to blame anxiety has stopped me from doing things and acting in ways that used to come naturally to me. My anxiety and how I choose to deal with it have become counterproductive.
It’s as if recognising the traits of anxiety in myself has changed how I deal with situations, and not exactly for the better. I don’t lead with my anxiety; I’m not even sure if many people I know, know that I have it. However, the fact I know it’s there has given me a reason to hide from my issues, whereas when I didn’t know I had it, I was forced to deal with them head-on. I would write off any trepidations (or palpitations, for that matter) as nervousness – and in a way, it was.
Does shining a light on things like anxiety provide a comfort that we then hide behind or use as an excuse not to live our lives? For lots of people, the answer is probably no, without hesitation. For me, I’m not so sure. Being able to attribute my feelings to my anxiety has stopped me from exploring them further. It’s stopped me from acting on them in ways that may not have been the most graceful, but they brought resolution. Whether that’s drunk calling someone at 2 am to have it out with them, calling them out on their bullshit or instigating a confrontation.
Pre-anxiety Saskia would not have hesitated to do any of those things. Nowadays, I’m so anxious about being anxious that I just stand still. My anxiety is turning into a fear of failing at things that don’t require a pass mark. Like, how can you fail at expressing your feelings? Ask my anxiety. How can you fail at speaking your mind? Ask my anxiety. I’m grateful for the progression so that people like me can openly ponder on such things but discussing these issues and claiming them is the first part of the evolution. The second must be overcoming them and knowing that you are and can be more than them.
Everyone’s anxiety comes in different sizes, and there is no one thing or formula that will fit all, but I guess it’s wanting to evolve that step further that needs to become a priority. Easier said than done, I know. Anxiety is cruel and has so many people in a chokehold. Still, we’ve been able to get this far, where people can claim how they feel and know that they aren’t the only one who feels that way. So, there is hope for anyone who feels like their anxiety stops them from being themselves to reclaim who they were and co-exist without their anxiety calling all the shots.
Image credit: Everyday Health