A mind forces one to think and pushes one to achieve goals, but an anxious mind brings to the surface tortuous, ruthless and negative thinking that causes mayhem not only inside one’s body but also reflects outside.
I knew I had to write an article because I wanted to write one, and I had promised myself to write one since it’s been a while. Somehow, I couldn’t get myself to. I put alarms, reminders, and some sticky notes here and there, but I mostly stared at the blank wall considering not writing an article at all. Because, what difference are my words going to make? But here I am, keeping my words and experience as real as I can, giving you a glimpse into a world of constant anxiety.
What ‘living with anxiety’ means
Living with anxiety is not an easy feat. Yes, I get nervous before addressing a large crowd, before my ICSE mathematics examination, or before an interview. Can you relate? Yeah, that’s a normal reaction to stress or difficult times. It’s usually triggered by a specific stressor but also has starting and ending points. Now, let’s say you sweat profusely before going up on stage, you freeze or have a breakdown while addressing a large crowd. You face a disproportionate fear of a “simple” mathematics examination and pass out before and after it. Or maybe you feel nauseous, get chronic stomach aches, and you feel like puking your guts out — that’s an anxiety attack caused by a disorder.
It often comes out of nowhere. I gave these specific examples to make comparison easier, but it’s mostly an intense emotional fear response that could go on for weeks, months, or even years. It almost feels impossible to control or manage these emotions, and they result in digestion issues or panic attacks.
Do you feel this way too?
Constant anxiety can get really overwhelming, and it interferes with your day-to-day tasks. It’s an overactive fear response that affects one’s mood on a daily basis. It severely affected my academic performance, my self-confidence, and my social skills.
My days would just be about sudden breakdowns, mood swings, incessant amounts of crying, and binge eating. I couldn’t do solo presentations, I couldn’t study for the exams, I turned up late for a few of them and missed some tests because I didn’t want to face my fears. I wasn’t confident, I was just uneasy, fearful, and apprehensive. I did not go for any placement interviews because the fear of failing haunted me. I did not speak to the people around me even when they tried to reach out because I was just way too comfortable in my awkward shell throughout college.
It became particularly difficult to cope when I stopped getting enough sleep and started isolating myself even more. I reached out to people online, but this was four or five years ago when the Indian Internet didn’t have much on mental health. Moreover, I am certain I did not have the right resources. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have a name to put to this “condition”.
I started calling it a scramble of emotions with ingredients being added to this concoction out of nowhere every now and then, so I just had to keep adapting… but to what extent? I wasn’t getting any better, life wasn’t getting any better, and I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. TEDx videos and articles were what kept me going for the longest time, but I knew I needed someone to hear me out.
What really helped me deal with anxiety
It took me a year to muster some courage and enquire about my university therapist. I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and borderline depression. None of it was easy, and I am proud of myself for just trying to get better. Constant visits and evening walks made me feel like I wanted to get better and that feeling was worth holding on to. I felt liberated, I felt free, I felt something I hadn’t felt in years.
I wasn’t living with my parents, so I didn’t have to tell them I was going to therapy because that’s an alien concept to most Indian, middle class parents. That’s a story for another day, but I’ve always believed in the timing of the universe.
I am a lot better off than I thought I would be, especially in this endless quarantine. I thought I would lose my mind or drive people up the wall. Are you wondering if the article is going to end on a high note? Nah, not really. I have learned to live with anxiety, in varying degrees. Sometimes, it breaks me but mostly it doesn’t, and I am coping. Here are some of the things which help me cope:
I try to pen down my days and express gratitude on a daily basis. If not, I manage to write something on Instagram which is where I maintain a visual journal.
Reaching out on social media
I try to reach out and connect with those who are going through the same, better or worse, and help them out in any way possible. I have been advocating mental health for a while now, and it’s not easy because it’s not commercial. My efforts are purely out of personal interest to help those suffering. At times, it’s enough to let the other person know you’re listening and you’re there. I am reading up a lot on ways to help, so I am available for those who need support. Healing others heals me.
Meditation, yoga, and grounding techniques
Movement has been a major part of my life, and I am trying to reincorporate it with yoga. Meditation always helps in being present, centred, and calm. The practice of Pranayama in yoga is key, so I work towards it every day. It helps me release and get rid of all the negativity.
Talking to those in my inner circle
These are the people I confide in, and talking to them can put a stop to the unnecessary worrying. It’s not easy for them either, but it’s been a while now. My close ones know how I function, and they sort of know my meltdown points.
My hope is that with more and more understanding of what this really is, people might begin to have a little more empathy for those living with anxiety and other mental illnesses. If it’s uncomfortable to interact with them, remember that people who live with anxiety, depression, BPD, or any other condition, don’t have some fatal flaw they’re ignoring or some hidden desire to make everyone around them uncomfortable. They are part of the society as much as you. They are just going through something they don’t understand, something that caught them off guard, something deep in their subconscious that they need help unpacking. A little empathy and support can go a long way.