The first time I felt it, I brushed it away. But then, it came back stronger. “I’m here,” it said, “Why aren’t you seeing me?” And then one night, I found myself crying at 2 am, face buried in a pillow, without any idea why. The next day, I felt it creep up at me at work. Anything I thought of that day was just not good enough, all my ideas were not good enough, even the way I was dressed – it was just not good enough.
It came rushing to me – I could feel it my body, in the shivering of my fingers, the constant ache in my shoulders and feet, the redness in my eyes. I was supposed to be smarter than this, I thought. How could this happen to me? I used to be so funny (or so my friends said), I used to be so happy. My sister would call me out of nowhere and say, “Make me laugh” and I could. But now, I was scared to even talk to people. I was scared they would say, “Be funnier, be wittier, be bolder” because I knew I’d fail, and the fear of failure had never been so real for me, up until now.
A little less than a year ago, I changed jobs and moved cities. It was tough to recognise how obsessed I was – not with work, but with proving how good I could be at it. I realised it had always been a part of me – to be the best version of myself, always. I was, and still am, chasing an ideal of myself that I myself, am not really able to see clearly – because it’s just so damn high up there. And this ideal version of me has been eating up the real me, for as long as I can remember, but I, still, am chasing it, every single day.
And just like that, I cut off from my family, from my friends, because I had something more immediate to address: a constant churning of thoughts that wouldn’t leave me. Today, I call it the ‘language of my anxiety‘. And it’s something like this: “Will I be able to check 15 things off of my list today?” “What if I never read a book again?” “Why is everyone in a relationship but me?” “Why doesn’t he like me back?” “How can I be smarter today?” “What if my close friends really give up on me?” “What will I say if XYZ person says this to me?” “Will I never earn enough?” “Should I change that one sentence I wrote in that piece 3 days ago?”
It’s exhausting, but it’s more constant than anything that has been in my life for the past one year.
After more than 6 months of cutting myself off from my family, my mother said, “It’s up to you. You know what to do. You just have to lift yourself up.” But how? When it wasn’t even possible to get out of bed, how would I “lift myself up”? I came close on many mornings to texting my boss, “I need a mental health day” but I could see my work in front of me and all my stress-induced energy kept telling me, “Not today. Today, you are needed for something bigger.” At work, I tried to make even the bathroom breaks last longer – just 30 more seconds where I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. And at home, I even skipped meals or ate really late, just to avoid interaction with my flatmates. Staying put in my room gave me a weird sense of security, but also an unavoidable sense of sadness, that soon became a part of my life. Just like that.
I was going farther and farther away from that ideal I imagined. And the more I kept chasing it, the more I was thrown back. I tried so hard to make everything good all at once that nothing worked. I think by now I had reached a place where I needed help.
One night, a friend called. “This is an intervention,” he said. There was a familiar firmness in his voice, yet this time, it felt different. We spoke for almost 2 hours. I listened to him, as I sobbed. And I realised – that helped. I didn’t sleep that night. I let my thoughts completely take over. I didn’t try to fight them, I saw them so clearly in front of me. And for the first time, I saw just how scarily dominating anxiety can be, so much so that, it can eat you whole while you’re still left smiling and talking to someone.
From the next day, I started reading incessantly about it. Hundreds of young people around the world were dealing with stresses they didn’t really know how to grapple with. And that sucked in a way – because it sucks when you weirdly feel comforted by others not feeling ‘good enough’. But on the flip side, it gave me some strength and some hope to see that many had decided to try and do things to help them feel better, and so did I.
It has now been close to a year that I have lived with this nagging feeling. But now, I am able to tell myself that anxiety doesn’t weaken me, or make me as incapable as I think it does. Its voice is still louder than mine, but I am able to listen to it more clearly. I have learned that I cannot feel just happy or just sad at all times.
I take more 5-minute breaks today, I do a few things that really make me happy, I have started making small decisions that are making me feel healthier. I have never taken so much time to process my own feelings, but maybe it is high time I did. If you are going through something similar, I just want to say that I might not know you, but I am with you. It’s so pressurising and so challenging and it’s annoying how you always need to prove to others that there’s something ‘really’ wrong, but I am trying to feel better anyway, and I hope you do too.
I still haven’t reached a point where I am not aiming for that ideal self, but for the first time in many months, I feel that it might just be okay even if I never reach there.