When You’re So Anxious It Actually Hurts

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Matheus Ferrero / Unsplash

The nervous shit. A close friend of mine. The anxious pee. Another close friend. Nausea, palpitations, diaphoresis. All sensations I am closely acquainted with.

I think I was born anxious. I must have had meconium spurting out of my asshole as I exited my mother’s womb, terrified about what lay in store for me in the outside world. As a baby, I at least had the excuse of being non-verbal to avoid interacting with people. But as I aged and developed the ability to speak, the expectation to interact with other human beings grew. And so did my anxiety.

I was the shyest child in the world. On my first day of kindergarten, I stood at the door and refused to enter the classroom for the whole three hours. When my neighbor asked me what I got for Christmas at age seven, I just stared at him in mute fear. Frozen, literally petrified into stunned silence. It was an existence I would get very used to.

It wasn’t just mutism that was the manifestation of my anxiety. In uni, I avoided lectures, tutorials, labs, any and all social gatherings when I could. I strategized the best time to arrive at something so I could see and be seen by as few people as possible. I would sneak in the back entrance two minutes into the lecture and leave at the end before anyone could see me.

Perversely, I worked so hard to avoid seeing people while simultaneously wanting to see and talk to people so badly. But whenever I did, I felt like an alien whose vocal cords did not have the ability to speak the English language. Cohesive sentences wouldn’t come out of my mouth, thoughts wouldn’t be processed in my brain. I came across as cold and aloof most of the time and knowing that made it all the worse.

Anxiety mingled with panic once I started working. When you’re so anxious that you can’t formulate coherent sentences around your boss, you begin to wonder if it’s going to affect your job opportunities. I would get depressed over my anxiety and anxious over my future. I was fucked up.

Then I had an epiphanic month. No pivotal event happened. It sort of insidiously crept up on me. I came to realize that I could choose who and what mattered. A person’s negative opinion of me couldn’t affect me unless I chose to let it. Once I realized that I saw that very few people were actually judging me. I learned to release my insecurities. I was liberated.

When you undervalue yourself, your perception of how people see you is just a reflection of how you see yourself. You’re the perpetual lesser human being, the underdog. The day I began to value myself was the turning point of my adult life. Nothing about my personality or my interests or my talents or abilities changed. I was exactly the same person but it was like the crushing curtain of self-doubt that had been smothering me for the last 24 years was stripped away.

I’m still an anxious person. I will always speculate, catastrophize, or dread. I will always hate answering doorbells and phone calls. But my ability to function in this world has been irrevocably improved. I’m not scared anymore. I am finally good enough. TC mark

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