“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”
The first thing you need to understand about someone living with anxiety is,
THEY THINK THEY ARE UNWORTHY OF LOVE OR HAPPINESS.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Are these words staring at you? Are they making you conscious? Isn’t it a little difficult to concentrate on other words when these are gawking at you? Now imagine how it is for someone who has a placard of these unkind words in their brains, and how it feels when the boards are constantly flashed at them, every single minute that they are aware. And by the way, an anxious person’s brain never shuts off.
Image source: Harshal Nikale
Suggested read: Anxiety Is Love’s Greatest Killer, And Here’s Why
The first time I realized I had anxiety was when I was 9. My grandmother had come to stay with us, and that was the best thing that had happened to me ever. We had not bonded before this, and my 9-year-old self thought this was an opportunity for me to make her like me. This is how it is for a person with anxiety: the constant need to be liked. This need forces them to overdo themselves, overstretch themselves to exhaustion. I was to relate this requirement to anxiety only in the latter part of my teens.
Anyway, when I was successful in making her like me (of course she liked and loved me before I thrust this mission upon myself. The problem was, I wasn’t convinced that she would like me without me having to prove that I am likeable!). Okay, let me word myself better: When I was successful in making myself believe that she liked me, another panic attack struck me almost immediately: She is going to die!
To make you understand why this was a problem: My grandma was the healthiest person in the whole town; she was the happiest person I had ever known; plus, she was only 70, and in no hurry to leave the planet. Fast-forward to today: My parents will be 70 in the next 5-6 years; imagine how I am dealing with that?
Here’s the thing: People living with anxiety (Battling the urge to add a “?” after “living” though!) come up with all the bad things that can possibly happen to them, to their family, to people they love, and even those they hardly know.
“You are going to lose the ones you love,” paranoia hisses to your brain, and then you think, “The the best way to save all these people and save myself from the excruciating pain of losing them eventually, is to shut them out, right now.” All the more, you tend to end some relationships and friendships even before they begin, because you have thought of all the possible scenarios of how they are going to end, and so it is best to never start them at all.
Image source: Harshal Nikale
If you are living with anxiety, it goes without saying that you care too much. About every single thing! From care takes birth worry, and from worry anxiety. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t look like someone who is about to collapse because of their racing hearts. On the contrary, we may be the calmest person you know. The art of deceptiveness came naturally to us with our anxiety, and over the years, we have bettered ourselves at it. For instance, in my friends circle, I am the one who says “Keep calm” or “Relax” the most! So you know what I am saying!
The other thing that reminds you that you are one hell of an anxious being, is the need to double check on things important and unimportant. Did I lock the door properly? Is the geyser off? Did I take my meds? Is my dad’s belly going up and down when he is sleeping? Phew, he is alive! Did I turn off the stove? Is the milk still boiling? Will I always be able to write? Or will the words evade me, eventually? Did I lock the door properly? And here we go again!
Anxious people are also never late to a meeting, formal or otherwise. Yes, that’s a good thing, being punctual, but beating yourself up for not being on time for a genuine reason, proves you have anxiety. There have been situations when I have wanted to be late because the person I was meeting didn’t value my hour the last time we got together, and yet it was too difficult to not reach the café before time! The fear of being late can be so severe that it can push you over the edge.
“Done is better than perfect.” I keep telling myself this. I have even added this to my Instagram description. Some people have come up to me and asked me how this is any good. They say,
“But just getting something done, to tick it off your list, how can you go all-out just for that instead of doing something perfectly? Are you telling people that striving for perfection takes effort and time, and so, must be avoided?”
No, you have got it all wrong. Everyone cannot relate to a quote the same way, like each song conjures up different memories for different people.
“Done is better than perfect.” For someone with anxiety, this is a fix. It is an answer to one of the million questions they keep asking themselves. People like me always go for perfection and set standards for themselves which are humanly impossible to achieve. And when they fail (who was expecting a different outcome, anyway!), they get really hard on themselves and go down the rabbit hole of shame-spiraling.
Image source: Harshal Nikale
This also explains why we procrastinate so much. Since we keep telling we are not going to succeed to hit the t in perfect, it is best if we take a rain-check on for as long as it is possible. But does that mean we work less? Hell no, that’s not even an option. Our plates are always full, and we take on so much responsibility because one, it saves us from over analyzing every single thing that we can think of, and two, we think it is the best way to be liked.
Yes, I have a little more to talk about when it comes to this need to be liked by people, because it is important. If you are someone with anxiety, then you cannot even imagine hurting someone’s feelings; I don’t know if that has anything to do with you being a good human being, but it has a lot to do with you never wanting to do anything wrong because it will hurt you too much.
Suggested read: How Anxiety Affects A Relationship And How To Tackle It
Even at 2 at night, if a friend texts saying, “Need to talk,” you cannot not respond. You will be heavy-eyed and comatose, and yet, you will stay up to let them bombard you with their rant. Only when they say they have gotten bored of their own tedious self-observed recital, and want some sleep, will you say “Oh, okay, good night.” And after disconnecting the call, can you sleep? NO! You go into the mode where you critically examine something that has not happened:
Why did he say bye so abruptly? It was going so well. He was telling me everything. I had become his best friend. I must have said something. I must have not sounded like I was taking his problem seriously. He does not trust me. What did I say????
Image source: Harshal Nikale
And so you scroll back to the top of your conversation, and start reading all over again. You do this through the night, and once after you get up in the morning. And what happens if this friend of yours does not text you the next day, you come to the conclusion that you are a horrible person and deserve no human connection!
If just reading about it feels frustrating, then imagine living with it. Now, in case you think one can “snap out of it” or “get over it” or “stop being overdramatic about it,” shut yourself up right there. No one wanted this. We didn’t ask for this. We would give anything to not be this way. But that does not help. Nor does your irresponsible, unsolicited, and frankly, insensitive, advice.
The stigma around mental illnesses has to go away, and to do that, each of us has to talk about “our situation,” so that when people with similar experiences read it, they realize they are not alone. “You are not alone,” there cannot be better assurance for someone suffering from anxiety.
And those of you who don’t have anxiety, how can you help? First step: Stop assuming things. People with anxiety are not losers. Anyone can be affected by anxiety. It does not matter how many awards you have won or how much money you mint at the end of the month. It also does not matter where you stand in the food pyramid!
Encourage people to talk about their condition. Don’t push them, just hear them out. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are giving out signs. Read them. Tell them how it is okay to get that checked by a doctor. Tell them that pills and therapy are not a joke.
Most importantly, do not judge them. This will force them to hide their vulnerability. Tell them it is okay to be defenseless. Help them to learn to trust you, and how trust feels because they have no clue. Tell them that there is hope, because there is hope.
Featured image source: Harshal Nikale