A darkness swells inside you, tormenting both body and soul. It may as well be literal darkness, for it draws a dulling curtain down across the shimmer and sheen of life’s joys. Gloom. And as though a physical illness, it elicits tremendous weakness, like the weight of a thousand chains holding steady against every forward step of progress. It stalls, holds back; inertia incarnate. Manifest from fear, it breeds a pervasive insecurity and begets an irrational suspicion.
What’s worse, it feeds itself. Like all harmful emotions, fear begets further fear; unhealthy thinking ultimately leads to unhealthy habit. Dismay, the very thing that must first be overcome before one can begin to overcome anxiousness, is borne from that anxiousness in the first place. This illness’s paradigm presents a paradox: how to be cheerful when filled with distress? How to combat this distress in an absence of cheer?
How to stay steady when your successes are seen in the context of failure, mere happenstances in the broader context of disappointment? Or when those successes are seen not for what they are, but rather as opportunities for future failure?
Anxiety, in a nutshell.
I have grappled with this scourge for much, indeed most, of my life. Like the ebbs and flows of many mental maladies, it waxes and wanes with the circumstances of the time. Yet, invariably, it is always there, lingering in the shadows, bracing itself to strike at a moment of opportunity. Or, perhaps more aptly put, at a moment of inopportunity. For anxiety, unlike standard stress or natural nervousness, is not an emotion capable of compulsion. It does not manifest itself in beneficial ways, like how stress can prompt productivity. Rather, at every turn, it serves as an impediment, holding back any inkling of will or desire toward achieving something. And it comes most frequently whenever an inkling of that will or desire is found.
Will I find love? Will I find a job?
These questions, among others, loiter constantly at the back of my mind. They are hardly existential questions, of course, incapable of eliciting some more ethereal form of existential nausea. Yet they hardly concern themselves with the routines and minutia of daily life, either. Rather, they are broad questions, manifest from fears about the direction and character that my life is taking. They touch upon the very identity I am trying to form, the very notion of who I hope to become.
These are questions whose answers should be quite profound, quite significant. They are questions whose answers should give me some sense of direction and purpose. Indeed, these are questions whose answers should give me some respite from the constant alarm about what lay next.
Yet with anxiety, there is no answer for these questions. At least, there is none capable of satisfying the fear they represent. For, every time progress is made in my life, this anxiety questions whether it was truly progress at all. Every positive step forward presents instead a dangerous opportunity for failure, another excuse for an anxiety-ridden mind to perpetuate its state of concern:
I have found love; will that love abandon me? I have found a job; will I do well at that job, and will I find another one after it?
A life spent in a state of perpetually questioning one’s own worth and fearing the worst is hardly a life worth living. A stage is set for self-imposed failure, borne from the fear of that very thing.
There is no memorable lesson that will come out of this brief post; no moral tale, wise anecdote, or policy conclusion. Equally so, there is no entirely satisfactory way for me to grapple with the mind I have been born with, or the many manifestations that my anxiety takes. Yet the simple process of writing this, of acknowledging the issue, of putting the thoughts and feelings associated with the affliction into words, is a step toward progress. It is a step toward a more lasting and longer lasting clarity, and clarity is the antithesis of anxiety.
Life is a meandering journey. We may or may not have our individual “destinies,” but they are for us to create, not for us to know beforehand. And as the maxim goes, “one closed door opens infinite others.” In short, worrying about the direction one’s life is headed, or fearing the circumstances that one’s life faces, is a pointless endeavor. It runs contrary to the very essence of the life experience, an experience borne from trial and error, fits and starts, fault, failure, and recovery. Ultimately, while there is much we can control about our lives, we exist in a swirling cascade of context and circumstances that extend far beyond our simple and limited capacity to control events.
Anxiety is an illness of worrying. It is an illness stemming from a fear over lack of control. At times, it is difficult to penetrate the emotions and thoughts that manifest from anxiousness, to recognize that it is an exercise in futility. But there is worth in placing in the back of your mind, next to where the anxious tendencies have neatly found their niche, the constant understanding that life is beyond our control. For it is. And with this grounding comes a moment’s relief.
Moving forward is, of course, a constant struggle when you always feel held back. Yet it is a worthwhile struggle, one which anxiety can’t keep me, or anyone else, from undertaking. Moving forward takes the form of talking about the issue, addressing it head on, and recognizing how it impacts us and why. For only by knowing our adversary can we learn to combat it.
And as I move forward, I keep in the back of my mind the valuable knowledge that it is only anxiety, that life is beyond my control, and that that is okay.