My anxiety and I are two unwilling roommates.
We are like two frustrated souls in a loveless marriage.
We share the same quarters, the humble abode of all my thoughts – my mind – but neither one of us knows how we got here.
I’d like to believe I was here first. Because I vaguely but fondly remember a time when I used to roam these spaces in my mind alone – free, unchained, unbridled. I used to think only of cartoon characters, of where my next plateful of gajar ka halwa was going to come from, of my nanaji’s stories from the Navy.
But I suppose life only got harder from there. Because my mind must have at some point hit a panic button on realising that I wasn’t going to be able to deal with the world alone, so it did it what it could – it called for help. I don’t remember a knock and I don’t remember opening a door for it, but one day, I found that anxiety had at some point slipped in and made its home here with me.
For the longest time, there were no introductions.
I didn’t know this thing was called “anxiety” and that it was slowly taking up spaces in the corners of my mind, settling down with all the baggage it had brought along. I just knew that I had started stumbling about a lot. I was tripping over the many fences it had set up, until they became walls, with everyone I had ever loved on the other side of it.
It had started recording and repeating every single thing I or someone else would say. It would play these tapes back and they always sounded more twisted than the first time I heard them.
Had I really said that?
Had I maybe offended them?
Why do I say anything at all?
Anxiety, this new roommate of mine, would play these tapes over and over, till all my conversations started sounding…strange, distant.
Why did they say it in that tone?
Do they not like talking to me?
They probably don’t like me. I should stop talking.
My anxiety started keeping an eye on my every move. Everything I did was under surveillance. Every head nod, every blink, every greeting, every single facial expression. It was always there, my anxiety, to tell me that I was doing it wrong. I needed to check and re-check every single task I carried out, because of course, I could not be trusted to do it right the first time.
At 21, I realised I lived with anxiety. And I’ve tried to shake it, fight it off for so long.
I’ve hated and resisted my anxiety. I’ve told it to leave, I’ve screamed at myself for having let it in at all, I’ve tried to pretend it isn’t there. But I know it isn’t going anywhere. It’s been here too long, and this is my anxiety’s home now too.
Because you see, it still serves a purpose. It first came here to help because I was so afraid. And I am still so afraid.
It came here to rescue me from the trauma my mind was going through, to pull me back from the perils of the world. And in so many ways, it has succeeded.
Its obsession with every last detail is the reason I have the streak of perfectionism in me that keeps me from making mistakes. It makes sure I’m never that overbearing person in a group, because my overthinking brain always knows the things I should not be saying. It keeps me from walking head-first into situations that spell trouble, because it sees them coming a mile away. Like a protective mother, it keeps me from all harm.
But I watch people live their lives with all the joys they deserve, and I don’t have to wonder why they have it all.
They live with that joy because even if they don’t have a voice inside telling them to obsess over the finer details, they still know how to get the job done well. Because even if they are the overbearing person in the group, they and other people still come to love them for it. Because even if they walk head-first into trouble, they often come out of the ordeal with stories of an adventure.
What they don’t have is a little minion on their shoulder second-guessing their every line, every action, every goddaamn facial expression. I, on the other hand, do.
I wouldn’t say I fight with my anxiety anymore. But we are at a war of wills.
On the few weaker, harder days, it does take over. But on most days that seem to only be growing with every year, whenever I sense it stepping in a situation where it isn’t needed, I gently but firmly ask it to move out of the way.
Maybe one day, my anxiety and I will be on even better terms. Maybe one day, I will know just how to deal with my fears so that my anxiety doesn’t have to step in at all. Maybe one day, my anxiety and I will reach a swifter arrangement. Hell, we might even be friends.
But that day is not today.