By Iulia Gheorghe
It never took me such a long time to write an article as this one. Maybe it’s the anxiety to write about anxiety. I am attempting one more time to finish it and, weirdly enough, I’m currently googling "time on Mercury” and ending up reading about how long a year lasts on the other planets. The thought that a year on Neptune lasts as long as 164 Earth years makes me acknowledge that in the best case scenario, people live for a half of a Neptunian year. I’m not very good at math, but it means that me postponing writing this article took, in fact, a couple of seconds in Neptunian time. So let’s pretend for a second that we all live there, while we can. Buh-bye anxiety. In fact, on Neptune I don’t feel I’m losing time. On Neptune, lifetime is short, but time feels expanded. Exactly like a moment spent in anxious “bigbens”.
During March, I did an Insta poll asking my friends what topics would they like to read about, if they had to choose between anxiety and criticism; most of them chose anxiety. Of course, criticism may be hard to process, but nothing is harder than swirling through the anxiety spiral. Somehow, anxiety is like a guardian angel gone crazy. Our brains are wired to worry, but can we make this guardian angel less wacky?
When shitty things actually do happen, we end up, in most cases, good or at least better than we’ve anxiously imagined in vivid fantasies. However, damage is done, because living in a permanently anxious mode is life-consuming and eventually burning us out. In order to do something effective about it, we have to go to the core of anxiety’s functioning system: sweating palms and breathing into a paper bag are only the tip of the iceberg (and the stereotypes circulating in media and cinema when depicting an anxious person).
This is why I deeply relate to Sarah Wilson’s story about anxiety in her book “First, we make the beast beautiful”. It's almost like an invitation into a lab/library/safe space, where her personal struggles meet philosophy, poetry, psychology, science and oriental wisdom in a frank exploration of a feeling that turns our heads and hearts upside down. There is one main idea that made me understand better the language of anxiety, and helped me create a toolkit ready to use in anxious times. I could see clearly through it, and was reminded about my spiritual self.
The idea was this:
High-functioning anxiety is the bitch.
You can be suffering from anxiety even if you are not blushing, sweating, losing your words or trying to breathe. This is the description of a panic attack and not all anxious people experience it. A lot of us suffer from high-functioning anxiety, committed to doing and being busy and especially being needed and solving everything by planning, sorting, running and moving as fast as we can:
“We are a picture of efficiency and energy, always on the move, always doing. We’re Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, always flitting about, convinced everyone depends on us to make things happen and to be there when they do. And to generally attend to happenings.”
I have this image in my head of me, maybe three years ago, in my shower: instead of relaxing after a hectic day, I kept ruminating on and on about all the things I didn’t do and should have done and those ridiculous thoughts tangled in a thick mass like a fur ball. Except that I wasn’t as wise as a cat and I didn’t spit it out. I guess nobody could suspect that I was experiencing anxiety in that way. High-functioning anxious persons rarely manifest something beneath the surface. You watch those people going up and smiling and they look perfectly fine, more than fine, they seem productive and successful and always doing something new, never “sleeping on it”.
As Sarah Wilson pinpoints very well, while depressed people are stigmatized, high-functioning anxious people are sanctified, but often their busyness is a way to protect themselves: doing to forget, doing to avoid, doing to feel useful. This behavior leads eventually to more anxiety, as we are always feeling that something is missing and we are less and less connected to our own core:
“We don’t have time to adjust, to work out our priorities, and to reflect on whether what we’re doing when we’re running around madly is actually meaningful to us.”
The ugly truth is that anxiety does not only hit hard, but also, it hits frequently. In this very moment, I feel a wave of anxiety banging my mind. “First, we make the beast beautiful” is a book that simply breathes resourcefulness; thus, should I write a lengthy article about all the problems and solutions tackled or should I just invite the reader to grab it and digest it in his/her own manner? Why am I anxious about all this? Maybe because of the same reason we accept anxiety in our lives, in the very first place: we want to do what’s best and we forget the joy of just experiencing that activity as mindful as we can, without worrying about the future (and trust me, worry is my middle name). Why can’t I be serene and grateful to be able to read an enlightening book and to write something about it on a blog that I’m writing with a friend? Instead of feeling anxious, I would rather feel blessed to have the opportunity to own a bookshelf (better yet, two of them, a classical one and a virtual one), an outlet to express my feelings and my voice, a writing companion, friends that read my scrambled thoughts and a comfy couch to sit and type when I feel in the mood for it. All this is precious stuff for me. It’s abundance.
When I first scribbled some ideas about this article, I wanted to write about the mental health kit of an anxious person. There is one thing in this kit whose presence, in my opinion, is not negotiable: gratefulness. Gratefulness made me understand what really mattered, and as Sarah said “I also emerged knowing this was enough. It was perfect.”