Post-Grad and Anxiety
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“I am so anxious.”
Every May, thousands of graduates adopt this mantra as their go-to response to the incessant question of “so, how are you?” As someone with a close familiarity with anxiety, I am hyper-aware of its sudden increase in use in daily conversations. This is the phrase I hear countless friends use, and very aptly so. We are anxious in every connotation of the word: we are excited, nervous, shaky, unsure, ready to get it over with, and ready to begin. We are all caught in the uncomfortable company of this ambiguous agitation, some struggling to get past it and others simply living in it for all it’s worth.
It is true that anxiety can push us to great accomplishments. But it is also true that it can be a crippling state. It has taken me a long time to write this down, but I find that I am now in good company.
When I was 11 years old, I was formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. For years I have dealt with anxiety that creeps in and grips me with its venomous claws. At a young age I was thrown into this phrenic panic that seemed damning and noxious. At 11 years old I stood helpless as my mind separated me from my closest friends. My days were painted with colors darker than I should have known at that age, while I was dressed in bright pinks and floral dresses. In the mornings I would crawl into my parents’ bed and beg them to allow me to stay home. My anxiety would make me physically ill, and I’d go to school feeling sick and scared. Permanent dark circles formed under my eyes from the lack of sleep and tears, and I became a person I did not know. I remember that being the most frightening thing: losing yourself and not knowing where you went or who was occupying your body at that time.
I spoke with professionals, got the support I needed, but anxiety is not always a curable disorder. These episodes happened again and again with every transition in my life. My first few weeks of college were spent faking a smile on my walks to class, then crying in my bed and counting down the days when I could return home and, possibly, transfer to my local college. Lucky for me, I prevailed once again thanks to my support system, namely my mother who has never once given me the option to fall.
Now I am in a new transition, and I know I haven’t given myself enough credit for this leap. All my life I have been embarrassed by my inability to handle what I saw my peers doing with ease. This time, however, it feels different. I see my friends at unease. I hear the trepidation in their voices. A part of me selfishly enjoys the company at last in this state of worry and confusion. But, more poignantly, I feel the need to comfort and reassure. By encouraging others, I hear the words of my own support system coming out of my mouth. I am reminded of all that I have overcome and how, of course, I can do it again.
Possibly the most frustrating thing to hear from others is that go-to phrase “It’ll all be fine.” This seems to suggest that passivity is the answer to all our life problems when we know for a fact that it is exactly the opposite. We are all hyper-aware at this stage that everything requires extra work, a copious amount of effort, and more sleepless nights than we’d like to see. I’d like to be able to tell my parents or my boyfriend what to say to me instead, but in my anxiety-ridden state, there is nothing anyone can say to calm me. I am caught in a whirlwind of pressure with a somersaulting stomach. Sleep is my refuge, but even then I worry about everything I am not getting done in the meantime.
I don’t have a simple solution to offer. Although I have been searching for years for an easy fix, I have very little advice for those going through the same thing. The other night when I tried to describe my dizzying frenzy over an upcoming interview, my mom simply replied, “You’re going to be nervous no matter what. You know that. What is the use in trying to change it?” I knew she was right. I cannot escape the natural defense mechanisms my body puts up. But at least I can expect it and prepare.
I guess simply knowing, expecting, planning, and dealing is all any of us can do. I am learning not to blame myself, but to accept myself as I am and find a silver lining. If anything, I have developed deep empathy over the years because of my anxiety.
I will trust that everything happens for a reason and, equally important, I am a reason.
[Photo by Julie Bloom.]
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