“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
– Swedish Proverb
“Your rest is not rest. You are resting so that you can work. You are working so that you can rest. You are caught up in a circle.”
One thing about me; I am going to worry. A good chunk of my life is spent worrying about what to eat, the rest is spent just worrying in general. I don’t remember when I first encountered anxiety, but it has quickly become the mainstay of my life, that annoying guest that was to spend the weekend but still remains seven years later and even now receives guests in your home.
I am always anxious. I noticed this a few years ago in the thick of prepping for professional exams. I was anxious about the exams while studying for them, anxious on my way to the exam venue, anxious on my way back home, and anxious for the six or so weeks before the results came out. When I say anxious I don’t mean “casually hoping for the best and slight nervousness”, no I mean waking up at 3am in the morning panicking about my answer to question four. I mean constant heart palpitations and skipped beats that has me running off to WebMD.
If I really think about it, anxiety has been around for much longer, although back then I did not call it by its name. I remember the days back in University when I would wake up in a cold sweat, my heart thumping so hard it was impossible to sleep. What was on my mind pray tell? An impending operation? A death? A breakup? An eviction? Nope. It was the exam I had earlier that day. Then the results would come and I would get top marks (I once got 51/50, no lie), enjoy a slight relief while my heart preps itself to go through the ordeal again.
Writing truly is my therapy because as I write it I am beginning to diagnose myself. I don’t remember this anxiety back in secondary school, not even during final year exams. I barely studied back then- I just freestyled the whole thing and still managed to get decent grades. I remember my final year Agric exam in which I casually decided to glance at the textbook before the exam and was so shocked to see that one of the points I read in the textbook actually came up. Wow who knew that reading a textbook prepares you for an exam? I did not have this anxiety in my first term of university- I spent all my time eating butter croissants and watching old American TV shows; The Cosby Show, Good Times, The Jefferson’s and the like. I would literally pause an episode of The Cosby Show, go write an exam and come back to finish it. Sigh good times. Then I got my result at the end of the term and was not pleased. That was when I had the awakening.
What is the awakening you ask? Hold on, I’ll tell you. After seeing my embarrassing first term GPA, it dawned on me that I would have to sit up if I ever wanted to graduate with honours. The period of coasting was over, and I could no longer rely on common sense to pass my exams. I said to myself- you are smart and you are capable of excellent grades, you just have to apply yourself. If you don’t you will spend the rest of your life trying to convince yourself and others that you could have graduated with honours. And so I did. I began studying hard for each class, and actually started getting good grades. From then on I was always on the Dean’s list for academic achievement and even made the Chancellor’s list for academic achievement (this came with a medal). But there was a cost.
See the result of me applying myself was that I got the results I wanted, but accompanying this was a silent stranger who snuck in like a thief in the night. Whereas previously, exams and tests were not the end of the world for me, they quickly become so. No longer could I nonchalantly waltz in and out of exams, now I had to deal with stress and panic on both sides of the exam. I would beat myself up worrying about the exam I just wrote and this stress would only be abated temporarily by an excellent score. Once I got 89% on a psychology midterm and that ruined my week. I was depressed and dismayed. It was ridiculous.
This stranger has followed me from step to step, sometimes walking slowly at a distance, and other times climbing on my back and putting me in a chokehold.
I no longer have exams, thank goodness, but now the anxiety is about work and life in general. Listen I cannot work and be anxiety free at the same time. Work stresses me out to no end and I am tired of it. Thanks to my anxiety, a meeting scheduled for 2pm means I am going to be stressed until 2pm. Everything else I do before 2pm will pale in significance to the meeting.
I also worry too much and assume unnecessarily. A manager could ask a quick question and that is enough to send me in a downward spiral of doubt and angst. “Oh God what the hell does she want oh my goodness why won’t she leave me alone I ain’t got the answers sway and I feel bad because I probably should have the answers now she has activated my doubt and made me feel foolish and I wish I didn’t have to work with her but really she is not a bad person just overbearing and the reason I feel bad is because she is asking valid questions that I should have asked and oh God I thought tomorrow was Friday but it’s not so now I have to face two more days with her uggggghhhhh let me pep myself up so I don’t sound depressed on the quick call which I really would rather not be on“. Then we have the call and it’s not anywhere close to being a big deal. Madness.
A small portion of my anxiety is the regular anxiety that functioning adults have when dealing with work and deadlines, but most of it is self inflicted from the pressure I put on myself. A manager leaves a review comment on my work and immediately I start to feel stupid for not knowing the answer and not thinking about that in the first place. Then I feel annoyed with the manager and the job as a whole. It’s a mess.
It was the intense stress of exams and waiting for exam results that drove me back to God in 2019, and once I got over that I went back to being a pagan but that’s a story for another day.
The thing is that I can’t just quit my job and hope for happiness because the anxiety is in me not the job. Even if I get a job in which I can explore my creative talents I will still be riddled with anxiety. Even those people who seem to have it all- writers, singers etc must constantly deal with anxiety. I can just see myself as an award winning writer-living in my dream home and still battling with anxiety over my new book; screaming out in irritation every time my editor calls to check in, worrying about meeting the deadline and being sick over how the book will be received. I won’t have a monthly salary/steady income so there will be the stress of ensuring I don’t go broke.
The only way I can be truly happy is to have no pressing responsibilities, no deadlines, no “urgent meetings/quick calls to discuss…” All I need is a steady influx of >£10k each month into perpetuity and I’m good. Oh my God I can’t wait to find the life that’s for me.