One Year of Anxiety and Counting

Before you continue reading: if you suffer these kinds of symptoms or feel the same way, please seek a health professional and/or talk it over with friends or family. This is a personal essay from my own outlook on how I am living—and dealing—with anxiety.

I don’t really know when or how it started. Next thing I knew, I got it, and it won’t leave my body.

But it’s been a year since I knew I was suffering with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).

I wish there was an easier way of explaining this complexity of emotions, but there isn’t. I just know I have it. And it’s a tough challenge to live day to day with this weight on my shoulders that won’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.

Part of the inconvenience of an unstable and ever-changing job description is the uncertainty of a future yet to be unfolded. And while I am slowly learning to keep my eye on what’s right in front of me, the hesitation to refrain from looking ahead further inhibits my association with how I would like to live in the latter years of my life. I thought by default it was normal to worry like this; but it has reached an extreme level that I sometimes cannot control (sometimes I think I’m aware but I disobey myself either way).

How I look at the world seemingly influences this way of thinking. I believe the world is evil (don’t ask me where I got that, I have no idea either), and I am bound to experience this evil in every waking moment of my life. The way I go about it is this: I try to do what I think is right, I try to follow the rules, but when things get out of hand, I know something bad is bound to happen. Or, also, if everything seemed to be going according to plan, you best believe I already have a hunch that a plot twist is just waiting to happen. And also, when a problem seems to be brewing, I immediately come to the conclusion that it cannot be solved. I jump to a faulty conclusion only to find out that I could have solved it if I looked closer.

As much as I get into a crazy trance knowing I suffer this 24/7, I also find it quite interesting how the human brain—how my human brain works. Let’s say, growing up, I have been so anxious of seeing cars pass by, waiting for my mom to fetch me—only to realize that it will take at least 30 minutes to see my car’s plate number, and I’ve lost hope. So when I wait for a Grab driver to show up, I almost always assume it won’t show up. When it does, I’m relieved. But I’m not supposed to worry—because I know it will come (how weird). Or even the act of problem solving: I hate math problems. What is the total number of oranges that Sam picked from the yard? Assuming there were 10 farms in their village, what is the estimated time that he was able to pick out a batch from each? HELP.

Early this year, my brother briefly instructed me on how to use his Dolce Gusto coffee machine. It looked so simple and I nodded to all his instructions. Only to find out that I pressed the wrong button the next day, was not able to get my coffee properly, and panicked for a good ten minutes. All for a cup of coffee. This isn’t even counting the stain I managed to put on my host’s countertop during my first apartment stay in Berlin, because my idiotic self put the hot water on the wrong compartment in the Moka pot. Sometimes I think I’m dumb, or the general anxiety makes my brain cells diminish. I don’t know.

And then, you have the usuals: What if the driver doesn’t show up? What if the elevator doesn’t open? What if we miss our flight? What if there won’t be any parking? (my worst fear, really)

There’s more and more each day. My brain logs all these permutations, processes it, and makes sure I know how to deal with common situations in order to avoid conflict at all costs. It’s also making me curious which part of New York actually caused this. Was it the relatively horrible 2-hour commute from the other side of the city? Was it because two professors disrespected me? Was it the cold weather I wasn’t used to? Was it the rainy day I spent locked out of the house; or the conflicts I had with people close to me? Was it the week-long dread that heightened my quarter life crisis? I don’t know. But I think I’m way past the stage of feeling like shit thinking about it. New York was a bad choice; but it led me to Berlin, so I have no regrets. Except I really could have booked an apartment in Brooklyn instead. I swear.

Anyway. That’s not the point.

My point is, I should probably learn to be more responsible for my own thoughts. As of this writing, I’ve been taking anti-depressants for seven months now. This week, I purposely cut down my dosage. Taking these SSRIs as prescribed by my psychiatrist definitely helped, and my coping mechanism for the past months proved to be great. But there really are days that are tougher than the others. The others are usually covered up by a huge amount of workload that never seems to end. And this brings me back to my initial observation: I have been working with heavy workload since 2015 started, so it’s no surprise that having periods of idle time has messed up (okay, not exactly the term I wanted to identify with but close enough) my thought process in general. That, and this person I used to talk to who’d never reply to me until every two days. Ever since, my relationship with the two checks on Viber, Telegram or WhatsApp scare the hell out of me.

When I went into a conflict on the road (aka my car was hit by another car and of course since I’m a woman, I was immediately accused by this government-operated vehicle that I was a weak driver), I immediately started seeking professional help. The doctor said I had unipolar depression, which meant I was never extremely happy. It was always sad or neutral (which holds very true; I don’t have a lot of feelings in general). This apathetic attitude has thoroughly affected my work habits, and it’s also why a lot of the work I started doing after 2017 felt so indifferent to me. At some point, I felt like a puppet moving along and just doing work, not really entirely sure if I still liked it or not. A lot of my decisions are (surprisingly) emotionally driven (but logical at times), so it’s quite apt to say that a lot of my experiences stem out of my inability to know myself at a deeper level.

For the longest time, I always felt like I couldn’t find myself when it feels like I have thoroughly reached a point where I have. Of course, it’s a facade. I never really know yet. Maybe it went with time. Maybe I was too naive back then—all I cared about was working and earning money and reaching “success”. But as I wrote in my latest self-help book, the meaning of success changes over time. For now, my measure of success is assuring myself that I can live a good life, free of the conformities of societal constraints (such as but not limited to: getting married at a certain age, having kids, staying in my hometown etc), and that I can make art that I want, versus what others expect of me.

But also my measure of success would be to heal my anxiety. It may be far away at this point, but I’m at this period of acknowledgement and not pitying myself anymore—so that is definitely a start.

Happy anniversary, anxiety? Please learn how to calm down, @self.

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