This seems to happen every year. When I say “I have anxiety”, it is very different to “I am anxious about …”. I am not anxious about. Being anxious about is a perfectly sensible and normal and (usually) manageable reaction, which is linked to a very identifiable source. I was anxious about my driving test. This isn’t that, and to start speculating about real sources is kind of a The fish are dead situation.
The problem here is a surplus amount of anxiety that appears out of nowhere at this time of year, which has no obvious source and infects my life in other ways. Now, anxiety is something I quite frequently cultivate in quantities far beyond any for which I have any practical use, but it seems there is something about this time of year that triggers it and sustains it on its own for a while to a far greater extent than I otherwise experience.
The part I like least is how it poisons your perceptions and tries to attach itself to things it has no business with. The internet seems to be something that can easily bring out insecurities and exaggerate problems, and it seems to be where these feelings end up heading.
It struck exactly four weeks and one day ago. It was a bank holiday, I was a bit bored, nothing out of the ordinary. I saw something, and it was like a switch had been flicked in my head.
There was someone I chat to online semi-frequently, and it had occurred to me on the Friday before that I hadn’t seen them for a week or so. I sent them a message on the Friday, expecting to hear from them, but they didn’t reply. On the Monday my irrational brain decided that it was immediately of the utmost importance that I found out that they were ok. Maybe it was building up for a few days, but it was the Monday that it suddenly happened.
And there we go. The anxiety has seemingly validated itself by giving me a real source of worry. It doesn’t matter that up until this point I usually went online (to chat) only 2-3 times a week and often not for very long, and that through my own choice had not spoken to this person for a week prior to the last time I saw them online. Yet I suddenly find myself making sure I am available all the time and checking frequently to see if this person is around, and somehow justifying my anxiety by the fact they aren’t. SOMETHING MUST BE WRONG. This is called craziness. And as an aside, it is something that I observe in my mother often, so maybe I am just genetically doomed.
It took another two weeks, but it turned out they were fine. Does the anxiety stop? No, of course not, because that was never of the slightest interest to my brain, it was just a convenient minor insecurity that it could latch onto.
And now I’m still strangely obsessed with being online, because somehow over the last few weeks, my brain has convinced me that I must be, and I feel fragile enough to believe it. This is another problem. When I am not online I feel that I should be, and when I am, there often isn’t much of interest happening and so I feel a bit agitated, as if my brain promised me untold rewards of entertainment and excitement and then failed to deliver.
I think this problem is distinct from the anxiety; it’s just that a lot of these online worlds are Skinner boxes, but most of the time most of us are in a good enough mental state that we don’t feel emotionally reliant on them or compelled to indulge in them at the wrong times. A state which I am not in at the moment.
The anxiety itself is manageable, but the way it skews my perception of and responses to everything else, not so much. Any little uncertainty or insecurity is open to making me feel terrible. I can feel fine one minute then I have a tiny little thought that triggers it all, and I feel my heart rate increase … and it’s all just terribly unpleasant and not at all easy to deal with. And then it lies to you. You think: what if life is *always* like this? It’s clearly not, but you’re not entirely convinced; it seems hard to ever imagine it any other way. Even if it was different yesterday. You think: “I have to get home and go online”. WHY. There is no good reason. It is just an urge that you end up with. It won’t help but for some reason your brain wants you to think it will.
Anxiety is, of course, an evolutionary form of motivation. And it is indeed perfectly fitting that one of the things bothering me is my lack of procreation opportunities. This is a conundrum, because it’s a perfectly reasonable biological urge which the last few millions of years of evolution have ensured I should experience very strongly, which goes against my belief that my anxiety is irrational and should be ignored. This is an absurd feeling. I can’t possibly make life altering changes at the behest of what I’m yet to be convinced is not a mental health disorder. People do this all the time (especially a particular group I’m particularly acquainted with), and guess what, they’re usually still just as fucked up afterwards because they misidentified the source of their problems and they just made a huge commitment they are poorly suited to dealing with. Also, I suspect that if I was in a nice relationship, I’d probably spending this anxiety wondering if I actually should be… …or maybe I am just making excuses. The fact is: I’ll probably never know.
I suppose the simple problem is that I have no idea if my feelings are grounded in reality. And if they are I have no idea what to do. And if they’re not, I don’t know how to ignore them.