Over the weekend my neighbors had a party that through my walls sounded like a whole lot of fun, and while everyone in my house was there I just couldn’t bring myself to go. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I was sort of sleepy and feeling sick but the real reason I didn’t go, not even for a cute little pump through, is because the whole thing made me nervous. I was worried about being in a new social situation with people I’m not already familiar with. The thought of going over there, saying hi, having small talk, and interacting with strangers was so overwhelming I nearly cried. Why was this so difficult?
It was confusing because I genuinely love being social and am good with people. I love talking to people and finding out their stories. I love getting dressed up and going out until the wee hours of the morning. I love dancing. I love nightclubs, and if you put me in front of an audience of 10 or 100,000 people I won’t feel nervous. So why was a little house party in East London too much to handle?
All this has to do with anxiety, and it has taken me years to realize this is the cause of most of my problems. And that means that for years I’ve let anxiety get the best of me. Anxiety has affected nearly every aspect of my life, from personal and romantic relationships to my creativity and work habits. But where does it come from? Being an academic? Living a precarious life? Being a queer person of color? Over the past several months it’s totally snowballed, growing into a bigger, darker, more ominous cloud. I was fucking everything up, and I knew something wasn’t right but I just couldn’t place what it was.
The first step in battling anxiety is realizing that whatever is making you anxious is never as bad as you think. Maybe I would’ve had a fabulous time/cocktails at my neighbor’s party, and maybe I could’ve committed to talking to someone new and staying for only 30 minutes. At least then anxiety wouldn’t have snatched my wig but, as I’m learning, the road to recovery is bumpy. My body wanted to go to the party but my mind paralyzed me, and the trick is to be proactive so that your mind doesn’t paralyze you. What I’ve learned in the slow process of recovery is that things are never as scary as they seem if you confront them head on.
The second step is knowing your patterns. What makes you anxious? Can you pinpoint the patterns? Mine looks like this: at a certain point I start to feel overwhelmed, like I’m running out of bandwidth and can’t take in more data, which means I freeze and do nothing. I get anxious about a project, a task I’m supposed to do, an email I should respond to, and instead of being proactive and jumping on those tasks, I let them slip and slide, or completely forget, which only adds to the cycle of anxiety and almost always blows up in your face in the end.
Anxiety will always be there, but when you’re aware of your patterns you have what it takes to nip that queen in the bud. The saying goes that people don’t change—that you should never date someone intending to morph them into a totally different person. Maybe the saying is right; maybe people don’t change. But the real you isn’t the one that runs from your fears or hides from your problems.