Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Overthinking: my age of anxiety

Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Graphic by Emma Kratky

Let me be clear ó the story I am telling you today is the story of a child, a young adult, navigating a world too expansive to comprehend. If you think you need professional help, by all means, seek it out.

Last year, I wrote a column titled Ďa confession from me, to you,í in which I described how Iím an anxious introvert, how I overthink everything, how I feel like my behavior at my job is a performance art. But since then, I feel like somethingís shifted. Let me tell you about it.

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I donít know when I started feeling anxious, but I know when it started getting bad. I was in seventh grade, and I slowly started feelingÖ weird. One day, before taking a big test, I looked at myself in the mirror and knew deep down that I was more nervous than I should have been, but I didnít want to acknowledge it in hopes that the feeling would go away.

It didnít.

That winter, my strange nervous feeling got so bad that it was all I could think about most days. I read a book with my mom that said that you should let the feeling wash over you and not fight it. Supposedly, it helped a lot of people. It didnít help me.

My therapist at the time asked me to draw a picture of how I felt. I drew a black mass, jagged, tendrils, spikes of red, emanating from my stomach and jabbing, creeping upwards, into my rib cage, into my throat, into my brain. This was me, and there was no me without it.

The winter passed, and I started to feel a little better. My days were defined by how well I could contain the feeling in my stomach. Some days were better, but none good ó the mass never left.

As I have got older, a lot of my anxiety has been characterized by irrational fears that snowball out of control. When I was a junior in high school, I was deathly afraid of reading out loud in my history class because when I got nervous my voice would shake. My obsessive thoughts started with a simple glance at my teacherís desk at the beginning of every class period to see if there were handouts we would read. As the weeks went on, it got to the point where every night, the idea of reading in class would lurk in the back of mind and manifest into a deep-seated dread in my body. I couldnít shake it.

I think most, if not all, of these feelings stemmed from a lack of control. My fears consumed me in middle school and sat with me in high school. As I grow older and puberty and the hormones involved become a receding figure in my rear view mirror, I feel less of that powerlessness and need for control ó but I think thereís something else at play here, too.

My freshman year of college, I had a revelation ó well, more like a conscious realization of a gradual shift in my thinking ó that the quality of my days doesnít need to be measured by my lack of anxiety. The physical feeling of anxiety is more or less always present in my body, if only a small amount, and Iíve had some really great times while itís there. It feels a lot less like a chaos monster Iím battling on the daily, and more like an old friend.

As I've gotten older, Iíve gotten better at acknowledging and contextualizing my irrational thoughts. As a teenager, I think itís really easy to think that the world hates you and everything is bad, but the older I get, the more nuance I see. Most people are focused on themself and trying to get through their own life, and probably arenít giving a second thought to the weird thing I did at lunch. Itís OK if my brain thinks that everyone hates me, but I can recognize that itís likely not true, and that it really is all in my head.

I want to write a part two to this column, about how I stopped caring about what people think of me so much. It was a pretty fundamental shift in how I think, and itís hard to tell this story without telling that one. So until next time, lovely readers.

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