We know her as a feminine presence in Portuguese, my mother tongue, because of the word’s gender: Ansiedade. Anxiety, genderless, in English.
Medo (Fear) is masculine, on the other hand. They have a close relationship, Anxiety and Fear. They might even be married.
I have known Anxiety well, as long as I’ve been conscious of my own existence. One may even say that she raised me. She has propelled and stopped many of my actions.
Anxiety has been my (volatile) nanny, but one I haven’t “outgrown.”
Companion of all hours, she is troubled, and sometimes does not measure the consequences. She makes us think of the future almost all the time, and as often forget the present. She makes the moment seem insignificant, considering a universe of bad and good choices and possibilities.
Anxiety invades our ideas and our dreams, and tries to kill everything that’s spontaneous.
She is a lover of Fear and an enemy of Impulse (Impulso – also masculine) – until she decides to flip them around on a whim or under “liquid courage.” Anxiety then takes Guilt (Culpa, feminine), as a persistent, nagging side mistress when the intoxicating fog is cleared.
The chronically anxious wonders what she or he should have done and didn’t, what she or he did and shouldn’t have done. Never satisfied, she or he often wants more, expects more and bites off more than can be chewed.
Our relative success (an apple given us by Anxiety herself) hides our deep insecurities and open wounds.
A perfect – and perfectly controlled – tomorrow becomes a need, a need tragically impossible to fulfill. Just like the need to erase the past.
Anxiety takes away sleep and hunger, or does exactly the opposite, bringing fatigue and compulsion. She is the master of worry and a contradiction within herself, at the same time a stimulant and a depressant.
Anxiety is a drug. She both spawns Addiction (Vício – masculine) and is spawned by him.
The gnats, the gnats keep buzzing in our heads, painfully knocking against our rationality:
What if the plane crashes? If the car doesn’t arrive at its destination? What if I’m late? What if I fail to please?
The utterly unpredictable, the unseen, the unknowable become a nightmare. Faith (Fé – also feminine) is no match for Anxiety.
Anxiety is a prison that steals the pleasure of the pursuit, and the ability to realize that the quest is often more valuable than the perpetually moving target of the projected and hoped-for result.
She is a melting pot of love- and homesickness and of (ethereal and elusive) passion that transforms solitude into loneliness. She makes the chronically anxious think that a decision, any decision, is better than having to wait.
And the gnats come back to haunt us:
What if I married the wrong person? If I made the wrong deal? What’s gonna happen now?
For the chronically anxious, happiness doesn’t exist, because it lives in the future or in a past which she or he would like to recreate in the present.
We all feel something like this, at different intensities, with more or less danger of soul extermination. But we know when it’s always been there and, if we take an honest look at ourselves, we know when it’s time to look for help.
Some seek medicine and/or professional help (you’d be surprised and perhaps also disturbed how easy it is to be prescribed mood-altering meds by your general practitioner in the US), others seek a cure in other people or objects in their personal lives. The latter is a kind of cure that never comes, though, and I suggest you do talk to someone you trust about what you’re feeling and see where to go from there.
There’s a spectrum of “normality” and it’s hard to see where we fall. But the priority is to figure out if you’re hurting too much, and what could sustainably help you hurt less.
With that said, I’m afraid Anxiety, in general, is on an upward trend. It’s an epidemic perhaps particularly fertile in our day and age, when we are living longer than ever before but when everything else seems to last much shorter.
Lovers and jobs go away without warning. Competition (Competição – feminine) swallows without leaving a trace, while leaving enormous scars on one’s ego. Crime (Crime – masculine), the versatile boogeyman, changes his face and preferred locations. Neurosis (Neurose – feminine) keeps spreading her tentacles.
Anxiety becomes simply living, the battle to be able to endure the certainty of uncertainty enough to at least keep functioning on a daily basis. When you pass us by in the street, look out for the nervousness behind our well-honed and maintained smiles. And maybe take a second to smile back.
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