I’m an anxious person. I always have been. When I was a child I used to get panicky and upset if my mum was away for two long, which in restrospect must have been quite wearing. I was needy and insecure. In many ways I am much less of those things these days – I have an excellent support network, a loving partner, a basically good relationship with my family, a job I enjoy even if freelancing is stressful. But the inside of my head is still, a lot of the time and particularly at certain times of the month or life circumstances, pretty uncomfortable.
I am shattered by my own inadequacy the vast majority of the time. I am continually humiliated by the obviousness of my own failure. I worry hugely about almost every piece of work I produce for almost any audience. I spend time with friends I adore and worry afterwards that actually they find me offensive or trying too hard or dull or a social cripple and our relationships are gradually falling apart. (Dear close friends: yes, this includes you, and I’m sorry.) I angst at least temporarily over almost every communication that I send, be it text message, fbk message or (even worse) email. If there’s any professional aspect (academic, journalistic, copywriterly) or element of uncertainty involved – a friend I don’t know so well or haven’t spoken to for a while, any favours being offered or accepted, event planning – the angsting process extends indefinitely, or at least until my next communication with the person concerned, whereupon I start angsting about that one instead.
This is just normal for me. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember. In fact it’s been better over recent years, and being in an actual, functional grown-up relationship with someone who’s known me for two thirds of my life and really gets me helps a lot of my deep-seated psychological shit. But that element of actually feeling loved and okay has actually served to highlight the extent to which I am mostly anxious about everything anyway.
Take parties. I love parties. I love my friends. I tend to like their friends. I like dancing and talking to people and generally having a good time. But still, actually going to a party necessitates hours of fretting to psych myself up. Once I’m there, I’m generally okay, if there’s people I like to talk to and nobody is deliberately rude or challenging or provocative, but on the way home I will inevitably beat myself up for my social incompetence and general inability to communicate with anyone. Sometimes this can continue for days, or even weeks.
I am panicked and insecure for no logical reason most of the time.
Much of my time and most of my headspace is devoted to the ways I’m failing. Current favourite topic is as a granddaughter – my beloved grandmother died last year, far away – or professionally, but there are an infinite variety of other flavours available. The crushing inadequacy isn’t exactly there all the time, though. It’s more like it comes and goes, fading in or out, from background hum to overwhelming din. There is an infinite downward spiral of inadequacy and torment I could fall into and I teeter on the edge, painfully. It’s often pretty grim. But at the same time, it’s also just…how my brain works. There are levels on which I hardly notice it anymore.
To some extent doing my PhD mitigated the constant sense of failure, because then my work was – as my lovely clinical psychologist put it – entirely congruent, an honest expression of myself and my talents largely filtered only through self-imposed standards. By definition, I knew more about what I was doing than anyone else, and all my supervisor cared about was that my research was original and significant, my expression clear and (by far the greatest challenge) my presentation appropriate, footnotes and bibliography kept properly. Whilst I managed *at one and the same time* to feel passionately that my work was important and understanding the centrality of cultural environment to eating disorders is fundamental to breaking them down, and like an academic failure unworthy of attention, publication, employment or anything else, the actual process of researching or writing was…okay. Often calming or exciting and sometimes both. Now, though, where I have to sell myself and then prove myself repeatedly with every new job, there’s none of that confidence in my own judgement, there’s just…getting it right or not. (In my head, always, inevitably the latter.)
(Sometimes it stops me doing things I feel I’ll be judged on and found wanting – like my book proposal – for months if not years, but anything with a deadline is usually okay, because I fear missing deadlines more than I fear imperfect things).
I’m not complaining, here, as much as explaining. Many people have it worse, including my OCD/bipolar boyfriend and friends. It’s been there for so long in some ways I hardly notice it any more – or rather, I am myself around it with (sometimes) barely a blink.
I have no particular agenda here. I’m not asking for reassurance or diagnosis or anything, although solidarity always welcome. I suppose I’m just interested to articulate it, because it’s so much the background of my inner life that it’s the filter through which I experience the world. And maybe everyone feels like this, too, on the inside?