I never intended to write about my anxiety, because several people do it better and for better reasons, while I count it as yet another reason to lament about my life; in my feeble defence, I’m seventeen. Regardless, the internet and I had a conversation yesterday which I thought was completely hilarious, so I thought it was worth writing about.

I’ve always been mildly obsessed with typology and personality tests. I know they are not entirely accurate, but I still enjoy reading about myself. It’s my brand of subtle, inherent narcissism which I tell myself adds character. It so happened that I stumbled upon a page which supposedly tests your degree of social anxiety, and I unquestioningly went ahead with it. After a series of generic questions which met the expectation for all tests about neuroses, I was taken to this page:

“No strengths detected. No potential strengths detected.”

Thank you, Psychology Today, I really needed that added dose of self-loathing. There is something to be said about the instant reflexive bout of indignation which comes over a person when they are told they are wholly devoid of strengths, and slapped in the face with all their “limitations” (never let it be said that this website is not politically correct. Shut up, I learned in kindergarten that “weak” is the antonym of “strong.”). I laughed out loud for quite some time after I got over the initial annoyance. However, these are all things I know very well- I have made several manic explorations into the inner workings of my mind.

This has been in the background of my mind for over twenty-four hours, to the point where I started picturing myself typing up this article, so today, in lieu of another angst-ridden poem or failed attempt at humour drawing from my limited life experience within the four walls of my incredibly interesting room, let’s talk about anxiety.

I have always been surrounded by people who believed I was brimming with incredible talent and potential, so I would find myself performing in front of audiences at a very young age. As I grew up, I took on more and more extracurricular activities and responsibilities and as a result, I would be pulled backstage during competition season in school for nine or ten different events across the fields of music, literature, drama and debate, apart from a public speaking duty which was inevitably imposed upon me year after year.

One would think that after so much experience with performing, I would grow to love the stage like a second home. That’s always how it is in stories: the rush of adrenaline, the sense of utter comfort and bliss one finds as soon as a performance begins.That has always eluded me. I would insist, year after year, to whomsoever I thought might be able to help me disentangle myself from the bloated web of activities, that I had crippling, debilitating stage fright.

Every single time, they would laugh in my face or curl their lip in disbelief.

So I had to go through with it, again and again, even though every stage event would give me nightmares before, after and most importantly, during the act. This last year of school, I still tried a few times to get myself removed from the responsibility, but, as I was familiar with the process by now, even as these authority figures or peers were telling me “No!”, I was mouthing it along with them.

It took me a long time to realise that my stage fright did not just show itself when I was confronted with an actual stage. It was not only when I was asked to introduce myself in class, or called upon to answer a question. It was also whenever I was asked my opinion about a song in a group of my longtime classmates. It was also whenever I had to make the walk from my class to the bathroom. It was whenever I had to shake someone’s hand. It was whenever I had to make or answer a phone call, or go to a birthday party. It was every time I found my palms sweating profusely for no apparent reason, every time sleep eluded me because I was worrying about what a random stranger on the street thought of me as I walked past. It was every time I had to send a text message to someone who was not one of my very best friends. It was every time I had to go grocery shopping, every time I woke up and realised I had to go to school, every time I had to send or accept a friend request on Facebook. I slowly started to connect the dots around the age of thirteen.

Back then, it did not make much of a difference to know what I was dealing with. I was struggling a lot with school and growing up, and putting a name to the ordeal was no big deal. Soon, though, the word ‘anxiety’ began to have an impact. I started reading every relevant article I could find, hoping for some miracle cure. Nothing I read resonated with me. Discovering the quest was futile, I decided to start on the slow, bumpy road to accepting it and learning to live with it.

Silently accepting what other people tell me to do has never been a strength (ha!) of mine, however, and so I decided to become even more bizarre. Over the years, I’ve carefully constructed an alternate persona. She is my alter-ego. She doesn’t really have an alter-ego name, so she just shares mine. She is everything I am not: bold, outspoken, intimidating, fierce, commanding; a natural leader. She is my only defence against a world that frightens me with every unpredictable movement. I put her on, and I become her. She is the reason I transformed from the shy, nerdy weird kid no one understood to the loud, captain-of-a-House, almost popular kid that no one understands. She is my armour, and has been doing things for years that my real self would never do, to the point where people would say, “She has anxiety?!” and laugh ten decibels louder.

Side note: I think most people around me don’t really believe in anxiety. If you’re insecure or anxious or worried or scared, it’s your fault. Anxiety is just your excuse for not doing what is expected of you.

It is frankly still surreal to see this persona in action. Sometimes, I feel as if I am watching from the sidelines while an amazing fantasy pod-person takes over my body. Most of the time, though, it feels as if I am on a high-speed carnival ride, holding on tight and knowing it is a spectacle to behold, but knowing on an even deeper level that a carnival spectacle is all it is. At the end of the day, you get down, you throw away your carnival toys, and go home.

Some days, I am struck with the thought that I am leading two lives. There are two people on parallel paths warring for dominance within my mind; however, one of them is a figment of my imagination- my very own Swiss Army Knife. The moment I am alone, it shrivels into nothingness. The reasons for its existence are simple: I like being respected, and on some level, I like standing out and having people’s attention. On every level, I like being liked.

The moment I became acutely aware of my anxiety, I also became aware of the fact that I would always have stage fright. But my alter-ego, as I have said before, is very outgoing and accepts several performance events on my behalf regardless of my protests. Hence, right until twelfth grade classes ended a month ago, I routinely ended up shaking like a leaf backstage multiple times a year, except in recent years I enjoyed the added benefits of having to give a reassuring pep talk to my House members. 

I stopped musical instruments because of various inexplicable reasons: the attention, the expectations?- I doubt I ever knew. I dislike singing on stage. I love singing, alone and with other people, but getting on stage to sing regardless of the support of my group or the crowd is an unbearable amount of stress. Don’t get me started on public speaking and debate. One thing I don’t mind all that much is acting. Of course, the nerves are a permanent fixture, but all I have to do is adopt another character. The same principle usually applies to reciting poetry. The farther I can get from my own self, the better I perform. My school performed Othello last year. I was Othello (I attend an all-girls school, mind you) and it was a transcendent experience. I hardly remember the most likely visible shaking of my knees before my monologue began. I think I’m a decent talent at acting.

And that’s what my everyday life is like, too. I begin acting as soon as I leave my room. On my return, I collapse on my bed and recharge for hours, only to go through the same motions the next day. Some days, it’s impossibly difficult to adopt my alter-ego. Other days, it’s as easy as breathing. Is there a more permanent, better solution? I don’t know.

All I know for sure is that my site tagline does not lie.