How much-how little- is within our power

Over the decades I’ve met different versions of myself. The common factor, however, was that they were all anxious. Anxiety must form in the nascent years because that’s what human beings do. First, we welcome children into the world and then slowly make them aware of the pitfalls of being in it. We caution them about perils, imagined and otherwise. It’s the system, it’s the way of the world, it’s preparation for life, they say. So, I suppose being fearful about an uncertain event in the future can do that to you. Even as a five-year-old I remember a queasy feeling I had while climbing into a run-down elevator or sitting in buses that veered through snaky hill station roads. Moreover, I saw anxious adults around me. Pacing, fretting and praying. It was a family trait, an accepted one, so in a way, anxiety was endorsed. I realized why adults were fearful when I was introduced to bigger worries: medical issues, financial difficulties and news about disaster and destruction.

Anyhow, one of my versions began to organize every shelf and drawer, straightened paintings even if they were a tad askew and placed remotes in a drawer in height order. Although, I knew that even if every file in my cabinet was in place, every outfit I owned was colour coded in my cupboard and every herb labelled neatly on my kitchen shelf, I had little control over things that actually mattered. Family members behaved erratically, daily life required constant adjustments, and because I was mistakenly trying to lead a seamless existence, I panicked if I found a suspicious mole on my arm. As a young mother, I experienced a whole new level of anxiety. A cough, a sniffle, a raging fever, an infected insect bite, the threat of war, anything and everything made me anxious while raising children. By then anxiety had become a habit. I was used to worrying. It was who I was. I indulged in self-deprecating humour. Others laughed at me. Some joined me in saying they felt the same way. It wasn’t my problem anymore. It was out there. A community thing. I was anxious. Someone else was anxious. We were the official worry warts. In a world that had so many calamities, really, it was dumb to not worry.

As time passed on, yet another side of me emerged. The anxious traveller. At the airport, I had to tell myself that drugs would not appear in my suitcase just because I had spotted sniffer dogs. Yet, I had to quell the absurd thought. And no, my passport would not disappear in my handbag like it contained a secret black hole. It was there. The sniffer dogs would ignore me because all I had was a box of almonds and a Kit Kat (emergency snacks) and if I took a deep breath and looked inside my handbag without rummaging through it, I would find my passport. After all it was the third passport check since I left home. Everyone was amused by this funny, anxious person and some even nodded in agreement. They felt the same way. I made jokes about how I had to get away because life in the city was stressful. ‘A flight, a car ride and an expensive hotel booking later, I sigh at the trees. Then I come back home and ignore the Gulmohurs that are in full bloom here until someone points them out.’ I was rewarded with a few chuckles. My stress made great small talk.

As I grew older, the funny anxious person was replaced by the serious anxious person. By then I had encountered bereavement and life changes, real causes for anxiety. I experienced sleeplessness and physical ailments, big and small, one after the other, all a result of being anxious all the time. Worrying unnecessarily had led to distrust in life. It was chipping away at my naturally cheerful disposition. I had to put an end to it.  Instead of making jokes and displaying my various anxious versions I had to make changes to accommodate a healthy version of myself that I (albeit anxiously) sought. I had to put the different versions of myself back into my greater self. Anxiety is not a type of personality. It is a habit which has to be broken or it can cause an alarming medical condition.

I cut down on excessive caffeine intake, perfunctory socializing, watching irrelevant reels on social media platforms, mindless TV watching and catastrophizing. I began to set achievable goals as opposed to dreaming, made changes where changes could be made, tried herbal remedies, journaling, counselling, and most of all accepted flaws within me and in those around me. I decided to hold on to the hope of a better future than dread a difficult one. Anxiety is an affront to psychic energy. The future is influenced by myriad factors, none of which are in our control. The natural world is imperfect. Leaves have little holes and marks and faded colours, but they all look beautiful from afar. If we step back, everything seems better. So, I stepped back; from irrational thoughts and situations out of my control. This doesn’t mean that I have achieved a sage like calm. I double check important documents, exercise caution and experience the occasional random fear. But I know now that anxiety is not a laughing matter and it can be brought under check. Most of all I have learned to accept that life makes us suffer through some unpredictable phases but in trying to foresee worst case scenarios, I forgot to focus on what can be predicted with certainty. Most problems are not worth stewing over and those that are will also come to pass. I’ll leave you with two lines from Emily Dickinson’s couplet that tells the reader to live life to the fullest.

 ‘In this short life,

  That only lasts an hour,

  How much-how little-is

  Within our power.’

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