“Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.”
Like most people, I’m absolutely engrossed and obsessed with Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Yes, I saw the TV show first before the book, which I am currently reading. However, I came across this line early in the story, and it’s relevancy sunk so far into my skin right into my bones. I find that this line describes the turmoil I very regularly experience with anxiety.
I’ve mentioned my anxiety on this blog, but I’ve never actually expanded into what it’s like. You all know my experiences with suicidal ideation and eating disorders, but not necessarily my life with anxiety. I am high-functioning, but I am very chronic, having had anxiety for more than a decade of my life. I remember being a very worried and stressed child, with my anxiety displaying in the form of cold sweats, very strong irritability, and dizziness. This was very prominent when I felt I was about to be set up for a failure, or I had done something wrong even if it was miniscule. I am a perfectionist, and I was a perfectionist all throughout my education, so if I did something wrong whether it was objectively wrong or wrong to me, so I think I spent a large amount of my time as a child in cold sweats, panicking and crying. When you are a child with anxiety, your anxiety can be much more physical in its manifestations i.e. you can’t communicate in the same way you would as an adult, and the intense feelings of an anxiety attack can be physically overwhelming and, thus, frightening as a child.
My anxiety mainly revolves around the fear that I am going to be a failure and I am actually a bad person. I constantly fight with myself over whether this is true and my friends are just lying to me or I am actually a generally good person with anxiety that makes me think I am a bad person. As a result, I am constantly analysing every little interaction I have made with things in my life. It doesn’t even need to be an interaction with a person. In fact, I over analyse my training, my competitions, my work tasks, my university choices… anything that can be analysed. If you see me on the bus staring out the window, I am likely berating myself very harshly for something I did, completely blowing it out of proportion. My anxiety makes me think everything I do is inappropriate and that nobody acts the way I do and I am ridiculous and don’t know how to be a ‘normal person.’
This is why I found myself relating to this quote from Normal People. From a young age, my anxiety has made me feel like I was bizarre and didn’t know how to conduct myself. I had a deep seated fear that I was failing at being a good and normal person. I desperately wanted to see how others behaved and what their lives were like so I could copy them and get rid of my anxiety of being a failure. I lacked a consistent and strong personality growing up because, while I was outgoing and like to perform in lots of theatre and musical theatre, I was frightened to generally be my own person, so I often tried to emulate others and be like them so I didn’t have to be myself. Because my anxiety made me constantly worry about being myself. My anxiety made me not like myself. I was so wrapped up in how to conduct my life like someone else.
I just waited for the next mistake I would make, because I knew it was going to happen. There was a mistake in everything I did. My anxiety created these mistakes out of thin air. I would smile at someone and immediately my anxiety would jump on this interaction and say “why did you smile that way? Why did you not say hello to? God, you’re so shy. Everyone thinks you’re weird!!!” However, if I didn’t smile, my anxiety would also jump on this interaction: “why did you not smile? Why can’t you even look at someone? Everyone thinks you’re weird!!!” My every interaction is calculated carefully in my head. I struggle to be spontaneous. I avoid interactions, or preemptively think what I’m doing is stupid, because I am so anxious that I will do something wrong or someone will think I am stupid or bad or unlikeable. Having anxiety makes me think I am unlikable. And, even in that statement, I think about how it’s actually not my anxiety and I am just unlikeable.
I often don’t understand why people are friends with me. Or why people dated me. My anxiety goes into overdrive with its analysis of my regular, daily situations, trying to find all the ways in which it went wrong. Because, anxiety never points out the right. It’s always the wrong, and the wrong is the most dominating thing within my thinking.
Anxiety is really, really exhausting. You never feel like you are doing anything right. Even when you’ve perfectly orchestrated things within your life, you’ll always find something. Your anxiety can often imagine these things, but they feel so very real and you begin to replace your actual memory with the anxiety memory.
My anxiety is just so crippling and horrible that I can find myself taking a panic attack in Tesco because I think I am doing the wrong thing going out to get my weekly food shop, because the government says we are in lockdown, and, although I haven’t been any further than my back garden steps, I feel like I shouldn’t be outside in case I am breaking the law and spreading the virus. Then, if I don’t go out, then I feel I am being unbearably useless.
In my mind, I am never doing the right thing.
I can lie in bed and think and think and think and think and think and think. And, before I know it, it’s 4am and I am beating myself up for not being asleep sooner, even though it was my anxiety’s fault in the first place. I’ll drink three coffees because I like the taste and then it’ll obviously kickstart my anxiety and my anxiety immediately jumps into: nobody else does this, nobody else is this stupid, you don’t know how to look after yourself, you’re not going to be anything. And just like that I’ve catastrophised me drinking a 3rd Kenco instant cappuccino.
I would like to know how others live to see if I am doing the right thing, but even if I could and then adapt my life accordingly, my anxiety would hound me still.
I am going to send this out into the world as untouched as possible, as the idea hit me when I read that line in Normal People, and I thought I would explore a large part of my mental health that I don’t often talk about within my mental health journey on my blog and mental health campaigning. So, there we go. It’s a start.