anxiety · family · life · social anxiety

A Complicated Mess

I learn something new about myself every day, whether consciously acknowledge this or not. Today’s lesson is one that was meant to happen since long ago, I think if I hadn’t sheltered myself so much from the world. I would compare it to droplets of water slowly dripping into a puddle. The knowledge has been collecting all this time but it’s not until now, at this very moment, that I truly get it.

I can finally admit that anxiety is a normal thing to feel and go through and that having anxiety is not actually a bad thing. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt anxiety and perceived it as something to be feared every time I was experiencing symptoms of it. Just the slightest hint of the onset of anxiety (my heart would speed up, my throat going dry, my mouth refusing to work, my brain panicking in a frenzy of zigzag thoughts and emotions) would be enough to make me feel hopeless and not in control of my own actions. I’ve spent my whole life living like this; shutting down and coping in not-so-good ways almost every time I felt anxious about something. Even now I feel the pull of it beckoning me to ponder about a million trivial things and start worrying about the outcomes of these situations.

I know that no one is exempt from anxiety. Everyone has it. It took me forever to understand that other people, not just socially anxious people like me, feel anxiety. Prior to this revelation, there was a period on my adolescence years ago when I assumed that almost everyone except me was made of glass and their lives were perfect.

Teenage angst and anxiety didn’t mesh well for me. My perception was skewed because I had a lot of time to hide behind anger as a shield to cover up the anxiety. That, and how verbally withdrawn I was. I thought the world owed me so much because of how unhappy I was and I believed this was how I was going to live for the rest of my life because I didn’t have the courage to reach out to anyone about my inner turmoil. Many times I found myself to be more spiteful, more hateful in my thoughts if other people were happy and I was not. I was asked all the time in school why I seemed so shy or hardly ever spoke. I never answered and often settled for not responding at all. No one really knew what was going on in my head.

At the time at home, my parents did try to reach out to me by asking me what was going on. By this time, I was so used to keeping to myself and barely saying anything that I used silence as both a weapon and a form of protection. I felt uncomfortable and anxious over my parents’ questions so my default during these situations was to not speak or, at worst, pretend not to hear them. My behavior was troubling to them. Not even my mom yelling at me in exasperation for not talking did very much except trigger guilt and shame in me. I’d use these emotions as further reasons why I couldn’t at least try to verbalize or formulate a sentence about what I was feeling. I remember what it felt like to be too anxious to open my mouth and speak if someone confronted me with a question I was afraid to answer. But other times it wasn’t the fear that kept me from talking and instead it was a choice, an excuse I gave myself to keep myself in my comfort zone.

I am a different person today. So unlike the old me, at least in some ways. I know what I experienced, although others who were present in my life then might give differing accounts for why I acted the way I did. I once overheard my father talking on the phone and describing how, in the far-off past, I used to deliberately ignore people when they spoke to me. I could tell that he was writing me off as rude because he assumed I had an attitude problem. He’ll never know the deeper reasons for my behavior during those times in my life. I am fine with never revealing my side of the story to him or any of my family, partially because it’s a dialogue I wouldn’t know how to open and I am content to let them believe what they want. To truly know a person’s whole heart, the good and bad, is a too difficult endeavor, anyway.


4 thoughts on “A Complicated Mess

  1. That last line is very powerful, and I agree. I’ve worked on phones at a few work places, and some of my colleagues like saying to the callers ‘I understand’ when the callers were expressing some kind of frustration. I hate that phrase, because I will never understand completely how another person feels. We are all different, and for each of us anxiety is different.

    I find it interesting to hear your parents asked what’s wrong with you. I was also very quiet growing up and my parents took that as a sign of obedience. But like many typical Chinese parents, I suppose your parents wanted you to be a high achiever with many connections, and look like you were always ready to jump at the next opportunity rather than not say much or hold back. Anxiety is a powerful thing, and it can overwhelm the person. Up until today, I still find it hard to say anything to a stranger or someone I just met. But I try to say a few words where possible…even small talk though it sounds and feels ridiculous me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was always longing for a different kind of childhood once I was old enough to understand Western influences and be influenced by Western depictions of families. At times now it’s still hard for me to look back on memories and see if I feel frustrated by my parents because I think they didn’t do enough for me as parents or if I feel frustrated because they weren’t making me their priority like some Western families did. I perceived my parents only seemed to ask about what was going on if I seemed unhappy or upset. They too took my quietness as a sign of a good child and how I wasn’t like other kids who constantly made trouble. That’s why I get the sense mental health is overlooked in some asian families because some really value a child who seems to listen and obey quietly and kinda assume the child is just docile without thinking of what is actually going on inside the child’s mind.

      I don’t think I’ll ever truly know a person’s heart. Even knowing things about my parents, my own perception of how they acted or behaved may not be how they perceive themselves or what was going through their minds when the event happened. I feel a distance between generations that will never close, too, since my parents will never know what it is like to grow up on American soil while I will never know what it felt like for my parents growing up overseas where they each faced different life challenges I will never experience. I agree that the “I understand” line is a gimmick for strangers on the phone to be polite and cordial.

      Small talk is a tough barrier to overcome. I still feel extremely weird if I ask a person a bunch of questions to possibly get to know him/her better and feel as if I’m interrogating the person.

      Liked by 1 person

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