My tryst with Anxiety

24-year-old Devashree Vyas from Mumbai shares what she remembers of her relationship with anxiety.

For some reason, the moment I started writing this article, about my foray into knowing and understanding mental health, I expected the perfect words to be generated across my mind and be reflected as I type out this article. However, much to the contrary, here I am, floundering for words to express how I feel about something I am personally acquainted with, which is simultaneously something that makes me realize, that the more I find out, the more I need to learn.

My tryst with mental health is deeply connected to my years and experience of my undergraduate course. Today, knowing that my life is at times entrenched with anxiety makes me reflect upon my life before college. It’s as if I was a completely different person—whole and in so many ways, innocent. Moreover, I find myself being able to charter a vague root that brought me to be the person I am today.

Social media and popular culture have always paved my expectations for the journeys I undertook in life. For instance, I expected my architeccture course to be a vast exploration of my creativity. An adventure with the multitudes of friends and a bandwidth of nostalgia as an intrinsic part of post-college life. The reality, however, differs drastically.

Spiralling Down

In a nutshell, loneliness became my sole friend when, despite a classroom of eighty students, everyone felt far too different. Or perhaps, I was the different one. My innate need to connect took me through tougher paths where I could not distinguish between true friendship and bullying. Even when I failed to achieve the simplest of goals, I never did ask myself if I was okay. So how could I accept anything apart from, what I believed to be deserved punishment, but was actually disguised unkindness? And down I spiraled, until I reached the darkness where I could not see myself let alone anyone else.

Between my second and third year at college, the surroundings around me led me through multitudes of pain and sorrow. Jaded as I was—from being friendless, and worried of my future—I truly went on making an effort. I joined a collegiate extra-curricular activity. For a while, I succeeded—there was a lot of laughter and exciting opportunities.

A sea of disappointments

However, I failed to recognize the intensity of commitment it needed. As I began failing, disappointment from everyone and most importantly, myself, hit me in spades. It was just one traumatic incident in my immediate circles that lead me to a state of mind where I felt and was nothing.

Illustration by Gurveen Kaur

The worst memories from these days are locked away in my heart. Even looking back at them, despite the passage of nearly five years, leaves me teary, shaking, and breathless. Eventually, the pressure to perform moved on to every task I took up. The terror of failure never quite leaving its grip. I hit what I felt was my rock bottom when I actually received a failing grade in two exams. In a five-year course, where I watched most of my classmates celebrating the completion of half of the course, I was stranded in a place where I was not certain of going ahead. The thought of giving up altogether arose often.

A helping hand

It was sometime in summer when I was lying morosely with no inclination to participate in any activity that my mother sought me out. She told me she met with the counsellor in our local dispensary. She encouraged me to join her in the next visit, without any expectations from anyone, including myself. With some reluctance, I did so. I still remember that during this first visit, I focused on my appearance. I tried to look composed, with brushed hair and a good outfit. After all, if I looked good, kept smiling, there won’t be anything wrong with me, right?

Healing

While my first session was a mere illusion I tried to create, my dependence on the counsellor was apparent to me when I rushed one day, needing to talk about how I was unable to cope with my failure. Not only was I given the help to calm down but was asked to narrate all the subjects I actually did well in. To assert that even within the constraints of how I defined success, I was actually ignoring my success. My focus on my failure was ultimately weighing me down. We progressed to sessions where I was told to make a daily effort in reminding myself of all the things I liked about myself.

My sessions in counselling did not prolong for a lengthy duration. My schedule became increasingly intense. But therapy had already given me what I needed. Most of the effort needed to come from me. Armed with the belief in myself, it was only a matter of persistence and perseverance that enabled me to ensure that my focus remained intent on all my curricular work. I learned how to recognize my own capabilities, even in cases where they were a shortcoming so that I could manage my time more efficiently.

Coping Up

My journey onwards from this point did get more difficult; there are days when I struggle to find the light in anything I do. And days where I remain inactive to the point that I feel I am missing from myself. The numerous amounts of sensations which plague me at different points are difficult to pinpoint. It is only through further knowledge of mental health that understanding can truly be attained. At present, I am learning to cope with the ins and outs of living with this feeling of anxiety. Though I am not under active therapy, I am aware and ready with contacts of people and professionals I can seek out as and when needed.

In my first meeting, I talked about the plans in my future as if they were charted out with definite execution in store. Today, while actually living this future, I am as clueless as I truly was back then. I pretended to be secure and knowledgeable in every way because I was not okay, and did not know what to make of it. Today, I know I am sometimes not okay, and that’s okay, and therefore, perhaps, it is with good reason, that most advocates of the importance of mental health repeatedly say, and I agree –

“It’s okay to be not okay.”

About Devashree Vyas

mental health experiential--Devashree Vyas
Devashree Vyas is a learner, interested in just about everything possible, albeit a slow learner. A graduate architect, she works at NAGAR, a non-for-profit organization based in Mumbai, working towards better governance and advocacy for civic issues. She also writes for VolZero, an online architectural journal, and is a team member at Videos For Knowledge, an NGO with focus on digital resources, primarily videos, for students from low-income schools. When she is not doing any of these, and not stressing out, she reads (or more like breathes) books.

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