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Existing while anxious

September 23, 2022

Celeste Mercier

The other day, I was in Thorne, and I saw two of my friends talking. One of them said something, and the other laughed. My immediate reaction was that they were obviously making fun of me, even though I sat three tables away, and they had just arrived. While egocentric, it’s not fun living life this way. Having anxiety means a lot of thoughts that are not necessarily real float into my head pretty much all day, every day. The problem? The feelings that come along with these thoughts are real for me, and it becomes hard to distinguish between them and reality. I am often able to catch thoughts like these as soon as they float into my head. However, at times, I’ll let the thought train go so far that I believe that some of my very best friends secretly don’t like me for a multitude of reasons. Regardless of the fact that they show me love, hang out with me and seem to laugh at my jokes, I can easily doubt myself when I am not in a place to recognize these thoughts.

These anxious thoughts aren’t exclusive to social situations; they also apply to academics. The other day in class, it took me four minutes to ask a question. I thought it was a stupid question that everyone else in my class knew the answer to. I almost left the class without understanding the material because I was worried about how the men in my class would view me. While this incident involves my identity as a woman, I feel as though those thoughts wouldn’t be as present without my anxiety. At the end of the day, I do not care what others think of me when my brain feels stable. I feel confident to be myself, dress how I want and say what I think, and I know that if others don’t like that, it’s their loss. This is not to say that mental illness isn’t normal, this is just to say that it isn’t the baseline function I want to experience, and for me, this baseline is my norm.

When every social situation I’m in is followed by the thought, “They don’t actually want me here,” being social becomes such an active process that I am often left drained. When my friends are all so hot, funny, intelligent and caring, my brain is constantly saying, “You’re not good enough to be hanging out with this person.” Shoutout to them, though, for being cool enough to make me feel like that.

Jokes aside, the road to figuring out these types of thoughts, recognizing them and releasing them took too much time and continues to do so. I don’t often think of the strategies my therapist taught me when I implement them—I’d rather take claim for being the one to grow myself—but I know that’s where their roots started. When I look back on the days when I had to constantly repeat my therapist’s words on the difference between distraction and avoidance and struggled to find the energy for activities that bring me joy, I see a person who I can’t relate to anymore. For me, therapy was what I needed to parse through my thoughts.

The other issue I run into is communication. When you constantly assess your feelings as valid but untrue, it is hard to know when to bring up problems with friends. Am I reading into a social situation because I am anxious or because someone actually hurt my feelings? Did they act in a way that wasn’t normal, or am I overly perceptive of actions that are harmless? These thoughts are constantly swirling around in my head.

Bowdoin is a hard place to be in already, so having anxiety here is not fun. I feel glad to be surrounded by many supportive friends who are aware of how I operate and are sensitive to it, but sometimes I wish my brain were just a little bit nicer to me.

Colleen Doucette is a member of the class of 2024. 

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