On Anxiety, Stress, and Worrying

I have always been a worrier. Sometimes I say this to people and they think I’m saying ‘warrior’ (though with the amount of stress I face, really I should get to say that as well), but this is to clarify that I mean the less fun version. I’ve always been a worrier, and so faced a lot of stress – but the main issue is that because I worry about everything, most of the stress is just completely unnecessary. I swear if I had a Superpower, I’d be one of those lame Superheroes who had the power of extreme worrying. “But what if the villain has a gun? What if they have a hostage? What if this is all a trap? What if they’re actually good? Are we doing the right thing? How can anyone know for sure? Did I leave the oven on?”

Who would my arch nemesis be? Super-Chilled-Man?

Anyway, I digress.

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Whenever I get these emotions of pure terror, I’ve always called it worrying – but ‘worry’ just doesn’t feel like a strong enough word sometimes. If you say to someone ‘oh I’ve been worrying about it’, the response is normally a ‘aw don’t worry, it’s all fine!’ (And fyi, that isn’t helpful – I’ll still worry until I have physical proof everything is fine thank you – and then probably panic that it will all go downhill). It’s only over the last few years that people are openly discussing issues related to depression and anxiety, and whilst I by no means believe that I suffer from depression, I do tend to think that – like I’m sure most people do – have a heck ton of anxiety. Then again, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I suffer from anxiety, as it feels like taking it away from people who genuinely have the illness. So once more, I’m left with calling it worrying – but is it worrying when you constantly struggle to sleep because you over-analyse every possible scenario, that you always arrive at least 30 minutes (if not more) early because you worried 10 minutes early would not give you enough leeway? Is it worrying that when you go out with friends, as soon as it hits 9pm you start to panic about it getting dark and thinking that you risk of being attacked is increasing, and if you don’t get back soon something awful is going to happen? Or is all of this just culture. Is it the media that have taught me this, that have ingrained this panic?

Unfortunately for everyone reading this, I have no answers.

(Just so you’re aware).

I feel like everyone feels stress, so there’s almost no point in complaining about stress – there’s always going to be someone who one-ups you – and is it really ‘beating’ you if the ‘winner’ is the one who is more stressed out? Every time I’m stressed about something – be it work, university, getting rejected, unable to find a place to live, waiting for results – there is always someone right there to say that they are more stressed, and so insinuating that I do not have the right to be stressed. My brother is a perfect example of this. Without fail, whenever I claim to be stressed or tired or have a lot going on, he’ll immediately say that he is more stressed. He’s currently a first year Junior Doctor, and to be fair to him he probably is more stressed, but through his whole degree (and mine), it does not matter what is happening. If I’ve had a week of work and he’s had a week off and I say I’m tired, he’ll say ‘you don’t even know what tired is’.

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And that’s the problem with conversations about things like stress and anxiety. Everyone has at least one example of when they’ve felt stressed, and so everyone can simultaneously understand what you’re going through but also feel that their stress is that much worse. Some people will refuse to think that anyone can possibly understand what ‘real’ stress is, and look down their noses with superiority at anyone they deem unworthy. But that simply doesn’t work. Just because someone is in business whereas the other does manual labour does not mean that one is entitled to claim to get more stressed than the other. Everyone feels stress in relation to what they’re doing, and unless you have done every single job in the world, you have no idea what the other person is feeling. Because it’s not even just the work or the job, it’s the person. Do you know their mental well-being? Sure, you have a stressful job, but do you have their lifestyle? Do you have that white privilege that has allowed you to be stressed about generic things like work instead of things like race and discrimination? Do you come from a family that supports you, whereas someone else might have no family whatsoever to back them up?

Mental well-being is still such a new topic to a lot of people, and the biggest dilemma we face is that we cannot physically gage a person’s mental health from just looking at them. From my limited knowledge, the best indicator is what the actual person says they’re feeling – and everyone is so distrustful, that you can never truly know. An acquaintance can be nasty and blame it on depression, and there should be no reason for you to distrust that – but of course you do. Sure, they’re horrible and then out of nowhere they bring in depression. You want to immediately trust they’re being honest, because only someone awful would lie about a thing like that, but the case of the matter is that they could lie. There is no way to look at someone and be able to say ‘yup, they suffer from ___, I can see that with my own eyes’.

So once more, I’m left unable to say anything concrete on my actual mental health and just leave it with ‘I’m a worrier, as in I worry, not that I’m a warrior, though I feel like one’. My only hope is that people remember to be empathetic, and show compassion instead of wariness. I hope that when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m tired”, people don’t jump to “Not as stressed/tired as me” and instead just offer sympathy, and invite an open discussion.

Wouldn’t that be grand.

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Quick to Judge

It’s taken me a while to try and gather my thoughts on this particular topic, and I still don’t think I’ve fully committed to one thing or another, but I’m going to try to articulate my warring emotions anyway.

Most of you will have heard in the news about Cincinnati zoo killing a gorilla as a boy fell into the enclosure. There are many opinions flying around, as they are wont to do, and obviously everyone is devastated that the gorilla was killed. People are blaming the zoo, the boy’s guardian, the boy himself – and my main thought coming from this is that everyone is very quick to judge and lay blame on someone. Most claim that the gorilla was protecting the child, as we can see in the video leaked that the gorilla is standing over the boy and keeping him close. I have not yet seen footage of the gorilla moving the boy, as the video shows them in two different sections of the enclosure, so of course I can’t say whether he did drag the child or move him violently.

For me, I think that, yes, the gorilla may well have been protecting the boy, and it is very easy for us to jump to that conclusion. But a very tough decision had to be made. If they tried to tranquillise the gorilla, it would have taken too long to take hold and could have very easily angered the animal, bringing potentially more harm or even killing the child. If someone else tried to enter the enclosure, the gorilla could have harmed them.

There is no black and white clear answer. At the end of the day, a decision had to be made and I think the people who had to make that decision shouldn’t be criticised. In that circumstance, there isn’t much you can do under such pressure and a time limit. They couldn’t leave and come back with clear minds – the life of the boy was in danger, and they had to put him as priority. I don’t know whether we should be trying to find someone to blame. Sure we can blame the parents or guardians, but again for the majority of us we just don’t know what exactly happened.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to judge someone else’s actions. The ‘what ifs’ are dangerous, but understandable. Maybe we should question parenting. Maybe we should question zoo security. Maybe we should question the lives of animals in cages. One thing is for certain though – it’s easy to jump to decisions when you’ve read one article written by one person or heard something through the grapevine. It’s easy to blame someone else and claim that you would have acted differently.

But you probably weren’t there. You weren’t the one who had to make the fast decision between ensuring the child’s life or leaving it at risk. If the child had died instead of the gorilla, what would the headlines say? The zoo would be at fault, a mother with tear-streaked face would be everywhere – and maybe that one thought of animals in cages being wrong would pull through.

I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know what was right or wrong in this situation. Like I’m sure everyone does, I want to think that there was somehow a way to save both the child and the gorilla, but there is no certain way of doing that. So far, no one has offered an option where that would have been possible – yet at the same time, we’ve all had time to think up ways and possibilities and chances and opportunities.

So, I’m sorry, but I don’t know who to blame. I’m devastated that a gorilla had to be killed, but I understand why that decision was made. It’s so easy to judge, and when we can all comment on an article on facebook and voice our opinions to the world it’s tempting to take the superior standing and yell at everyone. However, that doesn’t make it right.