By Raeesah Hayatudin

What did you say? I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you. I can’t move. I can’t breathe, I need to get out of here. No, please don’t look at me. I can’t take this, I don’t know what to do. It’s a sudden throbbing ache in the chest, the way your expression freezes over and your muscles tense as if to flee. The way your mouth won’t open to say the words that ball up in your throat, tasting like bile and fire and the most sickening sort of guilt. I’m so sorry, it’s a chant endlessly repeating in your head.

It’s anxiety, can you see it?

All of us suffer from it, a little dose or one that’s not so little, sometime or another during our lifetimes. Before giving a presentation in class; before going in for an interview for that position you want so badly; when you’re singled out for giving the answer to a difficult question by your teacher and you’re so, so afraid of looking the fool. When you’re sitting down to organize applications to places you want to go to so badly and so scared your efforts weren’t enough, that you’re not good enough. Sometimes it can even be the little things like asking a question about something you don’t understand but feels like it’s obvious to everyone else. And for some people, it’s hard to get out of their house and face the chaotic unpredictability of the outside world.

It can be overwhelming. It can be so bad it debilitates you, freezing you and stopping you from taking action. In a world that’s so fast-paced and busy and where everyone else seems like they have their life in order and where you can’t afford to make mistakes, it can be so easy to believe that you’re at the bottom of the ladder, that you’re a mess and just another person in the crowd. But you are not, you are not, you are more lucky than you think you are.

Take a breath and put your chin up and look around. Really look.

Look at how far you’ve come and how much farther you have to go. Don’t be ashamed if you need to talk out the burdens that are weighing you down. Curl into the warmth of your parents’ hugs and take a break to enjoy laughing at the craziest things with friends. Send a message to that old school friend you could think of a million things to say to and miss so dearly, say hello. Pet a cat, be it one that’s fluffy and sweet or touch-starved and needy or just plain suspicious. (Or a dog, if you prefer that.) Breathe and listen to your favourite songs or replay your favourite games or reread your favourite books. Study as well as you can and go ask your lecturers what you don’t understand and work on improving what you can and be happy in the process of making an effort to be better. Be happy because while you can be better, of course you can, you are still as whole as you are now. As people, we are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to work to be better and grow into our potential. That’s the goal, isn’t it?

Sometimes it can feel so hard, even when you try it feels like something inside you doesn’t want to let the hurt go, something dark wants to hold onto the blackness in your head and never let go. Procrastination becomes a habit and nervousness is a constant presence, spiking up the stress in your body. And maybe advice will not help and you won’t want to hear it, but just know that you are not alone and you will get out of it eventually.

You’ll figure it out. It is up to you to figure it out because you are your own power, but you are not alone, far from it, and you can do it.

When your hours are hectic and there’s that busy panicky I-can’t-stop feeling in your chest, well then, stop and put your head down to rest and take comfort in the little routines: fluffing up your pillows for bed, washing the dishes and feeling the water run over your hands, walking to class and rolling your eyes when you realize those scribbled chemical structures or formulae or economics facts are still running around amok in your head. Look out of your window and see the pretty, streaking orange-blue colour of the sky at 7pm. Sometimes it is the little moments that bring us the most clarity.

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