‘You realize your negative approach to everything is self-defeating, right?’
‘Well, it’s nice to know there’s someone I can defeat.’
— Daria, “Gifted”
Picture this. You are in a classroom and your teacher has just asked a question that taps into one of your deepest passions. So in a modest display of your enthusiasm, you raise your hand. As you speak, you begin to feel your face swelling with heat in response to the sudden attention that is given to your every word. You do not feel insecure about the content, or even the growing length, of your response, so you wonder why the blood circulation in your cheeks is increasing so rapidly. But before your wandering mind can get to the bottom of this, you’re already so embarrassed by the fact that you’re blushing that your entire train of thought has started to derail into an indistinct series of stutters from which your teacher can barely draw enough substance to move the discussion ahead. But that’s no matter now, because the eyes of your fellow students have finally turned away from your reddening façade, and that was all you wanted at this point. You are safe. Your facial muscles are still tense, but it will pass. Your brain can relax now. Your heart rate will decline in due time.
It’s unnerving, right? At the outset of this scenario you felt touched, your intellect ignited, and now look where that excitement got you. The most vicious thing about this cycle of brief emotional turmoil — a phenomenon which I have dubbed “automortification” — is the irony with which it’s set in motion. The main cause of your embarrassment is your turning red for no apparent reason, which makes you turn even more noticeably red. You feel insecure about looking insecure, which makes you feel even more insecure, and so on.
I believe instances like that, when my instincts work toward my own detriment, illustrate to an almost painful degree the sort of person I am. My approach to life is self-defeating; it’s a wilful surrender to my own anxieties. I feel prematurely guilty about errors I might commit and let that guilt paralyze me even though it’s not too late to compensate for my wrongdoings. I’m too scared to make amends or change course. I feel haunted by my decisions — or indecision — at every turn. I’m self-conscious that any attempts to overcome this feeling would make me come off as desperate.
Can you tell I’ve been having a bad time? To be honest with you, I’m a little shocked that the tagline “where insecurities come to party”, which I made up on a whim in February, has proven such an accurate summation of my writing endeavours since then. Apparently I specialize in moany prose. That’s… something.
There are a couple of reasons why I’ve been unable to function like a normal human being lately, and I don’t really want to get into them. Suffice it to say I can barely use my bathroom without experiencing a rush of anxiety. “But no!” I hear you proclaim, “Unleash thine moany prose on me! Bottling it all up inside will just make it worse.” I have to say I appreciate your concern (even though I only pretended you were saying that), but I’m afraid that I have to pass up this unique opportunity to make my writing less generic for once by filling it with personal details. Why? Well, you probably gathered from my previous essayistic self-portraits that I’m not really the confrontational type. I don’t have any hope that spilling my guts would accomplish anything except plunge me right back into my anxiety.
Speaking of self-portraits, it’s downright freakish to compare the self-image I construct when writing a narrative CV for some fancy application to the one I shrivel into when drafting a blog post. I guess it’s no different for anybody else: these bureaucratic procedures demand you to masquerade in some blown-up persona that professes humble-bragging is only one of your many professional assets. So will being admitted to the student exchange program I applied to make me feel somewhat accomplished, or even hopeful, at last? Let me take a detour on that question.
In the ocean of polysemy that is the English language, the word “anxious” has earned a special place in my heart. There’s a thin line between being anxious to do something — that is, brimming with anticipation and excitement — and being anxious about something, which is where my hormones tend to feel most at home. As regards the prospect of spending a year abroad among students who speak my language of choice, there’s a tension between those two kinds of anxiety — the joyful and the fearful one. But you can probably guess which one has the upper hand.
I wish I could put an end to the reign of terror my bodily chemicals have launched recently — through art, through writing, whatever. But I know all too well by now that this would entail waging war against a part of myself. It’s as if I overheard a voice inside of me ask, “So what’s all this for, exactly?” and I was too afraid of screwing up my answer to even raise my hand.