Twenty-four hours after completing a set of four blog posts describing some of the peculiar internal struggles my social anxiety has constructed, I read somebody else’s take on anxiety. Their writing struck me dumb, thanks to seven simple words.
Anxiety is the fear of the unknown.
Bang. Just like that, those seven words made me question the value of every single one of the 4500 words I’d spent several days labouring over. Why hadn’t I been that succinct? How had such a simple truth escaped me? It seemed so obvious now; of course anxiety is fear of the unknown.
It’s the fear of not knowing how best to act in a restaurant to help out the staff.
The fear of not knowing how strangers in a cinema might behave.
The fear of not being accepted by others in your industry and community.
The fear of wondering when exactly the world will finally burn, and whether you’ll suffer an agonising demise with it or be unlucky enough to eke out a painful existence living off the scorched earth.
(I realise that last one’s a little more dramatic than the others.)
Reading those seven words caused me to instantly forgot all the lessons I’d learned from writing the four posts in the first place. My work seemed self-indulgent and not worthy of being heard; an inferior version of what other people were capable of.
That’s right: not only did I think my writing was of less value than seven words in somebody else’s blog post (which, for the life of me, I cannot now find to link to), I also convinced myself I’d succeeded only in creating a less pithy, less funny version of Very British Problems.
Having successfully diminished my work in comparison to others, I resolved not to publish the posts at all and left them to rot in Google Drive.
Fortunately, within that short twenty-four hour time period, I’d already sent all those words to a trusted friend for his opinion. A couple of weeks after giving up on their publication, his fresh take breathed new life into their contents. He related to the thought processes I’d described, and had examples of his own to share.
Wondering if somebody will be in your reserved seat on the train.
Getting stressed by the queue at the barbers.
I smiled a knowing smile as recognition of my own experiences in those situations kicked in. In his email, my friend wrote:
It’s helpful and inspiring to me, as well as providing a kind of support that I didn’t know I needed but am very happy to have found.
I could have said exactly the same about his response.
Just like that, he reminded me that knowing ‘anxiety is the fear of the unknown’ is not enough in itself. It’s not the same as helping somebody relate to a situation. Those seven words are a tool, but a tool that is only useful if you know you need a tool in the first place.
Because the person I sent those blog posts to was a friend, I had no anxiety about seeking his opinion; no anxiety about his reaction to what I was saying. And yet, in the comfort zone of that existing relationship, neither of us had ever realised it was a conversation we needed to have, or could both benefit from.
Being open, being vulnerable, is phenomenally difficult. Even more difficult than we often acknowledge. You can think you’ve got it cracked, only to come up against fresh obstacles and new insecurities - or the exact same old ones, just in a different guise.
Openness is important, though, because the people who need to hear what you’ve got to say might be the ones least likely to know that they need to hear it. They might also be the people closest to you. So never forget to reach out to the people most important to you, because there’s no better place to start.
You have no idea just who - including yourself - you might help as a result.