This isn’t a public service announcement, before you assume. It’s not a rant either. Yes, it’s one of those rare days. After a year of treatment I am now understanding what stress is. I was under the impression that I knew stress personally, that I had got stress figured out. I thought I’m a veteran at dealing with stress.
My sister told me a day back that I take a couple of attempts being stressed about one thing before that one thing stops stressing me out. Yet, I find myself dealing with the same stress every time. The issues change but the stress stays the same. Stress isn’t tailor-made to suit an issue, it just uses the issue as an opportunity to come out to play, you know like how when it rains you see frogs on the streets or dragon flies. They use the rain as an opportunity, and this can be at any time of the year, it isn’t specific to monsoon, it just needs to rain.
For the past six months my therapist and my psychiatrist told me that the meds wouldn’t be reduced until the dissertation’s done. They saw this coming, the stress. I feel like they were just allowing me to come to know it on my own so it didn’t feel like they were setting me up for it. I see what they meant that the dissertation would be a turning point for me. It’s like I am living in high definition, every aspect of the dissertation iduces anxiety and stress. Not just high definition, I am seeing things in 4D.
The format, the forms, the procedures, the content, the purpose, the title, every word I type, every person I talk to, every e-mail, every message, every reply, all of it induces varying proportions of anxiety and stress. I hate having to always have to talk about this, but as long as the stress exists I will talk about it. It’s a cycle. When I talk about the stress I am told to rationalise it, people tell me stress isn’t a solution, that it won’t help anything.
I know all of that. The problem is, sometimes the more you rationalise, the more that rationality seems like irrationality. How do I explain how my mind works when it’s stressed without inviting an eye-roll or a comment on how I should be strong? I only say I am stressed when my rationality tries and fails before my stress. And I know that stress isn’t a solution, it’s a side-effect.
I think my stress over every minute aspect of the dissertation is linked to how I have been schooled. At the outset, stress was a check against procrastination and a way to prevent yourself from producing shoddy work. Over the years, stress grew into a hungry blackhole that lived off my insecurities and weaknesses.
At school, every test was about how much stress we could take. It became a race to see who could stress the most. Perfectionism was instilled into us through high levels of pressure and unhealthy competition. We were told creativity was a hobby and that taking a break was a mark of laziness. We were repeatedly reminded that one mistake, made the difference between a winner and loser. Being ill, or expressing your stress was seen as an excuse for not being able to achieve your goal. In our school, children would count every half-mark.
When I entered college that’s when I learnt stress is an adrenaline rush that propels you forward even when you have no energy to. We were perpetually under stress. Sometimes it could leave you devoid of humanity, sometimes it would force you to fight against it and at other times it was just a state of being.
As a result, now I am trying to push through that, teaching myself like a baby that stress isn’t great for me. It means letting go of what I learnt for at least fifteen years of my life. Stress has built an abode inside me, comfortably sprawling itself across my mind and feeding off my fears for a snack and my doubts for its main course.
I think in the past year, stress realised it was close to being evicted. So, it decided it’s not going to go down without a fight. This dissertation proves that. Every time I hit send on an e-mail, or press enter, or ask a doubt, I crumble from the ambush. The weight of my schooling lands on my head, my teachers telling me that I had silly doubts or telling me I am not working hard enough, maybe that’s why in my nightmares I am always in my uniform. Or I hear my bullies laughing at me, calling me names. My stress has great muscle memory.
You know when it gets tough? When, my family says, “by now you should have learnt to deal with it.” You know why that makes it tough? I am doing everything I can to deal with it, but I don’t want to deal with it. We’ve let ourselves believe that being stressed is like pollution, you need to live with it. No, why can’t we get rid of it? That’s the battle I am fighting, to teach myself that I don’t need to deal with stress, I don’t need it at all. I already have my mind to be my check and I am an inherently thorough and hardworking person. I don’t need stress to scare me, life is scary enough without it.
My schooling or my experiences aren’t responsible for my stress, they just gave it a launch pad. As I write my dissertation, I feel my stress swelling inside me like it did before an exam, and everybody would tell me I had nothing to be stressed about, that somehow magically everything would work out, that I should trust in God, and that my hard work is enough. I have always agreed with them, I always thought, “yes that is correct.” Yet, my heart would beat so fast till it asked me, “What’s the point?”
I don’t want to resign myself to a lifetime of stress. Even if that’s all I know, I want to learn to live another life, a life without it. I don’t want to live for it to feed off me. Call me greedy, but I want my life to myself. The only way I see that I can achieve this, is learn in spite of it. I know nothing yet, nothing at all. I feel like that’s a better start. I start every book at the end, but not this time, not this one.