"For the longest time, I was ignorant of what I was encountering. The dilemma was I did not even know what anxiety meant, let alone know that anxiety disorder existed."
Ever since I could remember, I have always been a very inexpressive person and a master at masking.
I never really thought very hard as to why I was like that but, now when I think of it, the fact was that I did not like losing.
When I say it like that, it makes no sense.
After all, how can concealing and being impassive be related to the drive to win at all costs? That is the question I hope to answer today.
When I was in second grade, I did not make it to the team. Being asthmatic has its limitations, but my mind was made up.
I was going to win no matter what, and to me, revealing my frustration meant directing the energy away from victory.
The grind had just started, and I would keep grinding for years if that is what it took. Surprisingly, it took only a year to get into the team after that episode.
How I made it is not essential, but it did involve countless asthma attacks, sleepless nights, continuous exhaustion, and a growing desire to win.
Fifth grade was gold. I made it to the senior team. Getting medals became normal to the point where the excitement perished. When they hand you the medals and the trophies, the moments are priceless.
When you are suddenly important, it is a weird kind of high you feel for a specific time until the effect wears down and you are left empty, seeking for a new thing to conquer.
From that, I concluded that it was not the reward or recognition that was bringing me joy.
It was the thrill I felt when I scored a buzzer-beater. It was the contentment I found from knowing that I was better after every practice than the previous day.
It was about how fortunate I felt seeing a family in my team and playing our hearts out together regardless of the outcome.
And most importantly, it was smirking at that voice in my head that told me I never could, and I never will be good enough.
So I suppose, in the end, for me, it was not about the materialistic wins because those kinds leave you before you know it. I wanted to keep winning, not materialistically but spiritually.
And that is when it was final. I was going to stop prioritising external wins over internal ones and strive for eternal bliss.
But, finalising was the easy part. Being able to do it was a completely different thing altogether.
With no clue where to start, I made a list of a billion things I needed to do to be happy from within, oblivious to the fact that all I was doing was self-sabotaging. Life was starting to catalyse the sabotage as well, but that was not a shocker.
I was not winning anymore because I failed to realise that the way I was beating myself up every second for not immediately succeeding in what I wanted to achieve is when I set myself up to be doomed. Life was not weakening me. I was.
And that is when the ultimate villain crept in, the villain I still compete against today, the villain I call Frida now and the villain better known as anxiety.
For the longest time, I was ignorant of what I was encountering. The dilemma was I did not even know what anxiety meant, let alone know that anxiety disorder existed.
The signs kept showing steadily, but what difference does that make to a clueless, naive 16-year-old? I kept shrugging it off until one day I cracked like I never thought I would.
It was around 2am when it appeared for the first time. I had not slept for nights, and I was drained out beyond words. Suddenly, the walls closed in as I gasped for air.
My first thought was, "asthma attack?" I reached out for my inhaler, taking one puff after another until I took over 30, hoping it would make this sensation go away.
The overdose led to my palms trembling uncontrollably, and for the first time in my life, I felt entirely powerless.
What happened after is a blur. Sometimes you forget the "why" and the "when" and the "what" but the feeling resides. The attacks became regular, sometimes even occurring twice or thrice a day.
Perhaps I cannot explain it technically, and I am possibly wrong since I have not fully grasped it myself but, I can tell you what my take is and, if that helps even one person out there, I have succeeded.
I still need to admit though, Frida is kind of wondrous in her way. She is only a figment of my imagination, yet she holds power to affect me like nobody else.
She has got this select button, which she presses quite often, making my brain feel like it will explode as my worries spiral out of restraint. My body tenses and aches while I sense the knots forming.
She gets my heart beating like the persistent waves against crumbling cliffs, and on her most robust days, she brings me down to my knees, as I desperately try to breathe.
It is a lot like drowning except there is no water, and it is all in your head, but it feels identical nonetheless. You feel like there is this massive blob of mercury hitting the walls of your stomach while she grins down at you.
You become paralysed - your feet and palms as cold as ice. She then takes your speech away as your throat goes arid, and you feel like uttering a single word will make you choke.
That is when you comprehend that there is no "flight" when it comes to anxiety. You either "fight or freeze".
I froze a million times before her, feeling weak until it dawned on me that Frida is only remarkable because I am.
She may be powerful, but I am greater because I am why she exists, and without me, she is powerless.
And with that came the first insight - the most straightforward way to triumph over Frida is to stop resisting her. The more you struggle, the more power you hand her over.
Accept that sometimes winning means not fighting at all. It is a lot like the Devil's Snare in Harry Potter, the magical plant that strangles you faster when you try tackling it and is impotent in front of bright light.
Frida's "bright light" is when she shows up, and I make her believe that she does not terrify me. I accept that she is going to make me nervous for a bit and I succeed because she soon gets fatigued and leaves.
The next step is to be conscious of the fine line that exists between coping and safety behaviours. For the longest time, I stopped drinking tea and coffee.
Every time I picked up the cup, Frida stood there, whispering I will have a panic attack as soon as I take a sip.
The problem was, I was not limiting caffeine; I was banning it, scared that anxiety will take over. Since I changed my coping mechanism into a "safety behavior", it backfired.
Here is one example of how your perception has a lot of control over your reaction to the same action.
However, do not let these talks make you think I am close to figuring Frida out even for a second. Frida still wins a lot.
Frida wins when I refuse to go to school or hangouts. Frida wins when I wear a cap to prevent people from seeing through the facade and detecting the turmoil.
Frida wins when I curl up in a fetal position at night, deadened for hours.
Frida wins when I start believing that I am introverted when I know deep down that I am not. She makes me feel unsafe and insecure until I suck at socialising.
Voices sound like bees buzzing, and they internally cause me to disintegrate, making it uncomfortable to look into someone's eyes.
Frida is eternally there like a shadow, sometimes as loud as a siren but mostly like a piece of low-tuned background music. And you know what? That is perfectly fine.
The countless matches I played in real life and against Frida, taught me it is okay to lose some or even lose many as long as the last win is yours.
With that comes my final insight - you never win if you never play. Anxiety is brutal, and our first impulse is to avoid situations that make us uneasy.
When we do that, we lose our shot at victory. It will be uncomfortable and painful once, and then twice, and then a thousand times, but the trick is to keep putting yourself through hell and back until the fire no longer bothers you.
The trick is to keep enduring your fears over and over again until you start giggling at why it scared you in the first place. Trust that there is always a way to beat it.
Anyone who tells you otherwise, including the voices in your head, is either lying or, just not smart enough.
And with that, I will answer the question I always hoped to answer someday. In the end, all my life, I have masked and been expressionless because I did not know any better.
Because I believed that it would make me seem vulnerable and incompetent. Because then, people would finally see how badly Frida was beating me and I was nowhere near winning against her. And all my life, I was wrong.
It is less about "fake it till you make it!" and more about "strive till you thrive!" Writing about Frida today is a baby step towards setting things right. I acknowledge her more now and work towards finally accepting her.
When I think about it, if I had a chance to change it all, I would not. She is why I am mightier than I ever was before, and I need her to stay to become stronger still, stronger till I win every time she confronts me.
Frida may be chaos, but so is the universe. She is also irrelevant because I will always find a way to contain the chaos. No matter how turbulent it gets, I will keep winning, and I will be happy and content eternally.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.