The monsters under my bed

‘Be careful what you wish for’, they say. But this is easier said than done, because at the time of wishing, seldom does anyone think of the potential consequences that the wish could carry. Around this time last year, some of my friends and I had to balance work and school. Feeling like we were spreading ourselves too thin, we attempted to wish away our fast-paced lifestyle. ‘The world needs to stop so we can take a breather’, ‘I wish life could slow down a moment or two’, ‘I can’t wait for all this to end so I can get the rest I very much deserve’, we would say.

What is that saying again? If you manifest it long enough into the universe it will come to pass? Ah yes! The law of attraction. Fast forward to one year down the line, when our workload was supposed to be at an all-time high yet again. It was meant to be a work-earn-travel kind of holiday. This time, however, the impending busy schedule elicited a rush of excitement within us. It was like dipping our toes in the waters of adulthood without having to deal with the collateral burdens. Life was going to be sweet.

It started out as rumors around December 2019, ‘a deadly virus discovered in Wuhan’, ‘139 new cases confirmed’, ‘Lunar New Year celebrations cancelled in an attempt to contain the virus’. At the time, it was easy to brush them off as like ‘other people’s problems’. We paid little mind to those news headlines, but as quickly as the virus began, we also realized that this was in fact everybody’s problem. More cases were being confirmed by the day, emergency committee meetings were being convened, and more lives were being claimed. In an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus, borders were closed, schools were closed, and workplaces for non-essential workers followed suit. Everybody around the world was required to self-quarantine.

It was like a gust of the Monsoon to our tiny flames. A global pandemic – who would have thought? Stuck in our homes with nothing to do, but rest and relax, then rest and relax again, our lives began feeling like broken records. The world had stopped – just like we had once wished for, right? It was as if the universe was subliminally telling us that it had heard our discontented pleas from a year back. As if our botched plans were not enough, I began getting acquainted with the proverbial ‘monsters under my bed’. Everything that I had been oblivious to or ignoring by indulging in work demanded an audience now. I must have been using my workload to paper over some pretty seismic cracks in my life, because anxiety like I had never known began kicking in.

See, I have always had a deep-seated fear of heights, an irrational fear of bugs and a phobia for oceans – something about their vastness makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and powerless. If anyone told me they were having feelings of anxiety, I would liken them to the deeply unsettling feeling I get when I have to look down from a height, or the fear I felt that one time when I went scuba diving with my family – suffice to say the adventure that I seek is nowhere under the deep blue sea. As a consequence of my misinterpretation of anxiety, I could never understand what was so inexplicable about it. It was as easy as saying, ‘my anxiety kicks in when I get onto lifts’, or ‘I get anxious when I get on airplanes’, right? Wrong! This completely ignored the nuances of each individual’s circumstances.

Now, in the time and quiet of this quarantine period, the anxiety that I felt opened my eyes to how much I had understated the severity of such feelings. I would lay awake in bed, for hours and hours, wallowing in my own worries and fears to a point that I could not sleep. A very tangible kind of fear gripped me every time I tried to close my eyes. In the morning, I could not muster the energy to bring myself to a mental space to be productive. And guess what? There were no heights, bugs or oceans around. Everything around me was normal – my house, my room, my family – so why was I suddenly so restless, so worried, so anxious? So, this was how it felt to go something inexplicable huh!

The inexplicability, that I now fully understand, must be the most frustrating part. It makes it hard to seek out help, because most people who have not gone through it have a hard time understanding. It is equally difficult to battle it yourself because guess what? You also cannot explain it. It is a little like having a battle of swords in the dark. I feared that it would escalate into something far worse, so I had to deal with this anxiety while it was still in its infancy.

I do not purport to possess either the skill or the qualifications of a psychotherapist, but what I do know is some of the things that worked for me. Relax, this is not about to be a long list. In fact, the thirty percent minimalist in me presents just two items in my strategy. One, I talked about my anxiety with my friends and family, and while none of them is a professional in dealing with the same, their reassurance and listening ears went a long way in helping me deal. I also came up with a workable schedule and stuck to it. Something about having a constant routine feels a little therapeutic.

If anyone asked me to pinpoint the source of my anxiety, I still would not be able to answer that question. I earlier likened it to having a battle of swords in the dark, but if Arya won one in S06E08 of Game of Thrones, then maybe – and I might be going against the grain here – but just maybe seeing the villain is not as important as possessing the skill to deal with it.

Anita Wambui

Strathmore Law School