I have always been in a love-hate relationship with my nerves. I can never fully depend on them. Sometimes they are as steady as a a mountain while other times I can’t save them from erupting in such a manner that engulfs my confidence and self-esteem in their pernicious flames. While I don’t exactly remember the first occurrence of this dichotomy of my nerves, I believe it is as old as my life. I might have been too nervous to cry and then erupted in mirthless laughter the moment the doctor declared me dead. That would have made into a pretty good labour room story.
I can, however, tell you about the first time I realized there was something wrong with me. I was in the 6th grade and dad had been recently transferred. My parents took me to a new school where I was to be admitted to the 7th grade. Now I was a fairly smart kid and had achieved first class grades in my Alma-mater. My school, a convent one was too serious when it came to English, and the English textbooks we were taught were always a class higher than ours. So, to say, I was smugly confident about my English language prowess and so were my parents.
So, on that fateful day, my parents and I walked pretty confidently into the Principal’s chamber and the man, a dead ringer for Dumbledore warmly welcomed us and began preparing for the interview after the initial round of pleasantries. For the following five minutes, all his well-meaning questions, about the definitions of noun and verbs met with a pensive frown and an uncomfortable silence. My parents had locked themselves in a deathly stare while Dumbledore looked hopefully for an answer, any answer, yet all he received was a few unsure shrugs and a deadpan expression. He then, very softly, told my parents that I could not be admitted to a higher grade as I was not prepared for a higher grade. He wanted me to repeat the same grade I was in.
My parents looked too disappointed to scold or admonish me. But I was disappointed too. Not because I didn’t answer the Principal, but because I couldn’t answer. There was an invisible force inside me that kept me from answering him. That voice kept telling me the entire time that my answers were not good enough and irrespective of what i said, I wouldn’t be admitted to the school.
Although I did get admitted to the same school, after my dad arranged for a written test and I excelled in it but that voice chose to live with me permanently. I grew up listening to it telling me that I was destined to be average. It made me overtly suspicious of any kind of compliment and had a fascination for playing my failures over and over. It loved to see me fail and I thought I had no choice but to lose. It resulted in a lot of entertaining situations. For instance, this one time I had participated in an Extempore competition, and my then crush and future boyfriend had participated in it. He exceeded expectations and I blanked out in 30 seconds.
There have been incidents that involved me accidentally entering a men’s restroom because I was too anxious to notice and interviews where my silence had rendered the interviewers speechless. With time, I did learn how to temporarily exorcise my anxiety. I also learned how to dupe it into focusing its attention on less important things such as my attire. So, while it fussed about how I am making a giant ass of myself by wearing whatever, I would manage to complete the presentation/ speech or a normal conversation. But unfortunately, like an insidious spirit, it always found out because it would give me sleepless nights reminding me of what I did wrong.
As I grew up, my anxiety, fortunately, also developed a tinge of sympathy and only called on me on rare occasions such as first dates, public speaking among others. It did go easy on me too. Or it might have been the growing influence of my confidence on it. They are like a cat and a dog who have reluctantly agreed to live together in harmony so as to make their human look interesting.
I love making fun of my anxiety. And I call it my other half. It helps me get closure from all the opportunities I missed, all the speeches I couldn’t make and all the presentations I rushed through and all the emotions that I couldn’t show. It has helped me see myself in a different light. A less harsher and more accepting light. I have learnt to come to terms with it. I have learned to respect it because it makes me work harder, forces me to practice my presentations in front of the mirror, helps me with my self-deprecating humor.