Anxiety, Using Labels and Yuri!!! On Ice

Posted December 17, 2016 by dove-author in Personal / 0 Comments


Yesterday, I attended a job interview. I have anxiety, so a daylong trip that involves going to another country for a short interview is, well, let’s just say I spent most of today balancing needing to keep my sleep rhythm proper and needing to recuperate. I’m really glad that everyone I met was super nice to me because human kindness really helps me out. But even with human kindness the parts where I was travelling on my own were… not great.

I won’t go into all the details, but since it followed so closely on Yuri!!! On Ice episode 11 and because Yuuri’s anxiety has been on my mind a lot, it is something I’ve been thinking about and have been since I watched Yuuri’s flashback to last year’s Grand Prix Final where he failed. It also features VERY MILD spoilers for YOI episode 11.

Content Note: Descriptions of how anxiety manifests for me and related food issues as well as descriptions of how I talk about anxiety.

I always say that my anxiety is mild or low-level and that it spikes in certain situations (like job interviews). In other words: I always downplay my anxiety, except for the moments where it’s affecting me most strongly. I can perform through anxiety, so I get a lot of “I’d never know you were nervous!” and, as such, I’m fairly aggressive in calling what I deal with in a performance anxiety. I know people mean well and are trying to be supportive when they say that, but they don’t get to downplay what I’m dealing with just because I look okay on the outside.

Anyway, that’s one of the reasons I usually describe my anxiety as mild. I manage it and manage it pretty well without medication. I’m lucky. I don’t generally have massive panic attacks. I have had them, but nowadays my anxiety is more likely to be physical and just about not bad enough to affect my actions noticeably. (Unless I do something I know triggers attacks, of course. There is that. But that’s not really what this post is about.)

Anxiety, for me, is usually defined by physical tension, reactions and hyperawareness. I barely slept before my flight and what sleep I did get wasn’t very deep. Need to be alert for threats after all. I didn’t eat until something like 8pm because I wouldn’t have held down water until after the interview. (I did eventually get myself something to drink after my body hit “Liquid. Now. Buzz off, Anxiety” mode.) What I did eat was deliberately bland, just to be safe. It’s intrusive thoughts and the inability to listen to music or pick up a book. I get more anxious instead of less.

That’s one of the things you’re given for advice, though, when you’re anxious about something: distract yourself.

I have a pair of earbuds that’s partially broken. Only one of the buds works nowadays. I took my mp3 player along because I figured that surely surely with only one bud working Anxiety Brain couldn’t possibly insist that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my surroundings when I had one ear that would be able to hear everything perfectly well.

That, um, didn’t go very well. It didn’t go terribly, but that’s largely because I stopped before it got to that point. (Benefit of hyperawareness, I guess.)

And then! I had specifically scheduled my day to give me a chance to explore the city for a few hours before heading back. Hey, if I’m going abroad, I might as well make the most of it and it didn’t end in disaster the last time I’d done similar. But then the last time I’d done so, I wasn’t going back the same day. (Also, I was so tense I could barely eat. I managed a tiny portion of yoghurt for breakfast. Just about. For about 48 hours. It, uh, wasn’t fun?)

Anyway, so I’d given myself plenty of time to explore. (Seriously, plenty.) And the lady who interviewed me was so kind and she gave me a map and helped me read it and then walked me, like, a quarter of the way back to where I needed to be and I did not get lost. WIN! But, by the time I’d got back to where I needed to be to arrange tickets to the airport, I wasn’t really feeling exploratory. (Remember: I’d barely slept, been awake and in a state of hyperaware anxiety and hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for going on 10 hours.) I wandered around a bit, sure, but it wasn’t very adventurous and Anxiety Brain kept insisting I was going to miss my flight, so I opted to head to the airport early. By about 4 hours. Because this is clearly a sensible thing to do when you’ve got a whole new city to explore.

The thing is? I like travel. I like visiting new places and discovering things and getting to know different cultures and languages and learning about history and people. I mean, okay, I don’t generally like trying new foods, but that’s not because I don’t like travelling, so. But anxiety makes travelling (on my own) a very high cost activity for me and, even if I had the money (when I had the money), I still wouldn’t (didn’t) do it often because of that mental cost.

And yet, when I have to specify that I have mental health issues, I nearly always play it down to “I have mild anxiety”. I explain that my anxiety is “low-key” and “not a problem” when asked what others can do to help. (To be fair, as far as I know, there isn’t anything people can do that doesn’t actively make it worse. They’ve tried.)

Which brings me to Yuri!!! On Ice. Yuuri also deals with anxiety. You can see it ripple through the show in so many different layers and in such different intensities. But, perhaps, most strongly in that one little scene in episode 10, when Yuuri is alone and in bed and thinking about the upcoming competition and his failure last year. It’s brief. It isn’t dramatic. I love it. The detail in Yuuri’s body language. How understated it is. How quiet. How lonely, even. It resonated. And then it was time for episode 11 and Yuuri’s skating on the ice, there? His reaction when he’s done? I would like to say that I shouted “That’s me!” at the screen or did something equally dramatic. But I just watched. Quietly. Not sure of my reality. Because that scene? That was me. I’ve never seen a show try to depict anxiety and show me myself. I was shocked.

A lot of people have spoken about the depiction of mental illness (and especially anxiety) in the show and I don’t actually want to repeat them or cover the same ground in depnth. Google them. They’re fascinating and well-worth reading. I do want to add this: the show never downplays Yuuri’s anxiety. It doesn’t say that his anxiety isn’t that bad because he’s managing it. (In fact, I think it does the opposite.) It doesn’t say that, because he can deliver a performance when it matters, he clearly doesn’t have anxiety. It doesn’t say that the way his anxiety wraps around those moments is invalid. By including them, it says that they are valid and legitimate aspects of anxiety.

And if Yuuri’s anxiety resonates so strongly with me, what does that say about my own anxiety and how quick I always am to say it’s mild and not that bad? It clearly affects me. It can, very clearly, lead to situations that are detrimental to my physical health (never mind my mental health). Heck, I should probably take the ‘can’ out of that sentence and replace it with ‘does’. It affects my ability to do things that I really enjoy doing. So why do I play it down so much and so often?

My best guess is that it’s many things:

  • embarrassment
  • stigma
  • fear

Because there is so much stigma around mental health. I know the going term is ‘mental illness’ but it doesn’t feel like an illness to me. Calling it an illness implies that, one day, I can (will) be cured of my anxiety. That it isn’t a part of me and how I view and interact with the world. YMMV. I also know my anxiety could be worse. It’s been much worse than it is and I know, from second-hand experience, how much worse than my worst personal experiences anxiety can get. I am lucky mine isn’t debilitating. That it’s “just an annoyance” to deal with when I’m planning something that requires me to account for it. Fear because I’ve seen people get very… aggressive about when you get to claim a label and my experiences tend to… be not anxious enough and I don’t want to deal with people yelling this at me because it doesn’t look exactly like their definition. And also, of course, the fear of being broken, of not being able to do everything I “should” be able to. Facing pity. Misunderstanding. The feeling of worthlessness. The constant attempts to convince yourself you’re okay. Really you are. It’s not that bad. It’s just the circumstances. It’s anything but anxiety. It’s not anxiety’s fault that travelling is hard. Everything but anxiety is at fault. (Disclaimer: it is TOTALLY anxiety’s fault.)

But so we downplay it. Or I do, anyway. I downplay it. Make it sound better. Keep the pity at bay. Have plausible deniability that anything is anxiety’s fault. (Disclaimer: It is STILL anxiety’s fault and it is not plausible deniability but manipulative BS.) Anything, anything to avoid facing the anxiety as it really is. To avoid dealing with it. To avoid finding things that help you manage it because finding things that help is hard and makes it worse and shows the spiral down so so far down into the darkness of your own mind. To avoid the fear that you’ll slip and fall (again). To avoid anxiety brain telling you that you’ll not get out (this time).

I’m… not generally someone who needs words or depictions. I think so anyway. I mean, I like them and getting either is incredibly powerful, but I don’t strictly need them to be validated in my existence. I just like the validation. The show hasn’t outright said that Yuuri has anxiety. Personally, I don’t need it to. The inclusion, the way the show depicts it quietly and without fanfare, accepting it as another facet of what makes Yuuri himself… That’s what floored me. The way that Yuuri’s anxiety is so much like my own and the story never once implies that what he’s dealing with isn’t that bad or not worth paying attention to or something to simply get over.

And it’s not just the show. It’s the fans discussing Yuuri’s anxiety and saying “It me. I recognise this”. None of them are downplaying Yuuri’s anxiety as not that bad. All of them, at least the fans I saw and myself included, praised YOI for how sensitive and realistically it’s handled Yuuri’s anxiety to date. Everyone is saying “This. This is anxiety. It may be worse for people too, but this. Anxiety.” No modifiers. No attempts to make it sound less severe than it is.

That’s powerful. That’s thought-provoking. Because if I relate so much to Yuuri’s anxiety and his is “severe enough” to warrant being described without modifiers, then… isn’t mine? What would happen if I was better at accepting that I have anxiety and got better at not instinctively wanting to hit backspace to say “I have mild anxiety”? If telling people wasn’t immediately followed up with a string of explanations and justifications because I don’t look like I have anxiety right now.

I don’t really have any answers, not yet. But I’ve been trying to work on the way that I deal with my anxiety, to plan with/around it when necessary for a while now. I think, perhaps, it’s time I started working on how I describe my anxiety when it comes up and work on accepting that, yes, it really is anxiety full stop and not mild anxiety that’s only ‘real’ anxiety when I’m about to do something that spikes it into (near) anxiety attacks or a full-on panic attack.

Wow. There you are. 2,000+ words on anxiety and YOI. That’s, um, longer than I expected. I hope something in what I said will someday be useful to someone else! ^_^

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