I Just Got Diagnosed Anxiety Disorder and It Took Me 10 Years to Understand Why
I have a theory to keep me successful and happy in life.
When I was in high school, our school grades students’ performance by a combination of A-E and 1–5. The letters represent the actual grade they expect you to get in a public exams, and the numbers represent how much effort this student has put in.
A genius will be A5, but most people who are the top of class really do work hard, so they are the A1s. We joke that the worst case scenario is E1, all the effort and no result.
I am a B3 kind of guy. Frankly I still get straight As for my exams, but I mean I am never the ultimate top students. I am lazy, I put in the amount of effort enough to make me safe and better than average but I have zero ambition in being the Top Dog.
My B3 approach has got me quite far in life. As my friends said, I was sailing close-hauled, beating in the aid of the wind.
You can imagine my surprise when I was diagnosed chronic generalised anxiety disorder.
Why am I anxious?
I graduated college in London, 2011. It was a tough time for the economy, still recovering hastily from the economic crisis. Beating all the odds, I was the only one among my friends to get a so-called “high flyer” job in London (especially as a foreigner requiring a visa). They even paid me to further my studies and do my exams, I thought I was beating the wind again.
At one point the exam got a little stressful and I was sure my tiny lazy brain won’t pass this hurdle. If you fail really badly, you get fired. This is the fittest will survive kind-of game. So this time, I geared up and put in maximum effort, I needed to do an A1 this time.
My grandpa died in Hong Kong, and my exam was in two days.
Imagine a person who never tried hard suddenly decided to work their ass off on something. The adrenaline level was sky high. I was on fire, doing hundreds practice questions a day, making sure I remembered all formulas and stuff. If I was a Japanese anime character, I would have fire in my pupils (like below).
I did what a determined person would do, I didn’t skip my exams, I didn’t fly back, I missed the funeral. My own grandpa’s funeral.
The only one time I tried to be an A1, I transformed to become a cold-blooded person. Now, I am not saying in order to be great you have to be mean to people around you. Being an A1 was out of my depth, and it was not natural to me, and I had to abandon everything around me in order to reach my goal, it does take sacrifice.
I passed my exam, flew back home, and visited the grave.
I never told anyone this, but after I tasted success, especially a victory after blood and sweat, it was a little addictive. From then on, for a long time, I put all my efforts on becoming a old-blooded, A1 bad ass.
Not long after my Grandpa’s death, my best friend also died in a scuba diving accident in Canada. He was a lawyer, so he actually prepared a will in advance and I was the will executor.
The now-A1 me didn’t like sentimental crap. I sorted out the will with the other will executor (you need two), attended a memorial service organised by his family, and walked out from the church we both went to for the last decade. No one cry to me about my best friend, no one, I warned.
I buried myself in work, the place that guaranteed money and success as long as you worked hard. It’s better if you have no feelings at my line of work, being a machine is an actual praise. Now I look back, this is such a classic textbook example. Grieve after grieve, I gave myself no space to bereavement.
Perhaps my anxiety disorder began around then, I didn’t know, I was very busy looking at the property advertisements, putting my foot on the real estate ladder.
In ignoring pain and grieve, I ditched many friends which I deemed useless and sentimental. I surrounded myself only with friends that could give me the thing I need. Alcohol, prestige, exclusive access, no non-sense.
Oddly though, I still talked about myself as if I was the good old laid-back B3. I said I love writing and want to meditate like a monk. I looked harmless and then back-stabbed people because I was an A1 in disguise. There’s only a fine line between a bad ass and a bad asshole. I have no ass, just an asshole.
I was a rotten piece of fruit. I secretively hated myself, so much so one lunch break I ran to Oxford Street and bought a Louis Vuitton bag for absolutely no reason. Comfort your troubled ego with the trouble the ego created. I did this all the time - hate myself, splash the cash.
I met a man a few years ago, and he told me like-minded people will gravitate towards each other.
This man carries a lot of pain and grieve from his past too, he is a workaholic, an alcoholic and a troubled soul. He was right. We gravitated then we destroyed each other. More grieve.
There was a tiny alley way near my office. Someone put plant pots along and it’s like a little runway of green. It’s my sanctuary. I scried and hid there when both work and emotions try to get hold of me at the same time.
Negativity wouldn’t leave me, there were too much pain, grieve, regrets and self-hatred in me. I climbed the ladder further and got to a point which I completely lost my plot.
I am not and have never been an A1 guy, and this is not a self-depreciation lie. My equilibrium is B3, this is when I tag along the wind and sail forward like a boss. I don’t need to sail into the wind and get myself screwed up. I ain’t a machine, I am a bloody human.
My equilibrium is now completely off. Work, the place where things were easy and reward was guaranteed, suggests that I am not doing too great and my effort is poor. Do you mean an E5? I shouted with disgust, this is an irrelevant combination to my life. E5s are not relevant to this world, they are not even losers (that’s E1), they are just irrelevant.
It seems like I am about to be cancelled.
The experience of panic attack is overwhelming and fast. You clench your fist so tight because you are trying to stop yourself from trembling. Your breathing is short and rapid, as if there are no more oxygen around you. You are fearful and your internal organs are scrambled up.
I rang my doctor and there was a chatter in my head kept saying “I am not an E5, I am not an E5.” The same saying recurs everyday and everywhere. When I am working, sleeping, meditating, cooking.
How is your sleep? The doctor asked me. I don’t remember, I replied. I told him my head is very busy, so I don’t sleep until 2 am, and then the brain starts chanting again at 4.
I told the doctor I have dreams that my hair falls out, and cats jump in from my bedroom window to scratch my face. I missed deadlines, had careless mistakes at work etc.
The only thing I know I answered right is that, I don’t want to die. I have no suicidal thoughts. I really don’t and I wonder why.
I was referred to the psychiatrist as he believes I have a long-standing case of generalised anxiety disorder. Work gave me some time off.
As I walk around Victoria Park and along the canals (if you haven’t been to Victoria Park, I really recommend) on a typical work day, I saw squirrels and people living in those long, narrow houseboats.
I have a longing for them, I find the sight gives me peace and joy. A sense of home.
Why is that? Perhaps because the like-minded gravitate towards each other. A failed A1 trying to go back to the root of B3. The contentment, the alignment and the restfulness of the birds, the trees and the idle boats on tranquil water are the home of a B3. I remember what being a B3 was like, I know I can go back, maybe that’s why I have no intention to end my life.
I walked so much that day, along the canal until there was no more path to go. The coffee was so aromatic, the croissant sweet and savoury. The sky was blue and gentle, sun shining on the dancing lavenders. I eventually arrived at the secret sanctuary, the little alley way behind my office.
It’s probably time to go, to start again, as a happy B3.