I could never be a Victorian.
Isn’t that ironic? How many times have I mentioned here (and in my life in general) that I would love to have lived in the Victorian era? I mean, for god sake, my bio on the side of this very blog’s homepage professes…
~ I would trade this life for a Victorian life in a heartbeat. ~
But, it has come to my attention recently that there is no way I would survive a Victorian life…and it has everything to do with one tiny thing I have been carrying around for my entire life. My anxiety. Now, I know there’s a stigma about mental health issues, which is definitely going away slowly, but is still pretty prevalent in society. Not many people feel comfortable about discussing their mental health struggles, and honestly, I’ve always sort of been one of those people. I talk very openly about my anxiety with my close friends, my immediate family and my fiancé, but it’s not something I’m exactly eager to shout from the rooftops. I’d like for the people I work with not to have any clues about it. I never revealed it to any of my classmates or my professors. I just always felt that it was the sort of thing that needed to be kept silent, or at least not have attention drawn to.
I’m very lucky because my anxiety is not debilitating and, to be honest, I’ve never had it diagnosed. But believe me when I say that I know I suffer from anxiety because I have read enough about it and seen enough examples of it in my life to know what it looks like. Although it is most certainly a different experience for each and every person, I have witnessed enough different forms of anxiety to know that my nerves and worries are more severe than most other peoples’. And perhaps I should feel shy about writing this post (even know, as I write it, I wonder if I will ever actually post it on my blog), but part of me just wants to write about my personal experiences, not only to get them out there for others who may be struggling, but also to help sort through them myself. Writing has always been a cathartic and therapeutic pastime for me, and so it seems like the best method to unravel my anxieties and get to the root of them.
My anxiety manifests itself as a preoccupation with things that are unlikely and illogical, but terrifying. I become fixated on one idea, one fear or source of nervousness, and I find it hard to stop my fixation and rumination on this notion until another one slips in to replace it. Don’t get me wrong, I have good periods when I’m not that consciously anxious about anything in particular, but at any given moment, if I sit down and think long enough, I will be able to pinpoint one or two things to be nervous about. As I said, these things are often totally outlandish and ridiculous, and yet I latch onto that slim chance that it may happen and sometimes make myself sick at the thought. I am getting better at realizing that my anxieties have no actual basis in reality, but that doesn’t mean that I’m able to overcome them entirely. I may never be able to do that, and I am strangely okay with that…I know that anxiety will be a part of who I am forever, and I also know that it will be one of the biggest things in my life that makes me strong and resilient. I try as much as I can to use my anxiety to my advantage, to try to become a stronger person because of it, as hard as that may often be. It has made me resourceful and driven to persevere and not let it stop me.
My anxiety is also always worse in times when I am incandescently and extremely happy. For whatever reason, it seems like, whenever I am most content and confident, my anxiety kicks in and reminds me that everything can disappear in a flash. It’s the ultimate manifestation of the “glass half empty” mentality…my anxiety is constantly there to encourage me to be prepared to lose everyone and everything, to make me believe that happiness is fleeting and fragile. These are the points when my anxiety is most exhausting, because I am most frustrated with myself. These are also the times, though, when I feel most compelled to work on my anxiety, to try to combat it by being even more joyous and ignoring the tiny voice inside me that warns me to be pessimistic. It is at these moments that I get fed up with myself and my overactive brain and try to live fearlessly and boldly!
Recently, however, it came to my attention that 3 of my biggest most all-encompassing anxieties would absolutely prevent me from living the life I have always professed to want. Ever since I was young, but definitely more so now that I have moved out to my own home, I have been predominantly anxious about 3 things: fire, lice and bed bugs. I think that most people would be afraid of these 3 things and the inconveniences they cause, but my anxiety will go to the point of exhaustion, where I am checking my hair every night, or pulling my bed apart to get at my mattress, or feeling terrible nerves whenever I am out even though I checked that the oven was off 3 times before leaving. It does tire me out, no question, to have these 3 worries constantly at the back of my mind, and I have actually gotten to the point in this fatigued state where I have almost broken down in tears after seeing a firetruck randomly drive in the vague direction of my home. Again, I think most, if not all, people would be terrified by the thought of enduring a fire or the inconvenience of having lice or bed bugs, but my anxiety causes me to take that fear to the extreme.
Which brings me to why I could never be a Victorian… It is a pretty widely known fact that the 3 most prevalent issues in Victorian society were fire, lice and bed bugs. As coincidental as this may seem, I wonder if maybe my anxieties stemmed from reading and watching so many Victorian stories when I was growing up. In any case, it’s no shock to anyone to learn that a large part of London burnt down in 1666…although that was centuries before the Victorian era, fires were still a huge occurrence in Victorian England. And don’t even get me started on lice and bed bugs…it seems that almost every Victorian household had them, and I once read an article somewhere that suggested that at any given moment in Victorian society, 85% of children had head lice. I have to be frank, I didn’t want to do any research for this post as I wanted to speak of my own personal ideas more than anything else, so those statistics may be off. But there is no doubt that the things I fear on a regular basis were spreading rapidly during the Victorian era.
When my best friend, CV, mentioned to me that I could never live in the Victorian era because all of my greatest fears were a viable risk, I was immediately disappointed. Time machines don’t exist (just yet), so it wasn’t like I was exactly missing out on a trip to Victorian England…but at the same time, it felt like my anxiety was actively preventing me from doing something I had always wanted to do. Generally, I don’t let my anxiety get in my way, but here was an example of a limitation, a society I couldn’t have lived in comfortably no matter how much I love it and wish I could visit it. It was shocking, to say the least, to think that this lifestyle I put on such a pedestal was also one that would have terrified me on a daily basis…and it was eye opening. Anxiety should never ever prevent you from doing anything, and that is something that is not always easy to wrap your mind around when you’re having an anxiety attack or fixating on something. For me, it was helpful to have this reminder, to have a moment of clarity where I realized that these things I fear are things that other people have gone through and survived, and are things that don’t happen all that often in a time I am very fortunate to live in. It was an interesting source of perspective for me, a little extra jolt to try to force down my anxieties about these issues, to try to talk myself out of them and work through them.
I am and always will be a Victorianist, and it seems that my own particular Victorian condition is to be wary of the very same things that my Victorian counterparts and idols would have been concerned about. Whatever that says about my anxiety, it does remind me that there are certain things I will never be able to dodge or control, no matter what time I live in, and that it would not necessarily be simpler to live in what many people perceive as a simpler time. At the very least, I am reminded now, on a daily basis, that the people of the past had many more reasons to be afraid (by my standards, anyway), and yet they lived, they didn’t fear, they somehow managed to go up against greater risks than I face currently. So if Queen Victoria can be strong, surrounded by all her candles and gas lamps, why can’t I? I think I can, because I do, after all, have all those Victorian inclinations, both good and bad, way deep down inside me.
Janille N G
Girl with a Green Heart