"A Piercing Comfort"
My favorite poem by Emily Dickinson is “I Measure Every Grief I Meet.” It begins by saying “I measure every Grief I meet/with narrow, probing, eyes –/I wonder if It weighs like Mine –/Or has an Easier size.”
I do this all the time with anxiety. One of the biggest issues with social anxiety is that it feels like no one understands. Despite being the third most common mental illness (as I’ve mentioned before), very rarely do I come across people who have been diagnosed with social anxiety. It’s usually people with generalized anxiety or people using the term social anxiety to mean shy.
But there’s more people who understand the things I feel than I thought. Since starting this blog, more people than I ever expected told me they related to what I was saying. A lot of those people I never would have guessed they’d understand. Others I did. Others I wasn’t sure either way.
But since I was diagnosed, I began watching for the signs of anxiety in others. After I started getting better, I began to see my sixteen-year-old, ball-of-anxiety self in classmates, coworkers, or people I knew in passing.
I noticed the girl sitting in the back of the room who wore a hoodie even when it was hot out. I noticed the faded lines on her arm when the sleeves rode up.
I noticed the shifting eyes and feet of people giving presentations and the way they looked at the walls instead of the class.
I noticed the slight shake in my coworkers’ hand or voice when working a transaction with a rude guest.
I noticed some of those red flag statements like “they’ll hate me forever” or “everyone will judge me” or “no one needs me.”
As soon as I began to notice all that, I couldn’t un-see it. I try to encourage those people where I can and remind them that they’re not alone, someone understands, and it can get better. And as hard as it is to see people struggle, there’s something weirdly comforting about knowing you’re not the only one.
To go back to Emily Dickinson’s “I Measure Every Grief I Meet,” the second to last stanza reads “And though I may not guess the kind –/Correctly – yet to me/A piercing Comfort it affords/In passing Calvary.” Piercing comfort. I can't think of a better way to describe that feeling.
It feels good to see other people who understand, and I like knowing I’m not alone, but it also hurts. Mostly because I don’t always know what to do about it. I’d never walk up to someone and ask if they have an anxiety disorder or other mental illness. It’s not my place to do that.
But I do try to encourage them or offer advice when I can. Mostly, I provide for them what I needed most when I was sixteen. The feeling that they aren’t alone. I tell them I understand. I tell them I get it. I tell them I feel the same things they do.
I see anxiety all over the place. It makes me feel less alone. It hurts, but I’m not going to stop looking. Because if I need to know I’m not alone, then the people I notice need to know it too.
(Above images of the original manuscript of the poem found here)