• Sun, 22, Oct, 2017 - 5:00:AM

The Check Up: Dancing with the anxiety monster

All the cool girls have anxiety. Heck, not just the cool girls – everyone is stressed out to the point of breakdown.

It’s the hot new thing, anxiety. Like depression for Gen X, try naming five people you know from our generation who haven’t experienced anxiety. Good luck.

It’s the great unifier, anxiety. Regardless of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, national origin, level of ability, or socio-economic status, we’re all suffering. Even our new Prime Minister has been open about her struggles with anxiety. “I do muse over things a lot and am constantly assessing whether I am doing enough, or what I should be doing more of to make sure I am not letting anyone down,” she told The Guardian just before the election. “I set quite high expectations. So do a lot of people. For what I do, is the experience that I have normal? Probably.”

The PM though is just a drop in a much larger sea of stress. As Laurie Penny brilliantly puts it in The Baffler: “If dealing with your anxiety is now a lifestyle trend, talking about your anxiety is a publishing trend.”

She’s not wrong. We’re at peak anxiety saturation. We’re all fucking stressed. We’re all fucking anxious. We might not all be prime ministers or particle physicists or understand the intricacies of share markets or capital gains or have the foggiest notion what Winston Peters wants, but we all know what Xanax, Klonopin, Diazepam (Valium), Lorazepam and Serax do.

But why are young women so stressed, more than ever before? You know damn well why.

It’s the world we live in. It’s the social media trolls that drive people to the point of killing themselves. It’s the same trolls who frighten young women into silence because nowadays posting a selfie of a fun night out can result in being told to go die or being threatened with rape. It’s the keyboard warriors who stalk, blackmail, and destroy lives – but still proclaim they’re Nice Guys™ and that women had it coming anyway.

We’re anxious because Instagram tells us we’ll never be skinny enough, pretty enough, handsome enough, or successful enough, and we’ll never compare to those whose lives we’re supposed to covet. We’re anxious because we all know a Harvey Weinstein, that #MeToo applies to us all and that we still live under a system that rewards abusers and punishes victims, because we “have to consider what she was wearing” and that punishing your rapist could ruin his career and family.

We’re anxious because of the persistent gender pay gap, which despite all the attention doesn’t seem to be closing one fucking bit.  We’re anxious because, really, “look how far we’ve come” still doesn’t mean a damn thing when women are constantly dismissed, passed over, objectified, harassed, assaulted.

We’re anxious because of the enormous pressure to succeed. Girls can do anything. Or at least the girls who the patriarchy deems as more worthy. Even in New Zealand we’re really all living in America, a culture where only the very best and brightest succeed and all others are crushed underfoot and forgotten.

We’re anxious because we have no time. We have a million things to do and it’s like a boa constrictor wrapping itself around us, crushing our ribs and making it hard to breathe or even think clearly. There’s so much to do we’re paralysed with inaction. We’re not sleeping because there’s so much to do and though we try to put on a brave face, we’re panicking inside. We’re running ragged. We’re Frodo in a race to Mount Doom being hunted by everyone, but have no idea where Mount Doom even is.

We’re anxious because we’re expected to be woke, but should have been woke already. We have no clue what the fuck is happening but we’re supposed to have an opinion about it anyway. The right opinion.

We’re anxious because we have our whole lives ahead of us, and don’t have a fucking clue where to begin or if we’ll even be around long enough to experience much more of it with the Orange One’s finger hovering over the big red button.

We’re anxious because New Zealand used to be the Last Safe Place in a world either at war or ready to go to war. Now Kim Jong Un has missiles capable of reaching Aotearoa that can turn Auckland into a car park.

We’re suckers for nostalgia because those were simpler times. Nineties kids want to go back to the Nineties because that was before ISIS and artificial intelligence replacing us all, before social media, before there was no escape from the bullies. The world moved slower, like hot chocolate fudge slowly oozing over vanilla ice cream. For a lot of us our biggest concerns were whether we’d master the art of finger-painting in our mobile device-free kindergarten and if Luke Skywalker was ever going to defeat Darth Vader and the Evil Empire. Simpler times.

We’re minnows in a sea of sharks. Our stress is also turning us into an advertiser’s wet dream.

We’re well aware our anxiety is a multi-billion industry. From fidget spinners and weighted blankets to comfort food, $5,000 yoga retreats in Bali, therapy sessions that make us decide between paying for them or paying off our student loans, and a whole host of “de-stressing” spa treatments, our insecurities are big money. An awful lot of those advertisers would prefer we all stay stressed, so they can sell us more crap that treats the symptoms but not the disease. They’re the predators that could care less if we’re eaten alive by the anxiety monster. There’s always someone else to sell herbal teas and chillout mixes to, or to write some shit on a notepad for during a therapy session when they’re just going to prescribe us a bunch of pills anyway.

We know our hard-earned money is being sucked away from us by people who feed on our insecurities. Why do we go along with it?

Because we’re fucking stressed.

The knots in our stomachs are so tangled they may never come undone. A cure? That’s in the pastel-coloured pills, in Netflix and blanket forts and avocado on toast and nail polish and bubble baths and red wine and house music and bad romance novels. We want to live in Neverland because that’s the only way we’ll keep standing in a world that wants to shatter our Bambi legs. We never want to grow up because growing up means responsibilities, responsibilities mean pressure, and pressure can make us fail. We don’t want to fail because to fail means to fall, and if we fall we’re behind in the race and may never catch up and no-one ever cares about who lost.

It’s a deep, dark sea, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water. We all are. No-one is born instinctively knowing how to swim. We need to teach each other how not to drown and avoid the sharks.

All the cool girls have anxiety because we all do. We’re not okay. It’s not okay that we’re not okay, but we can find some comfort in that none of us are okay.



Where to get help:

If you or someone you know is in danger or at risk of endangering others, call 111 immediately.

If you need to talk to someone, you can contact:

• RainbowYOUTH
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)


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