A Love Letter to Anxious Ladies
Issue   |   Wed, 03/05/2014 - 00:13

I’m an extremely anxious lady. I get anxious about going to Val for lunch; I get anxious about giving myself five versus seven minutes to get to the bus stop every morning; I get too anxious to move from my bed to my backpack across the room to get a simple draft I could revise and send in five minutes out to work on. I get anxious about big things, like the future and my place in changing or being complicit in the evil capitalist order, and earning enough money for health insurance next year, and I get anxious about the horrifically minute things, like not giving myself the time to do one reading out of the fifty assigned over the semester for a class, or an insidious comment I made in class that I feel will make somebody hate me for life, or a friend’s being irritable that I wonder might spell the end of our friendship forever.

Lately — and maybe these are just the people I attract, but I have a feeling that this is more pervasive than just my limited social circle — I feel that I am not the exception in my near-paralyzing anxiety, but the norm. I’m surrounded by anxious ladies, and everybody that I love has recently confessed to me some form of anxiety or the other. Anxiety manifests in these driven, amazing, beautiful ladies I call my best friends in diverse ways: some show it in their bodies, with wrecked sleeping and wrecked appetites. Some stay in and sleep all day; some can’t sleep at all. Some can’t eat anything; some find their only comfort in eating. Some chain smoke endless cigarettes, and some hit the gym and run their frustrations out. Some feel averse to work, and shun it, and hide in the blankets and see TV all day. Some make themselves “high functioning sociopaths” (as a close friend once described herself to me, though I doubt she is a sociopath at all) and go through the motions with eerie efficiency and with prolific production of emails and papers and reading commentaries and organize and attend endless meetings and events. Some care too much, and spend days agonizing and worrying and thinking out loud and thinking to themselves; some deal with it by saying that they don’t care at all, donning protective apathy and jaded weariness as a shield from how much caring can hurt.

I’m not here to dissect these forms of responding to anxiety; nor am I here to trace their roots. Why ladies? Why now? Why so pervasive? There are many things that can give us answers to these questions, not the least the impact of being a woman in a time that is at crossroads with the demands of capitalism for entrepreneurship, leadership and selfish individualism, and the patriarchy’s demands for submission, motherhood and sexual availability. Being women at an environment that is highly liberal, individualizing, toxic, competitive and “sees you as equal to men,” we yet embody a subjectivity that is always already imbued with a contradictory set of principles of behavior. Again, feminist theory probably has a volume of text on this subject, and says it more powerfully and eloquently than I possibly could or am interested in for the purposes of this article. A close examination of the effects of late capitalism, social media and radical individualization at this current moment in time too will no doubt give us more fruitful insight into the genesis of these anxieties: we are at an unprecedented moment of surveillance, expectation, economic uncertainty and neoliberal devastation. But again, that’s somebody else’s article, or perhaps mine, another day. This is probably why my love life is so bad, really: this is not meant to be an investigation, or an academic inquisition. This is a goddamn love letter.

I’m not very good at love letters, so bear with me if I falter. Dear anxious ladies, everywhere, in all ends of campus, and in all ends of the world: I am currently in a state of mind where I hate most things, but know that I feel an intense, solid, strong bond of affection and solidarity for you. Affection — and admiration tied to this affection — for how strong and brave you are to get through days of trials nobody but you see as trials; affection and admiration for the fact that you go to bed every night and wake up the next day and do it all again (and affection and admiration for all the times you wake up and you can’t do it all again, because you’re still living in a screwed up world and that surviving is an act of strength in and of itself).

Dear anxious ladies, I feel solidarity with your struggles, even though I don’t always understand your anxieties and you will not always understand mine. I feel love in this solidarity, love whether I know you and have told you this personally, or whether I have never met you, because you are someone who can empathize so deeply with my own experience, because you are someone who can understand the depth of what I am feeling, because you are someone I want to take care of in order to take care of myself, but not in a selfish way, or in the way of a self-sacrificing martyr. Taking care of people, friends, with anxiety, is a way of self-care in how radically communitarian it is, in how much it shows that you are not alone and you are capable of love: love of both yourself and others that mirror yourself.

Dear anxious ladies, do not ever feel invalid, isolated, frustrated with the depths of your own anxiety, or alone. Do not feel frustrated because you are too strong willed, too hopeful, too full of dreams and aspirations, too full of caring and opinions, too full of worries and demands of yourself, to be able to be the perfect subject of capitalist competition, of the job market, of the demanding academic culture or of the demeaning hetero-patriarchy. Do not feel that you have shown weakness in your anxieties: by contrast, you have shown incredible strength and resilience, because you are too infinite and uncontainable to be fit into the narrow categories the social order demands of you, and anxiety is just your reflex resistance to the status quo trying to accommodate you within it. Do not feel alone, or like a freak, or a hopeless case: we are increasingly becoming the norm, and we are becoming the norm because there is an increasing body of resistant and strong women who, pulled between contradictory and forceful demands in the current oppressive social order we inhabit, chose not to surrender quietly. Do not ever feel invalid, because your emotions and sensitivities take over you at moments nobody else considers important, and because they cripple you from action: celebrate, instead, the capacity to care so strongly, to feel so much, because it constitutes a part of your empathy, of your thoughtfulness about the place in the world around you, of your incredible selflessness in your instinctive placement of your worries and values above your own self-preservation.

Dear anxious ladies, fight on. We’re going to win this.

mm (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 13:02

This made me cry and was exactly what I needed to read right now. You are brilliant and amazing, as usual.

Amani (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 16:34

This is beautiful, Meghna, really.

Alex (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 16:52

This lovely. I couldn't have believed grief/forebearance could be so elegantly put, until this.
Keep well.

vdog (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 17:32

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
This filled me with glee,
Fight patriarchy with me?

Crysta (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 17:36

I love you, your face, and all the words that come out of it.

Shannon (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 17:50

This is beautiful. Thank you for writing this.

Cecilia (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 18:00

"Taking care of people, friends, with anxiety, is a way of self-care in how radically communitarian it is, in how much it shows that you are not alone and you are capable of love." Amen to that.

Vic (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:16

Gracias, es precioso.

Hannah (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:51

Thank you, Meghna! This article was lovely to read.

Alumni '11 (not verified) says:
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 00:28

Dear anxious ladies and men,

I feel for ALL of you and everything you ALL go through daily and have to endure, regardless of your gender. Because I do not like to make black and white separations between groups, which only seek to divide us instead of uniting us behind anxieties that are common to all, not just ladies.

Also, a note on the following terms:
"the demeaning hetero-patriarchy"
"the patriarchy’s demands for submission, motherhood and sexual availability"

It sounds like you are partly blaming ladies' issues on men and straight people, which deeply offends me. Again, dividing will only hurt everybody in the end.

the author (not verified) says:
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 18:56

"It sounds like you are partly blaming ladies' issues on men and straight people"

yes. yes i am.

UGH (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 09:16

Stop, for once, just STOP recentering issues back to the dominant majority. Your comment deeply offends me.

UGH (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 15:04

Original comment was directed towards the alum.

Alumni '11 (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/08/2014 - 21:42

Notice how I didn't recenter any issue to the "dominant majority". If anything, I was being purely and utterly equal. Which is how I wish society were.

ty (not verified) says:
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 11:31

just ftr, the "high functioning sociopaths" thing is a Sherlock reference!

jf (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 08:51

Read the book Anxious to Please and you might find some truth

hh (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 18:19

"It sounds like you are partly blaming ladies' issues on men and straight people, which deeply offends me." <--- It's not about blaming them on men and straight people, but rather about blaming them on systems of oppression that privilege those groups. Seriously, check your privilege.

"Stop, for once, just STOP recentering issues back to the dominant majority." <--- YES, EXACTLY

Alumni '11 (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/08/2014 - 21:34

"Check your privilege." Presumably you have assumed I am a white heterosexual male. But I said nothing about my gender ("alumni" was not meant to be gendered - I can never keep track of what it's supposed to be anyway), race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, (or any other thing you can think of to divide society). So perhaps you should wait before making any assumptions about this thing you call "privilege." Also, it's highly likely if you comment here that you currently attend or went to Amherst College. As such, maybe you should check your own damn privilege. Anyone who went to Amherst College is much more privileged than a majority of U.S. society and the world. I get anxious and stressed out just like every other person in the world. But at least I have a degree from a very good school that puts me in a better position in life than most everyone else.

Lerose (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 18:36

This exactly what I needed to read I am going through some tremendous changes in my life. My relationship that I have invested five years into is falling apart because I refuse to be passive anymore. On the one hand I am proud of myself for not backing down, on the other I feel that anxiety that horrible anxiety because I gave up everything, moved across the world with him, left friends and family behind. I have no connections here but I have to make it work. I have to do this for me, so anxiety, with all the aches that accompany you showing up at the most inopportune times, the shivers, lack of sleep, the shooting pains down my restless legs, you won't stop me. This is just what I need, and I'll admit, I allowed myself to shed a tear for me <3

Dawn (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 19:25

What's wrong with capitalism?? Sorry, I'm a successful woman who graduated with an MBA . Once you graduate it's a dog eat dog world. That's what pays the bills.

Diana (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 20:38

This make me cry because it describes not only my experience with anxiety but also my grad school friends!

Thank you so much!

uma sridhar (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 20:58

it is not about men or straight people. it is only about empowerment of women. it is about women having the right over their bodies, the right to gender equality and the right to be their children' guardians. surprising as it may seem to the western world, 3/4 of the worlds population still is faced with gender inequality. right from female foeticide, to illiteracy, poor medical facilities, abuse, trafficking, dowry deaths(yes still common even in silicon valley) domestic violence , discrimination at workplace ----------------
on this - the international womens day -------------------
of which our rural impoverished women are not even aware of ------------
let us not demean this issue-------------
it is not about men ---- it is about women ------------who are also part of humanity as much as men

Alumni '11 (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/08/2014 - 21:45

I'll give you that much of the world screws over women, of course. It's horrible, and we should be active in making things better. But A) most of the world isn't going to read this article, and B) it seemed like the author was originally speaking in relation to the women of Amherst College or similarly situated women, who have it so much better than the 3rd world (they should really check their privilege, no?).

Maya (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/07/2014 - 23:28

Coming from a lost, 17 year old senior still awaiting for college results, this was the perfect piece that calmed my soul. You have an exquisite talent for writing. Thank you for sharing this.

Jennifer (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/08/2014 - 08:26

so many women I know feel this anxiety of wanting to do all that we can to affect change, but feeling paralyzed around where to begin, and how to do so while making a life in this capitalist, consumer society. I love this letter and am sharing it with my fellow anxious ladies!
And as for the "blaming ladies issues on men and straight people"... the idea of seeing ANY issues as "ladies issues" is a big part of the problem I think. These are issues that we all have to deal with - together.

IM (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/08/2014 - 17:30

I think the bigger problem at hand is what is causing so many women to have anxiety issues?? my motto is just control what you can. try to change the world one small step at a time. The piece isn't a knock on men- unless men and women work together it's just an exercise in frustration. I have many close male friends and they are a God sake. We have to share the world together. We both come from mothers and put our pants on one leg at a time. I'm not one to wait around for the government to change my life. only I can do that.