This is normal. I color in entire sheets of paper with highlighter as I sit in class thinking about college or wondering whether I have done enough or am enough. This is rational. I chew on my bottom lip until I taste metal in my mouth as I lie in bed worrying about what I have to do and should be doing. This is healthy. I have had the same stomachache since I was seven.
As my friend sat next to me in Spanish today with her leg resting on the bottom rung of my seat, I couldn’t help but notice her shaking it violently. I pointed out what she was doing and she said, “Sorry, I’m just nervous.” I asked her what about and she smiled and replied, “Life.” Although I laughed at the time, I realize now that she has a point. It’s not just that we stress over homework and get nervous before tests and worry about college. We are terrified of failing life.
When I asked a bunch of my friends how their nerves manifested themselves, the responses I got were as funny as they were alarming. Most were typical, ones I have either seen people doing or have done myself without a second thought. They include playing with or chewing on jewelry, cracking knuckles, biting nails and picking at nail polish, twirling or sucking on hair, biting on pens and pencils, blinking excessively, and tapping feet. Others were more obsessive and less readily noticeable but still familiar. Like compulsory list making; or constantly holding a phone, not to check twitter or text people, but to check the time; or writing absolutely everything down in a school planner and needing, not wanting, to highlight an assignment or test or meeting as soon as it is finished. Still more were downright worrisome, yet eerily ordinary. Like needing to watch a calming hour of reruns of a favorite show after school; or over-eating; or not being able to fall asleep at night; or grinding teeth. And although nobody said it, it is my suspicion that worry, not just sleep deprivation, is one of the main reasons we are perpetually exhausted.
This is normal. We seem to think it is. We chalk our anxiety up to stress – to having too much to do and not enough time to do it. We would rather convince ourselves that we are overwhelmed by SATs or college applications or boyfriends or homework or avoiding car accidents or possible boyfriends or tests or curfew or friends or sports or instruments or clubs or deciding whether or not to drink from that red cup this weekend and not by the fact that we think we are supposed to be able to flawlessly juggle all of it while still maintaining our sanity.
Ultimately, in the desperate attempt to prove to ourselves that we can do enough – that we are enough, it’s the sanity part that suffers. Maybe it’s time, for me, at least, to put the caps back on the highlighters and give myself a break.