I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.
The last year or so has probably been the most stressful of my life. There have been some ups and downs, as there always are, but it’s been a bumpy ride from start to finish. Thinking about the year I had and the possibly the years to come, feelings of anxiety that have become almost second nature to me are creeping through my nerves as I write this. It’s a feeling that I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing.
My heart begins to sit very deep in my chest, almost shriveling up and cowering behind my ribcage. A tingle crawls through my body, my fingers, and my knees. My mind begins to bloat, but not with thoughts. Clear thinking is a luxury at this point. Like an assembly of hecklers surrounding me and shouting out, I can’t discern one voice or word from another. Instead, my mind becomes preoccupied with one thing and one thing only – escaping. However, the crowd begins to increasingly swell and no exit is in sight. I am enclosed, trapped in a dome of relentless thoughts and contradictions. But I don’t collapse – to my misfortune. The roof caving in on this dungeon of tension would be a welcome occurrence at this point, providing at least some breathing room. But that’s not what my anxiety is like. It’s a slow suffocation.
Despite feeling trapped on so many occasions, life goes on. It’s been almost three years since I moved here to Toronto and my “mission” is effectively complete. I graduated and obtained my Master’s degree, I’m working at one of the largest private companies in the world, and I’ve managed to move my elderly parents over from Montreal. But lost in these accomplishments is a deep sense of indisposition and distress. In living up to what I ought to be, I feel like I’ve lost who I am.
Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.
I’m not sure if it’s just a part of adulthood or if I’ve unduly given up something central to myself for the sake of living up to expectations. Something I loved about Montreal was that it was easy to be authentic. When I arrived in Toronto, I often lambasted the people and culture here for being so reticent, shallow, and impersonal. I never felt like I could ever get a sense of a person’s true nature. A city of strangers. Three years later, I’m left feeling like I’ve become one of those strangers. Three years later, and I don’t feel like I have a best friend in this city. Three years later, I don’t feel like I have many authentic connections. Three years later, and I’m not sure what I value.
What I’m left with three years later is a saddle of expectations with no rhyme or reason. I bought into the expectations at first because I felt like I had my personality, my values, my hobbies, my passion for life all figured out. Finish school, get a job, save some money, get married, travel, have some kids, work, retire, and ride off into the sunset. They’re milestones and steps that would add to the joy of my life whilst maintaining the existing joys, pleasures, and desires I’ve developed. I still believe that. But having sidelined them for the sake of living up to expectations, I no longer know what those joys, pleasures, and desires are. I often feel like those milestones (and with them, mounting responsibilities) are the only things I work towards and I’m just filling up space in between with Netflix, oversleeping, and anxiety attacks.
In forgetting about what makes me happy and what gives me purpose, I’ve made the mistake of putting my happiness and purpose in other people. By allowing them to create expectations and trying to live up to them, I often find myself in the position of being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Their expectations add to my stress and anxiety, knowing that I may never live up to them. While I pride myself on loyalty, dutifulness, and giving as much as I can to others, it’s beginning to wear on me that no amount of giving can satisfy others. The more I give, the less of myself I have. The more I aim to provide, the higher the bar of expectations get – and so begins the cycle of anxiety.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I want to be a husband, a good son, a father, a good brother, and a leader. I have another blog post I’m working on about re-imagining masculinity for a young, Muslim male and it’s centered on being the chief of one’s own tribe. But I want there to be more to me than that. I have a hundred different dreams that I’m not sure how to access again or how I’d be able to accomplish with the burden of expectations on my shoulders.
I want to learn Arabic and study my religion.
I want to travel to India and bathe in the Ganges.
I want to climb up to the Himalayas.
I want to march with my people against injustice.
I want to provide a better life for orphans and the poor.
I want to teach and educate.
I want to learn and become educated.
I want to dance in the streets of my hometown when the Montreal Canadiens win.
I want to write a novel about a young Pakistani boy growing up in Quebec.
I want to write a book of poetry.
I want to get a PhD and become a professor.
I want to send my parents on Hajj, and maybe join them as well.
I used to think all those things weren’t too much to ask for. But I’ve had to put dreams on the sideline for what’s real and pressing in life. To prepare for the milestones. To figure out how to afford a mortgage in one of the most expensive real estate markets on the planet, to figure out how to find a girl I like and somehow convince her that I’m capable of providing for her, to figure out how I can save for retirement, to figure out how to provide a comfortable retirement for my parents, to figure out how I can continue to work 12 hour days at work. These are the important things in life – my responsibilities. I don’t know when I’ll find the time to revisit the sideline.