The kind of anxiety that comes with freedom

I've always considered my inability to make plans, and yet my desperate need for them, as an interesting quirk that started after University. Now, I am wondering if there is a word to define this strange feeling of anxiety and unsettlement that paralyses me when I think about my future and life choices.


If you could have one magic power, what would you choose? Hearing such question the teenage me would have opted for the ability to read minds. How easy it would have been to be accepted when knowing the exact things to say to anyone. The present me, instead, would like to see into my future. Growing up my 'social anxiety' left the place to a different type of anxiety, which feels like the dizziness that comes with freedom. Or adulthood.

While I was studying I knew exactly what my next exam would have been, also I was aware that the result depended entirely on my study method, memory, and a bit of luck. In two words: everything was planned and up to me. Yes, 'up to me' counts as one. As I grew older and further from the familiar path of my studies, I found  myself not thrilled by the opportunities ahead of me. Actually, the opposite of thrilled! The word that I use the most to describe my current situation is: unsettlement.

As I am one of those people who are unable to plan further than a week ahead, my journey to Australia made me feel like I finally had my shit together! Look at me, packing my life in a suitcase, 'adulting all over the place', seeking adventure and stability at the same time.  It's very hard to find the right word to explain this strange feeling of anxiety and unsettlement, until I realised I knew it all along! It is unfocused fear of what's in front of us which feels like the dizziness that comes with freedom. So many different choices can be taken and no one knows where they will lead. Just wait until I get my magic powers though!

It's somehow consoling to know I am not the only one feeling this way. Kierkegaard, a foreign celebrity, suffered from the same anxiety and explained this feeling. He wrote about a man who, standing on the edge of a cliff, feels the fear of falling and at the same time the impulse of jumping. The man is absolutely free to choose to either jump or stay put. What triggers anxiety is the mere fact of having the possibility to do something. You got me, he was a IX Century philosopher. Of course this is an extreme situation, but it doesn't make the 'dizziness of freedom' that I felt after University any less real. That's philosophy for you: it helps people through their lives. Or at least it gives us the right words to express what we experience on our way to adulthood.

I really admire those who are capable of living on that edge without thinking of how scary it looks like to the rest of us. It's a shame that life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. Still Kierkegaard's philosophical words, not mine. Hence the utility of a magic power.

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