health

"I had FOMO before I even knew what it was. It's not trendy. For me, it's a mental illness."

Like most people, my high school experience wasn’t all that great. Sure, I had great friends and did a lot of dumb things that I thought made me cool that I can now laugh about, but overall, high school sucked.

I moved to a new city and was thrown into a school system where everyone had known each other for their whole lives – more than that, their mothers had done ‘mummy and me’ yoga together. I knew no one, in a sea of people that had known each other before birth. I felt alone, and had never tried so hard to make friends.

Every time I would go to school and hear about “family” dinners involving most of my science class, I started to get down on myself. I couldn’t understand why I was being left out, why I wasn’t being invited.

Luckily, I started making friends, and getting invited to things, and finding my way. But because high school is high school, and kids are mean, my fear of missing out continued to plague me. I was insecure. I kept feeling like I couldn’t keep up with everyone else, and I didn’t have what it took to fit in. In Year 8, my dad died, and anxiety became an all too real character in my life.

Soon, I started driving myself crazy with theories about everyone hanging out without me. I imagined large parties taking place at lake houses and fun sleepovers where everyone bonded in such a way that they could never not be friends. I kept on thinking, and worrying, and fearing exclusion that it became a part of me. I had FOMO (fear of missing out) before I even knew what it was. It wasn’t trendy yet, and it didn’t come and go when I heard about fun parties happening without me. No. It was constant, nagging, and miserable.

fomo anxiety
"I can’t just laugh it off or pretend it doesn’t exist." Image: iStock.
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Looking back at it, I’ve always had anxiety. I remember keeping myself awake as a child, because I heard my older sisters laughing and talking without me. I wanted to be a part of their fun so much that I couldn’t relax – couldn’t even sleep while I heard them. The same was true for family events. Taking a nap was out of the question: If someone was awake, I had to be a part of what was going on. I couldn’t miss anything. Now, as an adult with an anxiety diagnosis, I can see that my FOMO is directly driven by my anxiety, which means I can’t just laugh it off or pretend it doesn’t exist. I have to treat it seriously, or it will make me miserable.

And I’m still the same way – all the little pieces of my childhood and my psyche that come together in a jagged puzzle and make me who I am have programmed anxiety and chronic FOMO into my DNA. Part of me has gotten used to it, but another part of me struggles daily.

It pops up when I hear whispers from coworkers or see a group chat that I’m not included in. Pictures on Facebook and Instagram of my friends having fun without me is pretty much a sure-fire way for me to have a mini panic attack. Call me immature or insecure if you want, but I really and truly can’t help it.

Even when I remind myself daily that my worth is not tied to how busy I am, or how many pictures I’m tagged in, I still can’t keep calm. I feel competitive, and worried – I just want to keep up with everyone and everything.

Mia Freedman on why routine is anxiety's best friend.

Now, living in a new city, I’ve had to cope with a new kind of FOMO: The fear of missing literally everything. I’m afraid to go home sometimes before checking every channel of social media to ensure I’m not missing an opportunity to be included in something. I spend way too much time looking at Facebook events happening this week. It drives me crazy, so I’ve learned to deal with it.

Because my FOMO isn’t trendy – it’s not something I joke about or tweet about to make people laugh. It’s real, and it affects my day-to-day life. So I’ve started these reminders. Whenever I feel like I’m not keeping up with people or events, or that I’m not being social enough, I curl my toes up, clench every muscle in my body and close my eyes. I hold still for five seconds or so – emptying my mind – and then release, slowly. Breathing out, I repeat my favourite Toni Morrison quote: “You are your best thing.”

I’m enough, regardless of how many events I go to in a week. I’m enough, even if I do nothing but watch Netflix all night. I’m more than enough, because I’m me. My FOMO isn’t cute or trendy or hip, but it makes me me, it drives me and drives me crazy – but I’m learning to control it, and that’s enough.

This post originally appeared on Literally, Darling

Literally, Darling is an online magazine by and for twenty-something women, which features the personal, provocative, awkward, pop-filled and pressing issues of our gender and generation. This is an exact representation of our exaggerated selves.

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