As a student of language, psychology, and memory, I’ve often wondered whether it might be possible to cope with anxiety by simply switching the default settings of my brain. I’ve found that learning a new language helps, especially in the stages when one is still a beginner, because it limits the kind of thoughts that one can formulate. For instance, if I started learning French a month ago, my dominant thoughts in the language would be to learn how to get directions and introduce myself, not think about the triggers that are causing me anxiety or depression. And if I train myself to think only in French all day, then I can avoid the thoughts that are triggering my anxiety.
Rewiring my cognitive frame thus has also meant that the kind of content I’m exposed to in a given language is directly related to the kind of vocabulary I would acquire and the kind of thoughts I can formulate. For example, I read Harry Potter in the Spanish translation and consequently learnt how to say ‘wand’ (varita) and ‘owl’ (lechuza) way before I learnt the past perfect. If I cannot think anxious thoughts in a new language, does that mean I can acquire some sort of control over my thoughts themselves, or does it simply mean that while deprived of my standard vehicle for expressing them (English), I’m just pushing them back further? What happens when through my efforts, I do improve in my current target language to an advanced level, and do begin to express all kinds of thoughts in it?
While I take solace in the fact that despite years of effort, the kind of facility that I possess in English or in Hindi would never be the exact same as my facility in a new language, I also feel despair. What happens when I have crossed the beginner stage in all the languages that I have felt an interest for? Will my anxious thoughts come at me from different directions, attacking me in not just French but also in German, not just Arabic, but also in Italian? That remains to be seen, but for now I’m content to hop around a bit.