Anxiety, as Phichit understands it before he meets Yuuri, is nerves. It's being shaken and unsure of yourself.
Anxiety, as Phichit understands it after he gets to know Yuuri, is being trapped in an alternate universe and not even knowing it--seeing the world in shadows while everyone else sees light. It's having the power to take a strong career and make it into dust with a handful of dismissive words. It's the gift of finding trash where everyone else experiences only beauty. It's the inability to believe in yourself, no matter how hard you try.
Phichit sometimes thinks that Yuuri could beat Victor Nikiforov out for World Champion and still remain convinced that he's not good enough.
It makes Phichit want to shake him, because he looks up to Yuuri. Phichit admires Yuuri and is awed by the way he expresses himself on the ice; he wants to compete against Yuuri and he wants to lose to him and win against him and be his friend and be his rival.
Phichit knows it's not about him, knows better than to take it personally, but Yuuri dismissing himself sometimes feels an awful lot like Yuuri dismissing one of Phichit's goals, one of his dearest dreams.
Yuuri warps reality. He twists it, unconsciously, unintentionally, and Phichit hates it, hates watching Yuuri convince himself--and so many others--that he's so much less than he is.
It's gradual, with Ciao Ciao. Phichit doesn't even notice it, at first, until one day he hears Yuuri muttering about his standings after a good-but-not-spectacular SP. Ciao Ciao claps Yuuri on the shoulder and tells him, "You can make it up! Cao Bin's always been stronger in his SP than his free skate."
Phichit doesn't really worry much about other skaters. He knows he has catching up to do where the really great ones are concerned--he doesn't have a single reliable quad under his belt yet and his triple axel is shaky more often than not. He's got personality and musicality, and no one can train with Yuuri and not learn a thing or two about step sequences, but so far, jumps aren't his strong suit.
But jumps can be learned and practiced and perfected.
Knowing your competition is one thing--knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and seeing where you can make up the difference, that's all a part of competing. But counting on a competitor not doing their best...
Yuuri compares himself to other people, sometimes, and Phichit gets that Ciao Ciao's just trying to meet him on his level, reassure him using Yuuri's own language. But Yuuri doesn't look reassured; if anything his face darkens and his lips draw tight.
Ciao Ciao doesn't seem to notice. He says it again, at the next competition, and then again. Pointing out where Yuuri's better than other skaters--which only seems to sharpen the sense of pressure Yuuri carries--and trying to calm him by mentioning where other skaters tend to fall short.
Phichit knows Ciao Ciao only ever means to help, but he thinks all Yuuri hears in those moments is, "You might still luck out."
Ketty...Ketty tries. She does. Phichit's talked to her; he knows she's watched videos of Yuuri in competition, seen him excel, seen him enjoy himself on the ice. But he also knows Yuuri has this...this way to him. A way of making his every success into something he's stolen or been given rather than something he's earned.
Phichit's one of the very few people who gets to hear Ketty's original composition of Yuri on Ice. He'll always remember listening to it and watching Yuuri's carefully blank expression and thinking, how. How does he do this? How does Yuuri live one life and convince himself and the rest of the world he's living another?
Yuuri treats compliments like attacks, sometimes. Phichit doesn't think he'll ever understand it, but it's like praise only grinds Yuuri down, pulls him further into his mind and his doubts. And trying to press a point after Yuuri's denied it a couple times...that's not Yuuri fishing for compliments or reassurance. It's Yuuri defending himself, and he can be sharp when he feels cornered.
"You'll be there, too, Yuuri," Phichit says when he talks about skating his dream program, because it's what he believes as a friend and what he wants as a competitor.
Yuuri doesn't shut down, doesn't tell him to stop, doesn't deny it.
Phichit speaks Thai; Yuuri speaks Japanese; they're both fluent in English and they both know smatterings of phrases and words in other languages. But friendship can become a dialect of its own.
He's seen people try to be cautious of Yuuri's boundaries, to tiptoe around his feelings. People who think they can draw Yuuri out of his universe with flattery and coaxing words and endless patience. People who want to protect him—from the world, from himself—and wind up buying into his view of himself rather than risk upsetting him. Like they think he's so fragile.
Phichit doesn't know why anyone would ever think that's the key to being Yuuri's friend. Yuuri needs people who believe in him. People who challenge him, on and off the ice, and trust that he'll rise to the occasion.
People who can beat him out for gold and be proud, because it means they've skated better than the best.
"I'm so happy for you," Yuuri tells him after the Cup of China, and Phichit knows he means it.
Winning isn't the same as feeling like you're good enough, Phichit gets that, but he's still a little jarred by how Yuuri looks happier with his silver than he was after his third consecutive All-Japan gold medal. Right now, after making history with that spontaneous quad flip--followed by that spontaneous kiss--Yuuri doesn't look disappointed in himself. He looks like he's on top of the world.
Competing against Yuuri when they're both in top form--it's what Phichit's wanted for years. When Yuuri left Detroit, he'd been forced to wonder if he'd ever get the chance. Now...
"I'll be just as good in Barcelona," Phichit tells him confidently.
He's seen Yuuri determined before, but there was always an underlying sense of desperation, a focus so tight and oppressive that Phichit occasionally marveled that Yuuri even remembered to breathe.
Today, Yuuri smiles, and it's something new, something bright. "I'll be better."
It stings, coming in last, and knowing his total score would've landed him on the podium the year before somehow just makes him feel rueful and maybe a little reluctantly amused. He's managed an incredible score, incredible performances, but he's skating against the best of the best. Incredible doesn't cut it, when his best friend and Yuri Plisetsky are aiming for Nikiforov levels of superhuman.
Still, though, it's only a sting. He'll just have to up his game, try even harder and reach more hearts and have more fun. He's made it this far, he's one of the best of the best, and he's proud of himself.
And, watching Yuuri fend off Chris' increasingly blatant attempts to get him dance-off levels of wasted, he knows that he's not the only one.
Yuuri's dark little universe still exists, festering inside of him. Phichit's spent enough time with Yuuri to know his anxiety isn't going anywhere so easily. But he thinks Yuuri's beginning to open his eyes to the universe outside of himself, too.
And he's not retiring.
Phichit wants so many things: to win gold, to win the audience, to show the world what he loves about Thailand, to show Thailand what he loves about skating. To one day star in a sequel to King and the Skater. And to compete with his best friend over and over, until they can't even remember who won which medal.
He's sixth in the world, today, and Yuuri's second. And for once, he's certain that both of them are seeing only light.