I often wonder what it must be like inside other people’s minds. Minds of the “normal”-so to speak. Minds without the constant barrage of anxiety coming at you like spitfire. “what if this, what if that.” “What if” questions, and their imagined answers that become so palpable and almost real in your mind that it scares you out of doing something. It’s easier to stay in your safe place then venture out into unknown territory.
I’ve often rationalize my tendency to imagine the worst possible scenario because odds are it won’t happen. If I think of the worst possible case scenario, odds are that won’t happen and something only minimal will go wrong and I will get through it like I have before. So it’s a bit of a good thing to imagine the worst, because then everything is uphill from there. Perhaps I’m just trying to find the positive in my brain zapping to the worst case scenario. I think I often do it as a way to prepare myself for the worst.
If I have a strategy for that “what if” scenario then two things can happen. 1. I’m prepared for the worst case and then have a strategy for it stored in my mind. 2. The worst will not happen, and then the other possible outcomes will seem like a walk in the park. If you are shaking your head to yourself reading this thinking it’s ridiculous–I’m with you. The logical side of my mind shakes its “head” at this all the time. But the imaginative, anxious side loves it and leans on it. Obviously, I cannot prepare for every occurrence that is to happen, but man oh man do I try my damndest.
Lately, because of this wonderful thought process I possess, my therapist recommended I purchase a Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety. It’s published by New Harbinger and written by three therapists who have incorporated these techniques into therapy with great success. In it, they write that it will help patients with…
I NEED ALL THESE SKILLS!!
I am still on the beginning chapters where they go into the ‘whats’, ‘whys’, and ‘HUH?!’ of anxiety. I appreciate this part because to help manage your mental illness, you must first understand what is happening in your mind.
One thing I found interesting was that they say “Anxiety can tell you that something matters to you, or is important and meaningful to you”(2). This is something I never really thought of (surprising, since I try to think of EVERYTHING) and it makes quite a bit of sense to me. This why my anxiety rears its ugly head most when it comes to work. And why I had panic attacks even thinking about going to school back in the day. School and work–more importantly learning and my work ethic–mean a lot to me. My performance there and the demonstration of my intelligence and skill set is important to me and my ego and I don’t want to feel misrepresented. I know… it’s a backwards way to think when my reaction to not wanting to fuck up at work is to panic and then just not go. It doesn’t reflect well on my work ethic, which then further causes anxiety that I am behind others and being looked down upon for missing too much and then it spirals and klsankvnjduhfhwe.
It goes back to the primitive fight or flight response. Fight or flight is hardwired into our brains. “Do I stay and fight this bear? Or should I try to run away to safety?” Your brain decides in the blink of an eye to run away. (Unless you are Leo Dicaprio in that movie.) The fear that the primitive man felt evolved into the anxiety that we feel today in modern society. “Fight or flight response hasn’t caught up to our species ability to think, imagine, worry, preservate, ruminate…”(4). Today our brains go into survival mode over fundamentally safer and frankly meanial situations. “What if” this happens at work today? I just shouldn’t go. I’m safe in my apartment–I got Netflix. Well, what if the “what if” you fantasized does happen? Will you die? Be seriously injured? Get fired? Most likely not, but the anxious mind creates the same physiological response as if you could be going into battle or about to travel into a big storm. “It doesn’t really matter if your evaluations are accurate or not; the body responds the same: fear, anxiety, and eventually avoidance”(4).
I truly wonder when fundamental fear morphed into anxiety disorders. (I should research this more!) When did fear and its physiological response go from truly life threatening to mostly ego threatening? Or did neanderthals have anxieties like I do? Did some dude called Norf worry about what people would think of his cave drawings or berry picking abilities? Did he grow up being a straight A or “Uh” student and then buckle under a self inflicted pressure to keep performing that way in High School and college? Oh Norf, I feel you. Maybe Norf is my ancestor.
Or did the notion or realization of anxiety enter society when class systems and education began to form? Societal pressure to perform a certain way otherwise you will be criticized. And now it has developed or progressed further with technology and the “digital age”. Everything you do can be posted about and seen by all of your “friends” and even strangers. There’s a pressure to post better than others. It’s a “look at me” attitude. And when you can’t live up to what your peers are doing, anxiety and even depression can kick in.
Even when you detest that mentality as I do, you tend to post about things that make you look good–accomplishments, things you bought–and it becomes a competition of sorts. “Oh man Janet from High School just bought a house and is a lawyer.” Well, good for Janet. Even if I think “man I want a house and a career track job.” I can’t be jealous or pissed at Janet. I have to be okay that I’m on the “27, out on my own, but in between career choices, struggling with money big time, hopefully going back to school so I can be heading into my career by 31” track, where if I have a house and careerish job and a dog by the time I’m 35 I will sort of consider it “dream life fulfilled”. That’s become my dream—it’s kind of mundane but sounds so comforting. I just want a yard and a Bernese Mountain dog to play in it!!!
So kids, what have we learned today?
- You cannot prepare for everything. (But I CAN TRY!)
- You must try and live in the present moment (But I want to think of everything that could happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…)
- You cannot compare your journey to others (PSH Janet)
- Anxiety is a ridiculous bitch (But my workbook and therapy are helping)
- Don’t try to fight a bear like Leo Dicaprio
- Norf and I should have a drink together
- I might nickname my anxiety Norf. As in, “UGH, Norf is being such an asshole today.”
- Bullet points are the best 😉
Author’s Note: I realize that this reads somewhat like a college paper or article with my references. Some posts will be like that as I start to research the questions I have. Some posts will be more anecdotal and more personal.