Confessions of an Anxiety Case
So I don’t know where this post is going to go. But I’m starting it anyway.
My name is Joe, and I have an anxiety disorder.
I took me a very long time to realize that apparently the things that govern/ed my day-to-day weren’t the same as those governing that of others. Longer still to admit it.
I don’t mean things like wondering what to do with my future, or stressing over finances. I mean things like singing. Dancing. Eating in public when not accompanied. Driving over bridges. And I mean, these things weren’t the same as bill stresses. Some of it is gender-performative stuff, but that’s a post for another day.
These are the types of things that would keep me from getting out of bed. Or keep me from falling asleep. Or make me call someone 45 times a day to find out if they’re mad at me because my anxiety had no cause…and being without a cause would make me search for one. I would assign a subject to it and fixate. If it didn’t work out that I could get in touch with whoever, or otherwise settle whatever it was my anxiety was fixated on…then I would stay anxious and have something to fix.
What was worse though, was when I would get in touch…or take care of what it was I convinced myself I needed to take care of to just calm down. Because that wasn’t the cause of it. I would wake up in the morning, With my stomach crawling. And lay there wondering what was wrong. “I didn’t talk to whoever today, that must be what’s up.” But it never was. I would have the anxiety before I had a reason to.
I don’t know how long this went on. I look back to my childhood and I can’t remember a time without it. From the point that I have clear memories, I remember anxiety. I may not remember the physical sensations of it, but I remember having the reactions to it…having my behaviors guided by it.
Whether it was that I couldn’t say I felt sick, or that I assumed my friends wanted to see my brother instead of me. These particular memories are from when I was still living in New York. I moved from New York to Rhode Island in 1989. When I was 6. I had this going on when I was 5 years old, and younger.
Bringing my mind to where I was at whatever age, I can look forward and see how it affected me. I had trouble making friends because I had trouble approaching people. When I did make friends, they lasted, but I never quite felt included. I seemed uptight, or too serious. People thought maybe I was just quiet. And I would work that angle.
I would act like I was fine and just enjoying observing. Say I didn’t like singing. Didn’t like dancing or didn’t like that song. I typically hung back in conversation because I worried I would seem stupid, I didn’t ride my bike as fast because acting intentionally slow was better than the worry that maybe I wasn’t as fast.
I started to go running with my dad. But couldn’t keep with it. I don’t really remember why. I played baseball for a while but was too worried about, well…pretty much everything. Even playing wiffle ball or whatever in the back yard…I had a real hard time getting into it because I was just worried. Worried I wouldn’t be any good. Worried people would see that I wasn’t. I don’t really even know what. I didn’t stick with anything I tried. Boy Scouts, martial arts (five or so styles), music (four years of trumpet but I never learned to read), computer programming, drawing (seventh grade most artistic!), running, writing. Guitar was a part of my life for a very long time. Every so often I would drift out of it, but then it would come back. That changed somewhat recently, too.
Now, I don’t know how it is for people who aren’t anxious. But for me, I’m always thinking about everything. I already mentioned all of the anxieties. But my anxiety is funny. I would often wake up completely anxiety ridden. I would have no reason for this. Maybe it was dreams but I typically don’t remember my dreams. More often than not, I won’t. And by that I mean…when I remember a dream it’s kind of an event. Maybe once a month, but probably not so often. It took me a very long time to realize this.
I was dating a girl for whom I had had feelings for years. It didn’t take me very long to fall for her…and as anxiety does, my feelings were kind of through the roof. This is great early on in a relationship when oxytocin is high. But, when one partner settles into the comfort of a relationship that has been around a bit….or when one person has underlying emotional issues that prevent things like trust and comfort, it can become problematic quickly. I don’t believe I had ever been at such a low point in my life. And as anxiety would cause me to do, I built my foundation on the excitement of this relationship.
There was always an aspect of, “If this works, it will all work.” There would always be something to strive for. But when I had no anxiety, it would breed anxiety. Comfort was uncomfortable. I was conditioned to exist in a state of anxiety. This relationship ended. Whether because my anxiety pushed her away, or whether it was strictly her emotional issues I don’t know. I don’t care to ask her either. It took me close to 8 years to feel comfortable talking to her again.
The end of that relationship also coincided with me placing an unbelievable strain on my best friend as a result of my anxiety. It’s something that’s difficult for me to explain, especially to people who aren’t anxious. It’s difficult to explain to myself when I’m not feeling anxious about something. “If it isn’t bothering me now, it must not have ever bothered me.”
The pressure placed on my friendship was too much and it was apparently at the breaking point. A few days later I started therapy. The placebo effect was sort of unreal. After my first session I felt a lot better. I knew I had a chance. I knew something was different but that I could work with it. I told my therapist, Tim, that I wasn’t an immediate danger to myself, and that I prefer doing things without any kinds of drugs (I am straightedge. I won’t do anything like that unless absolutely necessary).
Tim and I began the immense task of sorting out what was going on in my head. I kept my relationship with him for close to three years, I think. Then. Something happened with his wife’s family. From what I remember, her mother died. Regardless, Tim was suddenly moving his family to Kansas. In the time I worked with him, we worked to chart my anxiety, hour to hour, day to day, week to week. We isolated triggers and worked on relaxation techniques.
Somehow my girlfriend went to him a few times, as did my (aforementioned and still!) best friend. I wouldn’t be alive if not for working with Tim. Maybe it’s just because I remember how crippled I was with anxiety, but I honestly believe that.
I’m not presently in therapy but I think of finding another therapist at least every week. I tried once Tim left. I really did. But having such a relationship, with a therapist who had an automatic recall of my history, who got the play-by-play of everything in my life as it was happening. It’s difficult to lose that.
He worked with me through issues with friends and roommates. He worked with me when I had issues with (and advised me at one point to consider ending) what would end up being a much longer relationship than it should have been. I just couldn’t see that in another therapist. So I went without. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but Tim had given me a certain toolkit with which to manage my anxiety. So I tried going it alone.
I’m still going it alone in some respects. But I have support now. I have a foundation now. And I don’t conflate the two anymore. I’ve done so much work, and daily I continue to do more. I’m an anxious person, and I accept that even if I go onto medication I will always be. I often have to orient myself on a moment to moment basis in relation to my anxiety. I have developed ways of using my anxiety as a kind of slingshot…I’ll structure a task so that my anxious energy pushes me through it rather than into a bubble of hiding because of it. I’m not sure exactly how I developed that ability, but it sometimes verges on obsessive-compulsion.
For example, just last week I gave a talk on my undergraduate honors thesis, which involves measuring the amount of variation seen within a species to be used as a model for the variation in the fossil record (more on that some other time…). It had to be about an hour, including Q&A. I spent an abnormal amount of time rehearsing. Granted, most of it was at work, which is at a factory so there’s a lot of loud alone time that I can just busy myself mentally.
But yeah…it was like 20 hours of legit rehearsal. Anxiety helps me prepare for things in sort of a ridiculous way. But it’s always there. Even as I sit typing this, I’m aware of certain emotional aspects of doing so in a way that I can see is directly tied to anxiety. And I deal.
It’s more than “dealing.” I’ve used a lot of techniques, from progressive muscle relaxation to cognitive role play to try and sort out anxiety provoking situations. But all situations are anxiety provoking.
Anyway. I’m way too hopped up on cold brewed coffee to not be on the verge of babbling, and I want to publish this before I revise too much and it starts feeling too contrived. I’ve described the ways anxiety has shaped my perspectives.
I want to use the title of this post as the start of a series of blog posts discussing the ways anxiety has shaped my relationships to pretty much everything in my life. Cooking, gender, exercise, music, academics, intimacy. In doing so I hope to get a better understanding of myself, and also my anxiety…and maybe even be able to help some people directly in my life (or on the interwebs!) who may be dealing with something similar.
So stay tuned!
Posted on 05/03/2015, in anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, identity, introspection, mental health and tagged anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, identity, mental health, personal perspectives, psychology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.