This is what anxiety feels like

I definitely wouldn’t say that I suffer from severe anxiety.  I don’t have panic attacks, my fears rarely rise to the level of phobias, and I’m generally capable of functioning as an adult when necessary.  In fact, I tend to think of my anxiety as a secondary issue, a little demon friend that tags along with my depression.  But it’s still there.  A lot.

It strikes most often out of the blue, usually in the morning.  I’ll get shot through with a burst of it while brushing my teeth or washing my face.  I’ll want to hide, curl up, claw out the feeling.  Sometimes my brain will seize on some past imperfection, like that time I said something dumb while teaching three years ago, or one of my blog posts that I don’t love, and I’ll be wracked with embarrassment all over again.

Most days, the feeling passes.  Life is a good distractor.  But on some days, it sticks around.

Today was one of those days.  I couldn’t really tell you why—I think the thought of navigating Twitter as an introvert might be freaking me out a bit, but there aren’t any specific worries running through my head, and while progress on my thesis feels achingly slow, that’s not anything new.  Nevertheless, the anxiety was strong all day.

Anxiety is a tightness in your chest, your arms, your jaw.  It’s an electric current in your limbs, a perpetual coursing of adrenaline.  It’s like being in constant flight-or-fight mode, except you don’t quite know what it is that you should be fighting or fleeing from, because if you did, you’d do one of those things and maybe it would go away.

Anxiety is feeling like you want to poke out segments of your memory so that they won’t bother you any more.  It’s wanting to delete the things you’ve written, erase yourself and hide from the world so there’s no chance of ever being judged.  It’s a persistent urge to punish yourself for the ways that you have failed, accompanied by the sure knowledge that you will fail again in the future.

It’s also the fear that the tenseness is all that’s keeping the real terrors at bay.  That if you try to relax or mediate and let down your guard, all the things you hate about yourself will come tumbling into your head and you’ll collapse under their weight.  And so you try to find things to keep your mind busy instead.  Keep it full of the words of others so it doesn’t have time to come up with its own.

And it’s not knowing how to end this blog post, and then wondering if you should apologize for being so serious, and then thinking, who cares, it’s my blog, and then finally deciding that it’s OK to stop right here.

A navel-gazing free write

The context here is that I’ve signed up for WordPress’s “Writing 101.”  For the next four weeks, I’ll receive daily writing prompts (it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to find the time to post every day, and of course there are also lots of un-prompted posts that I want/need to write in the next month, but it sounded like fun).  Today’s assignment was to just write whatever for 20 minutes.  The result (with a little bit of cheating to check for spelling) is below.

Day 1.  20-minute free write.  I guess what’s on my mind right now is how worried I am that this Writing 101 thing will seem silly.  That it will mark me as a newbie (although duh, I am a newbie).  That I’ll look back years from now and think, “Wow, how could I ever have been caught up in that.”  But who cares?  It’s my blog, and I can do what I like.  I don’t need to write all the preemptively defensive statements that are going through my head – like how I’m not going to get so caught up in writing every single prompt that it makes me anxious, or how I’m just doing this because it sounded like fun.  I wanted to do this, and shouldn’t that be enough?

Come to think of it, I’m preemptively defensive a LOT.  I always feel the need to completely explain my decisions or new hobbies to my husband, to the point of countering objections that he hasn’t even made.  Why is this?  He and I have talked before about my fear of judgement, which seems to be a deep and constant theme in my personality, but which hurts him because he believes he would never judge me.  But I interpret every little thing as judgement.  And I HATE being misinterpreted by anyone, and he does misinterpret me sometimes.

I’m also very guarded when it comes to expressing enthusiasm about said new hobbies.  “I can’t let myself get ‘taken in’ by that,” I think.  “I mustn’t let anyone else think that I got sucked into a new world too quickly, because that’s foolish and shows a lack of critical thinking.”  I have a naturally-obsessive personality, and so I do have to be on guard against letting anything take over my life to quickly.  Somewhere along the way, though, I decided that other people would be judging any apparent over-interest (there’s that judgement thing again).  Where did this come from?  I don’t know.  My parents were always very supportive of my interests, buying me craft supplies and flute lessons and the like.  And while I had my fair share of unfinished projects, I wasn’t flaky about my interests – I still sew from time to time, and knit, and while I no longer play the flute, I stuck with it for nearly a decade.  I did get the message that all-consuming obsession was not OK, in the form of grumpy parents telling me to hurry up and go to sleep when I just wanted to finish making my pajamas for Christmas morning.  (They were very against letting me stay up late to finish things.  Particularly my father.  They blamed it on procrastination, but I think the real culprit was perfectionism.)

Today, I worry that my husband will be the grumpy one, if I spend so much time on a hobby that I don’t have the time he wants to spend watching TV together.  He has a valid point – spouse together time is important, for sure – but my mind has taken this and twisted it around to a place where I feel like I have to defend anything I choose to do.

This is your brain on overthinking it

Continuing with the theme of extreme self-consciousness, this is how my mind spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon:

Oh my gosh I just commented on one of my favorite blogs and they commented back I’m so excited but oh no now my original comment seems kind of stupid and they don’t sound very happy maybe they thought it was rude or too matter-of-fact or just lame ugh why did I say anything maybe I shouldn’t comment any more but no I have to keep commenting so they know I’m not really rude I shouldn’t have included a quote that was dumb and it messed up the formatting I must seem like such a n00b …

… and so on.

Do normal people’s brains work like this?  Any suggestions on how to stop completely over-analyzing every little interaction?