an aha moment from yesterday…
had a work task to do in the afternoon which was generating high levels of anxiety in me. not that difficult a task, but one I perform infrequently and the voice telling me everything that could go wrong got louder and louder in my head. during the morning I had routine tasks to do, which didn’t help either as there was too much opportunity for rumination.
so started on the task using the colour-by-numbers anxiety strategies: break it down, one chunk at a time. dealing with just the next minute, or the next ten seconds. focusing on the now. then I stopped for lunch during which I went online and googled ‘anxiety’ which was even more anxiety-producing. very much like the thinking behind ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’…
so then Mr P came in and I had a good sob on his shoulder.
“Why am I always worrying about something? As soon as I sort out one source of distress another arises. I don’t want to live my life like X….” (close family member who spent their life down the well of anxiety and depression and never clawed their way out.) “To be constantly stressed and anxious, looking for a focus. Like an alien searching around for a body to take over. What is wrong with me?”
and Mr P did the silent hugging and back-patting he does so well until I had rambled on to a close. and then we had a really good talk and I felt a great deal better afterwards. and headed off to do task together which was completed successfully and without disaster.
because I have been blithely telling myself that I don’t have any major mind-kinks to unravel. have been open to the possibility of having therapy to untangle any which appear as my soberness reveals them, like sand blowing away from hidden cities in the desert. and may still do that.
but to be honest – I don’t want any major mind-kinks. I don’t want anxiety. but guess what? that may not be up to me.
Mr P tells me that this behaviour is not like me, based on his knowledge of me gained from twenty-odd years (mostly odd 😉 ) but I am not altogether sure. it may be that it is only with the alcohol removed for a consistent period of time that I am able to see the underlying pattern clearly, and convey it accurately to him. because I know damn well that there were periods of intense misery in my drinking days of which he has absolutely no idea.
I am not decrying or denigrating the condition of anxiety. I know its strength too well from my experience of it with my family member. Mr P says that, in his opinion, I do not have anxiety. rather that my low emotional state at present is expressing itself as anxious episodes. and that is part of the human condition, and is not in itself a condition.
and that is a reassuring way of looking at it. mind you, he doesn’t think I’m an alcoholic, either…perhaps he is just an optimist 🙂
Jean at Unpickled has spoken movingly on the Bubble Hour of her dawning recognition of her underlying anxiety. she also blogs about it, for example, here:
‘I once would have DIED before admitting I suffered from the A-word. That was for weak people. Oh that shaking? That’s just nerves. Sweating? I am excited. Chest pains? Yes, I have a really stressful life but look at me handling it! Look at me, look at me – look at all the amazing things I can do while I shake, sweat and ignore the pains in my chest!
Now I can call it what it is: AN-fricking-XI-E-TY and I am learning better ways to identify and handle it.’
key words here: identify and handle. she also has another great post, with suggestions for handling it, here:
‘Anxiety is woven through so much of my being that I have mistaken it for a personality trait. It fuels my perfectionism (fear of criticism). It feeds my drive (fear of failure). Sadly, at times Anxiety parented my kids, ran my business, pushed me on stage, and even decorated my Christmas tree.
Truth be told, I am one wound up chick and I get shit done. Getting shit done is important, but so is not killing yourself with a wacked out sense of balance. Staying sober is about finding new ways of self-care, and taking off a little pressure so that the need for comfort is not a constant demand.’
reading that was so helpful. thoroughly recommend both posts in full.
so, yesterday evening we had some amazing, long lasting thunderstorms in this part of the country. and realised when the kids asked me that I, rather loweringly, have never really understood what causes lightning. because apparently the theory that it happens when clouds rub noses is not completely scientifically accurate. and I am quite a sciencey person and relish knowing how things work.
I found this fantastic video of lightning in super slow motion:
and perhaps that is not dissimilar to how I deal with a build-up of emotional energy? I have had a lot on my plate in the last year, not only getting sober.
lightning appears to travel from the sky to the ground. but actually initially zig-zag step leaders come out of the cloud, towards the ground, looking for an outlet.
objects on the ground respond to the electric field by growing positive streamers. and when the step leaders and streamers meet, the electric charge can drain to earth in the blinding flash of the main flash of lightning visible to the human eye.
so the lamp-post, or work task, or whatever, suddenly swells out of all proportion, becoming a conduit for the lightning flash.
for example when on my way to the sober meet-up on Tuesday, I became completely centred on the fact that I had come out without a cardigan or jacket. what I had done was look at the weather forecast, thought, “Pretty warm, then, later..” and decided what to wear. but en route this swelled out of all proportion. I fretted for at least an hour that I would be sitting somewhere shivering and uncomfortable but not able to say…tried to think whether there was somewhere enroute between my arrival point and the meetup point where I could do a hit-and-run cardigan purchase… and of course all of this was an attempt to de-fuse the gathering clouds of anxiety about meeting up with complete strangers and talking to them about the inside of my head. of course it was. (and yes it was beautifully sunny and I didn’t buy/need a cardigan!)
it is more helpful to me to think of the anxious episodes as intermittent, rather than a constant cloud above my head that will never go away. the recent RL and online discussions of the question “am I an alcoholic?” have been similarly helpful. I think anyone should do whatever is most helpful to them. personally, I do not say “I am an alcoholic.” I consider myself to have had an alcohol dependence in the past. in the same way I am reluctant to label myself as anxious. I would prefer to see the anxiety as a behaviour, a defence mechanism gone awry which I can learn to recognise and gently unpick.
it’s a bit of a muddle inside this brain, sometimes. think I’m getting there, though, slowly! sorting out the spaghetti…any thoughts on this would be welcomed.
46 days to go to one year.