Anxiety From the Outside

Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.

Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.

However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.

Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.

Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.

I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.

Fear vs. Phobia: What's the Difference? | The Recovery Village

Intuition

Intuition is something
that I don't have.
I'm not even sure
what it means.
What do other people see
when they look inside?

Are signposts 
there to guide them?
For me,
it's murky inside,
a hazy cloud
of question marks.

When I ask myself
I am met with only echoes
bouncing back and forth forever.
Decisions are daunting
and never confidently made.
Doubt always lingers.

I'm told to trust myself,
but you can't trust a feeling
that isn't there.
It's murky inside of me,
so can you really blame me
for being scared? 
28,813 BEST Murky Water IMAGES, STOCK PHOTOS & VECTORS | Adobe Stock

Seaspiracy

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There is a new documentary on Netflix that you need to watch. From the same people that made Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy is a similar film about the devastation that humanity is currently inflicting upon the world’s oceans and sea life. While I thought I already knew the extent to which we are decimating our ocean ecosystems through fishing and various forms of pollution, sadly it is even more dire than I thought.

One of the things I find most alarming is that these plummeting numbers of fish populations seems to have only really started to accelerate within the past 50 years or so. Yet across the board, 90% of the life we have been tracking in the oceans since then are now gone. Everyone always shows so much concern for endangered species, but it has come to the point were all life in the ocean is critically endangered. And once these beings are completely gone from our planet, we won’t be able to survive here any longer either.

Ecosystems are very complex and fragile things. I am in disbelief that we have even been able to cause this mass scale destruction for so long with as few consequences as we have. However, our carelessness, stupidity, and greed are finally coming to a head. After watching Seaspiracy, I feel as though life on earth as we now know it could end at any moment. If I wasn’t already certain that I would see the end of the world in my lifetime, I am after watching this documentary. Frankly, I don’t see how we aren’t already dead. I guess once that tipping point comes (and it’s coming very, very soon) it will be a RAPID decline into oblivion.

I really don’t know how to take all of this new information about the world’s impending demise. I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. While I am certain the end is coming, the logistics of what exactly will occur seem unimaginable. I just hope that it will be quick, but I highly doubt that will be possible. It seems inevitable that there will be chaos and mass panic before the end. That is one of the things I fear the most.

It makes me feel sick and almost dizzy to know that right now, as I’m writing this, these unbelievably detrimental fishing practices are still going on all around the world. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of fish are being slaughtered at this very moment. And most of them not even for food (as if that would be a justification anyway), but as by-catch. These are the fish, sea turtles, sea birds, etc. that are caught “accidentally” by fishing nets. These poor animals are tossed right back into the ocean like garbage, dead and discarded. Every minute is an absolute massacre. The thought is simply too much to bear.

One of the saddest parts of this documentary was the “hopeful” ending. There were inspiring words about how we can still save ourselves and the planet, how there is still time to change. I just don’t know how anyone that knows and understands this information can truly believe that. We have already nearly obliterated the ocean’s ecosystems. I’m not confident that even if everyone stopped fishing this minute and a piece of plastic was never put into the ocean again that we would be able to come back from the damage that we have already caused. Perhaps we would just slow our descent towards our dooms.

Still I am going to keep doing what I can, living by example, and urgently spreading this information to everyone that will listen. Even though I believe it’s already hopeless, there is nothing else I can do, and maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong and we can still salvage some life on this planet. Other than that, I am just going to try to be grateful for each and every moment that I have on this beautiful earth. I am going to keep my loved ones close and make sure they know how much they mean to me. I am going to try to enjoy and make the most of whatever time we’ve got left.

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Another Day

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My mind is only rarely actually in the present. To be honest, something scares me about surrendering to the moment. My brain is always working overtime, trying to predict, prioritize, and protect. If feels like if I’m not always checking off lists in my head, planning what to do next, or policing my own thoughts that everything will fall apart. I guess it’s just my ego’s desperate endeavor to maintain control.

But no matter how frantically I struggle against myself and this world, the fact is, it is not within my control. I don’t know why that seems so scary to admit. In most of my life, I prefer not to be in control. I’ve never wanted to be in a position of power at work or within my family or friend group. I was the last to take a leadership role in school even in group projects that would have probably turned out much better if I had. Yet when it comes to my own personal life and inner landscape, I am so rigid and domineering.

What am I so afraid of? There is nothing in this present moment for me to fear. Here I am, in my pretty, cozy bedroom, at my cute little desk. There is a slick, frigid February morning outside of my window. My dog is perched at my feet, licking my socks like a precious little weirdo. I am still allowed to work from home. Not only that, my boss texted everyone last night asking us to stay home today because of the weather. How many people can say they work for a place so caring? It truly warms my heart.

Despite all these things, my mind veered off once again. The mere mention of work led me to swirling through panicked predictions of how it could all go wrong. I find myself constantly having to talk myself down, to reassure myself that everything is fine detail by detail. It is actually quite funny when I stop to think about it. If I spend all the peaceful times in my life focused on the fear of losing them someday, what am I even afraid of losing? I’ve not been allowing myself to enjoy all that I have to be grateful for anyway. What sense does it make to agonize over what could change in the future when by doing so I am sacrificing any peace and pleasure I currently have in front of me?

Maybe today, I’ll designate something small to place around my house as a reminder, a reminder that I am happy, a reminder to pause and be grateful. Perhaps the raw crystals I have in every room. Whenever I see one I could take a moment to feel its rough edges in my fingers, to take a few long, deep, mindful breaths, and be present. That might be a nice way to stay grounded. I could also design a small symbol to put up in the corner of my windows or somewhere that will catch my eye. These things will be my anchor. My guide back to the present moment.

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Happiness & Relationships

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There is a lot of research that suggests having meaningful relationships with others and frequently interacting with other people is associated with a higher level of happiness and wellbeing. I doubt anyone would be surprised by this data. It seems like common sense. It stands to reason that a social species like human beings would gain comfort and pleasure from our relationships.

However, correlation cannot prove causation. Having more interpersonal relationships could be leading to increased happiness. Or it could be that happy people are more likely to form close bonds and socialize more. It could even be an unmeasured third factor that is contributing to this phenomenon.

Despite this data not necessarily meaning you need these relationships to be happy, it still troubles me. Maybe a lot of my unhappiness is due to my tenuous relationships and social ineptitude. The pandemic has allowed me to notice a drastic difference which I did not expect. I thought I would rather always be home alone than go to work every day, but surprisingly I felt much happier and less anxious on the days I went in to the office. And it did seem like my life was more vibrant and interesting when I had a “friend group” I would hangout with frequently, if not daily.

I genuinely miss being in school. It aided me greatly to be corralled together with my peers on a fixed schedule. I find it quite difficult to maintain close, regular contact with people on my own. Apart from family, there is really only one person left in my life that I would consider a close friend. And we go weeks without even sending texts usually.

I don’t mind being on my own for the most part. I keep myself busy and enjoy many solitary activities. I’ve always been an introvert, and find social gatherings quite draining and stressful. Yet I fear because of all of these factors I will inevitably end up all alone in life.

As I watch my social life dwindling with age, I am scared. But I have no idea how to change. Even when I do make plans to be more social, my anxiety prevents me from following through. I don’t feel like I am necessarily unhappy because I am lonely. But maybe the link is just not apparent. Maybe my mental health would improve if I had more friends. It does stand to reason that a species which evolved to depend on being part of a larger group would suffer some type of mental or physical effects from being alone.

I am the youngest person in my family. My one true friend considers moving out of the area someday. Will I be strong enough to survive on my own? Will I be brave enough to form any new bonds? Ultimately I feel helpless to improve my position. And it makes me uncomfortable knowing I have to depend on other people. I sincerely hope that I am the outlier in the population that can manage to find happiness without the love and support of others. Because I really don’t see myself becoming close with anyone new. I’m lucky I’ve been able to find acceptance from the few people I do have in my life. I can at least be grateful for them right now, and try to let go of the rest.

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OCD

Today I have a fun excursion planned with my very best friend whom I’ve known since we were in third grade. We’re both 26 now and despite how we’ve both changed, we’ve miraculously managed to stay dear to one another for all of these years. I am constantly humbled by her friendship. I am filled with gratitude knowing that I have such a wonderful, loving person in my life who I share so many poignant memories with.

Given this background, you’d think I would be quite happy and calm this morning, looking forward to our day together. However, I have been on edge since she asked me to hangout today. This flare up of anxiety at the idea of spending time with someone has become a real worry for me. What am I worried about? Well I’m worried because now my rigidly structured day won’t be the same as usual. Ridiculous right?

I woke up extra early today so I could make sure I had enough time to check off all the little boxes that I normally do. Workout, draw, write, read, study Spanish, yoga, meditation, etc. All wonderfully productive and positive things. However, my obsession over making sure that each and every one is accomplished every day no matter what is unhealthy.

I don’t know why it’s always got to be all or nothing with me. It doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things if I skip a day of doing yoga or drawing something. I recognize that this anxiety over not performing these tasks is a symptom of OCD. I don’t know if I’d be diagnosable, but I certainly feel confident saying that I have a lot of obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I’ve only come to really accept this recently. It is a scary realization. As a psychology student I learned a lot about OCD, and I know if ignored it only continues to escalate. The best way to combat this is to intentionally do (or in my case, not do) the things that your brain is telling you will be negative. This inevitable results in pretty much nothing significant happening and the brain can be reassured that its fears were unfounded.

The problem with OCD is, even though I know all of this, I’m too afraid to implement this plan of action. It seems far easier to just continue on the way I have been, avoiding my anxiety while simultaneously being enslaved by it. Once again, a great reason for me to seek out a therapist that can help me. I hope something comes of me coming back to that idea again and again. Maybe if I think about it enough I’ll eventually build up the courage to make an appointment with someone. For now thinking about it seems like all I’m able to do.

Anxiety is Bizarre

It seems as I get older, my anxiety only becomes more intense. Perhaps I am just noticing it more than I did as a child, because back then I didn’t really have a name for it. Either way I am concerned. If it were only to stay at this level, I could probably handle it. But I fear it will continue to escalate.

I am constantly getting frustrated with myself. I want my life to change. I genuinely think I know what to do in order to be as happy as possible. Yet even the thought of waking up tomorrow and making any of those changes is absolutely petrifying. I am too afraid of losing control if I change my routine. It’s just absurd though because I don’t like the way things are going. I’m clearly already not in control. I know I could make my life better, yet I’m afraid to.

I wonder if this is something that everyone struggles with. Is it really all my anxiety that is holding me back? Maybe I am just using it as a convenient excuse. Telling myself I am unable because of mental illness, that if only I were normal I could have the life I dream of. I know I desperately need to start therapy, but I’m too afraid to do that too!