I'm Anxious to Get Over My Anxiety

I finally finished all my work responsibilities. I'm officially off work now, and I've been on a eight day hot tubbing streak.

Reflecting on my new diagnoses, I feel like PTSD is the source of my long term, multi-year problems, and my anxiety is the source of my day to day problems. I get anxiety from a lot of things:

  • Deadlines
  • Ambiguous comments which might be insulting
  • Hurting other people's feelings
  • Clothing, fashion
  • What other people think of me
  • Heights
  • Scary movies
  • Meeting friends of friends
  • Unlocked doors
  • Leaving my belongings unattended
  • Unencrypted communications
  • Forgetting things I know I'll need
  • Disappointing others
  • All insects

One of the problems with my anxiety is that it interferes with having a healthy and happy life. I find it hard to empathize when there are terrible things happening in the news because I can't handle the stress of learning what happened. Every week I get at least a few comments from people who feel comfortable enough to share a problem in their life, and it takes some energy to respond in a helpful way without harming or oppressing them since I'm not a trained counsellor. I get anxiety from responding because I don't want to disappoint them either. It's still stressful writing and publishing every week because some days it feels like surgically removing a bullet. Some days I don't want to leave the house or check my social media. I have a problem with trying to change the way people think about me because that's where my value comes from still. When I was a kid, a bumblebee flew into my ear, probably thinking it was some new beautiful flower it could pollinate. I freaked out, and now I can't handle any kind of flying insect being within 5 feet of me. I think it's normal to feel all these things, but the difference is that I can become paralyzed by worrying about it all. I'm not great at multitasking, and it feels like I'm facing 10 Goliaths.

I can't just power through the awkward stuff either. If I have a fear of heights, immersion therapy doesn't necessarily solve it. I've been on enough tall buildings, mountains, and gondolas, and I'm still afraid of falling off, even if I'm completely enclosed. If I feel awkward around somebody or in certain situations, diving into the deep end hasn't fixed that. Sometimes it's nice to be indirect and to avoid them.

I can tell when my anxiety bothers me because it almost feels like the shock rings through my body for a really long time. It's like a cartoon where Wile E. Coyote tries to hit the Road Runner with a giant mallet, but when he misses and hits the ground, his whole body shakes for an entire minute. My anxiety makes me seize up and hold my breath, and my eyes pop out. 😳 Sometimes I'll fall into a thousand mile stare, imagining what could go wrong in the future. I'll get heart palpitations. If I'm sitting, my legs will bounce nervously. My hands and feet will get clammy. My shoulders will shrug and lock up. My anxiety probably derives from and feeds into my PTSD.

There is a way to use my anxious energy in a positive fashion, but it's a double edged sword. In the show "Scrubs," Michael J. Fox plays a doctor with OCD who uses his obsessiveness to study all of his textbooks, but at the end of one episode, he can't stop washing his hands even though he completed his surgery several hours prior. In Pokemon, using a special class of moves like Sandstorm enhances some other moves for a few turns, but it can hurt the Pokemon that initiated it. What if using my anxiety to fuel my productivity only creates more anxiety? What happens if I don't have the nervous energy when I need it? It's not like using NOS in The Fast and the Furious, I can't just summon a burst of power on command.

Carrie has been a huge source of support for me. A lot of times, I'll tell her I'm worried about some obscure possible scenario, but she'll calm me down and say "don't be scared." I feel like Carl in the Pixar movie "Up" in the scene where he meets Ellie in the abandoned house. I'm the dorky and frail nerd, and Carrie's the adventurous and fearless one. She was the cool kid, and I studied way too hard. My fears and anxiety flashbacks/daydreams become very vivid, and I expect these bizarre scenarios to actually play out. Sometimes she checks me and says "no, that's not going to happen."

I think my strategy moving forward will be to isolate myself from situations that trigger my anxiety, but at the same time, I'll have to learn how to deal with it in a healthier way. I used to think these internal struggles were never dealt with, but I realized this week that we either handle them directly or learn to cope. It helps to hot tub, to exercise, to talk things through with someone, to create art. Sometimes we drink, smoke, eat, or drown out the feelings in other ways. We recoil from life's expectations, like staying with friends or family who can take care of us, taking vacations, or cutting contact with people. I'm taking time off work, and I'm going to set my physical health up for success. I'm going to hit the gym three times a week, cook healthy foods at home, and re-align my sleep cycle with the sun. I'll probably spend a bunch of time hot tubbing and steam rooming. I have a bunch of physical problems to get checked out. My fourth wisdom tooth, which escaped the surgery some eight years ago by hiding from the x-ray, started pushing forward this week. I hurt my right pinkie knuckle during boxing. I need to get some new insoles because my current ones aren't working for me. Ow. I think I'll need one of those squishy mats for the sink because I'll probably start washing a lot more dishes. Life is hard.

I know I'll need to pace myself. These problems didn't develop overnight, so I know I shouldn't get too ambitious in addressing them. People spend decades in therapy sometimes, and it usually takes me the same amount of time of being hurt to get over the hurt; if I'm friends with someone for a year, it'll take me a year to get over it. Now I'm juggling counselling for childhood sexual abuse, family drama, PTSD, and anxiety. It feels like I'm in the rain and my jacket is soaked through to my skin, and I have to somehow be comfortable enough in my current state as I start walking in my wet socks towards a distant shelter to change clothes.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le