Anxiety

My chest coils, churning that icy pre-post-permanent adrenal response. It’s not permanent. Right? It just feels like it. I’ve been coasting on the edge of another anxiety attack since coming down from the first. Monday consisted of 13 hours of my autonomic nervous system getting stuck on overdrive. This hasn’t happened in a long time. But it’s familiar enough.

If you don’t know the feeling I’m talking about, imagine you’re in a group. Work, school, social, political—doesn’t really matter. Now imagine that group is chatting about something and suddenly decides that they’re going to present on the topic to a larger group.

NOSE-GOES!

Nose wha…shit. You’re it. Podium’s waiting. Gogogogo! Chest tight yet? No? Okay. You’re scared of heights: welcome to the rollercoaster. You’re scared of spiders: don’t look down. You’re scared flying: please fasten your seat belts. You’re scared of dying: dearly beloved, we are gathered here today. You’re scared. You. Are. Scared.

Welcome to anxiety. Except here’s the kicker: you don’t always get to know why you’re scared. You don’t always get to see cause, but you sure as shit get to live in the effect. I get to live in the effect. That’s been this week. Luckily, I’ve been to this party before. I’ve tapped the keg, know where the bathroom is, and yes, you can hide your purse behind that chair. I know anxiety, I know my anxiety. I just haven’t seen it in a while.

I’ve been medicated for it since 2007. Anti-anxiety medication let me start college, which petrified me. I managed to chill out a lot since then, particularly in the past year or so. Staying home alone doesn’t lead to a panicked spiral, Kermit-flailing, or weapon-snatching at the first stray noise. I figured out my fear of being alone was actually a psychological manifestation of my fear of my own inability to take care of myself. The more competent I became, the more it receded. And I don’t me martial-arts competent, just general competency. That wasn’t the only factor, though.

Meditation has also been huge. And of course, self-care. But sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes I realize that I went from slight nerves, to manic joy, to wow-that’s-a-lot-of-work-and-I-don’t-know-how-to-use-this-site-and-what-is-that-and-wait-how-many-assignments-are-there-and-they’re-all-do-the-same-day-and-FUCK. Seriously, fuck. Even typing this I’m tense. The adrenaline is fluttering, the icy-breathlessness is haunting my chest, and there’s a pressure on my collarbone like a thumb, pressing, pressing, pushing me back into my chair.

As you can imagine, it sucks. But again, my sideways luck strikes. I know why it’s happening. Superficially, and obviously, it’s my workload. I’m taking two sizeable Communication courses with teachers who believe in academic rigor (not a bad thing, just intimidating), one five-credit French course online (it involves quizzes, tests, fill-in-the-blank, discussion posts in French, a digital textbook, a metric shit ton of audio files, written lectures, a couple of essays, interactive slideshows and I can’t get the French keyboard I installed to work), trying to move out, trying to gain life skills, trying to drum up more editing business, sacrificing relationship time, trying to get this whole AM/sleep thing sorted, attempting to combat health issues and insecurities, and of course, writing two blogs and a book. But that’s just the surface.

It explains the stress, but not the anxiety itself. You see, I’m a recovering perfectionist. The idea of getting less than an A disturbs me, and the idea of not doing my best results in lip twitches, while the idea of my best not being good enough? Well, that’s the kicker, isn’t it? This is a lot of work. What if I can’t manage it? What if I drop the ball? What if I don’t complete it? What if I can’t understand it? What if I fuck it all up again? What if I fuck it all up again? Again. That’s the source. I’ve let myself down so many times. And I’m actually succeeding right now. I’m mostly on track. I’m getting better. And that’s fucking terrifying. Even me writing two posts a week is scary.

It used to be not doing things that upset me. I’d hide from the mountain of work and will it away. If I failed because I didn’t do it, then I failed because I didn’t do it, not because the work wasn’t good enough. I controlled the failure and protected my worth. But now I’m controlling the success, and that involves way more moving parts than failure. Success is also more finite and impermanent. For me, it’s also more abstract because I’m consistently moving the goal post. I’ll never be done succeeding. There will always be more to do, which means I’m stuck like this. I’m with the switch ON.

I can’t take a break. I can’t turn it off. To turn it off, to relax, that risks backsliding. I know me. I don’t want to work, and if I lose momentum, I’ll stop, I’ll curl up and escape into fiction and pretend that things will get better without applying effort. They won’t. They can’t. But after so long conditioning myself to avoid, hide, and only perform in small, violent bursts of procrastinator panic, consistency is fucking exhausting and terrifying.

When I wrote the first draft of this Thursday, I spent the majority of the day on social media and talking to my coworker. I was invited to things (to help the literary magazine I used to edit, as they’re short staffed; to a slam poetry thing yesterday). I avoided work. Then when I decided to start, bleakness settled in. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to work.

Yesterday passed in a similar state, except I let avoidance win. I tried to convince myself that it was rest, and maybe it was, but then it carried over into today. I’m only just now, at midnight settling in to work, and my schedule swung again. I’ll be trying to get to bed early, but I know I have to do things first. There’s just so much. I’m struggling not to look up and out at the miles of unchartered territory I have to traverse to succeed. Hell, even the easily mapped stuff makes me woozy.

Between my life and the state of the country, of the world, it’s constant overwhelm. I’m trying to stay logical about it. I know thinking about it only makes it worse, just as typing this all did (but that realization was worth the strife). The only thing that helps is looking down and focusing on the actionable steps, occasionally looking up to note my progress and make any necessary adjustments. It’s a struggle. Fear is infectious and not easily cured. Work is the only solution.

This is something. This is work. A month ago, I wasn’t writing. I’ve written over 15,000 words since then. That matters. Going to classes matters. Just as I matter, regardless of passing or failing or the quality of my essays, or the skills I obtain. My worth is not dependent upon any of this. The problem is, only the logical side of my brain believes that, and even it adds caveats. If I do nothing, what can I be worth? But what’s the point of that argument? I am doing things. And now you see the problem. What I know isn’t the same as what I believe, or what my instincts twitch toward. This is anxiety. It doesn’t care about logic or reason. This is the entrance to the rat’s nest snarling up my mind. The deeper you go, the more things get caught in the brambles.

Anybody have some shears?

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Scheduling *or* Dancing with the Day Star

Goals: so many goals. It’s always a struggle to narrow my focus to the next step, to the one I need to take. Always aching for the horizon, my eyes abandon the path. But a horizon isn’t much help if I’m about to trip. Wanting the clouds can’t keep your feet safe from a sightless walk. You must look down. I must look down. So, I am.

What’s the next step? Well, yesterday I filled out credit card applications for the first time. I have no credit and I make just below-poverty-level income. Dad thinks they’ll reject me, and they might (naturally, we both hope he’s wrong). My finance books suggested going for a gas card to start, and I’ve heard PayPal is pretty accepting, so we’ll see.

This is something I’ve been putting off for years. I was hoping to have some advice or insight to impart on the matter, but right now there’s not a lot. I filled out the forms online (and grabbing my tax return to figure out how much I make; yes, I really should know that I’m aware). They said they’d get back to me in one to two weeks. I guess it’s just waiting. Maybe I’ll have something to say once they do. That step is taken, though. So again: what’s the next step?

Right now, my primary focus is getting on a set schedule. I’ve been at war with this for literally a decade or more. When I initially left high school sophomore year my schedule swerved nocturnal, and it’s been swerving that way ever since. It started because I could be alone at night and all my friends, who I roleplayed with, were nocturnal. Gradually, things became more of a swing-shift.

I’d wake up for classes, and later work, roughly on time, but often at the expense of sleep. This only worsened as time went on. Last year was a breaking point. I’m too old to subsist on only four hours multiple times a week. Sleep deprivation literally poisons your brain with waste products that can’t be removed as efficiently while you’re conscious. You can’t make it up. That’s why chronic sleep deprivation kicks your ass so hard. It’s long-term poisoning.

Thus, sleep has become a huge priority. I strive not to go below seven hours (I’m ironically pushing that limit as I revise this), and if I do, no more than once a week. It’s an adjustment. Work and classes just started, and I failed to get on my new, dramatically AM schedule over Winter Break or even the interim, two-week semester, which I worked. So basically, it’s make-or-break time.

My classes are at 9AM Monday/Wednesday and 10:30AM Tuesday/Thursday, followed by work three of those days. That means my usual bedtime of 4AM to 7AM is not remotely viable. Nor is my ‘right schedule today, opposite schedule tomorrow.’ I need to be in bed midnight to 1AM depending on the day. Preferably 11PM. It also takes me on average two hours to do my bed prep stuff (tea, pills, journals, teeth, shower).

It’s a struggle. Luckily, my partner is supportive and gets why I need to be gone (he’s more likely to send me to bed than I am, to be honest). I’ve also used my phone calendar to give me work, school and bedtime alerts—little alarms that tell me to sign out of chats and why. It really is my messenger and Facebook use that are the biggest culprits in both my lack of productivity and my sleep deprivation. But I think I’ve hit enough of a breaking point and period of self-awareness to motivate me to dial them back.

Last week was the first week of school and work. Surprisingly, I managed alright. I got to bed around 1AM to 2AM on average right up until Friday, then I veered. I also had some sleep issues caused by anxiety (fought to get to sleep, suffered false-start wake-ups, etc.). Once my weekend hit, however, I fell into waking at 11:45AM, then noon, then 1PM yesterday. It’s frustrating, but ultimately, not an awful backslide. The goal is to make this week better.

Right now, though, I’m pretty much subsisting on alarms and willpower, while trying to cement a new and definitive bedtime ritual that’ll put my brain in sleep mode. After a decade of a schedule constantly in flux, it’s going to be a challenge. If anyone has any ideas how to improve the process I’m open to them. That said, I already take herbal supplements, have bedtime tea with valerian root oil, journal, write a gratitude list, check my planner, use a Himalayan salt lamp, sometimes burn essential oils, and before all of that, prep my stuff for the next day. I know meditation and yoga would help, but that’s a matter of time. I don’t want to cut out more time when I still haven’t managed to use what I have and do what I need to effectively.

Speaking of, I also need to schedule more than work and school. After I get sleep down, I need to start having set times that I do homework, eat, workout, play, talk, exercise, etc. It’s a bitch. Zero to over 9000 in a week. I know that I need to not focus on that stuff right now. I need to focus on getting the foundations laid: sleep, work, classes. Fit in homework where I can, as early before it’s due as I can, prioritizing whatever is due first. But again. It’s…a challenge. I’m trying to look at it as a good challenge instead of a WHY-ARE-YOU-RUINING-MY-LIIIIIFE challenge. Particularly given it’s fixing, not ruining, my life. Unfortunately, the changes are causing a lot of stress and anxiety when coupled with the colossal amount of shit I have to do and have chosen to do. But the anxiety, so sayeth my 12-hour attack and tension and fight-flight-or-freeze-adjacent mode yesterday, is a big enough topic for its own post. I’ll probably hit it next time.

For now, you hit me with ideas about how to make getting to bed and sleeping better and easier. Have you switched from a fluctuating (as someone in the Amanda Palmer patron group I’m part of said: broken cuckoo clock) schedule or swing-shift sleeping pattern? Nocturnal? How did you come to terms with the day star? Inquiring L’s want to know.

Where I’ve been, Where I’ve Gone, and the Borderline in Between

I’ve been all over the place. Impressive considering, as aforementioned, I’m still here. I’ve gone to Dallas with friends (and handled logistics nearly solo), to Paris with people—the majority of whom—I’d be happy to never see again, I went back briefly to California for a funeral and a friend, to Ohio for love, to the city, to a dungeon, to work over and over, but mostly, I’ve gone to the far reaches and dusty divides of my mind. It’s a mess. Admittedly, an enlightening one.

I recently accepted that I have borderline personality. Previously, it would’ve been the disorder, but I’ve achieved a state of functionality and balance that prevent it from really impeding my life in ways I can’t overcome. A lot of luck was involved. I was originally diagnosed as bipolar. It never really fit. I always fell into the ‘other’ classification at the bottom of the thirty-some-odd listings on the Wikipedia page. My shrink, who I’m fond of, didn’t challenge the diagnosis, but then, he only sees me in controlled environments, so it makes sense, and I do have upswings and downswings. They just aren’t cyclical. I turn like a hiphop ballerina—back-forth-back-round-down—in seconds, seamlessly. This may not sound lucky, but it means I don’t get stuck in moods (not typical of everyone with borderline, by the by). Rather, I learned what stimuli can snap me one way or another.

Fiction is my recovery go-to. Furthermore, because the mood swings were more prominent than the depression, which was just one of many common states, maybe the most common at the time, I was put on a mood stabilizer. Again: lucky. Mood stabilizers are a good treatment for borderline. So, I was better. I still wasn’t well. But I was better. I didn’t have any reason to think the diagnosis was wrong.

This all goes back over a decade. Borderline personality was first brought to my attention by a friend who suggested, after an Abnormal Psych class, that it seemed to fit me better. I just kinda kept it in my brain for years, occasionally glancing at it, but not really digging into it.

I only recently learned, after having looked into and accepted it, and then discussing it with my shrink (I use the term fondly, honest), that anger is a big thing with borderline personality. And man, did I have a temper. I mean, I still do, but I police and manage it now. From infancy on, I had rage. More off-tilt luck started me on the path to dealing with it.

The first step was arguing. I used to argue about everything well past the point where I knew what I was talking about. Well, maybe seven or eight years ago, I was in a toxic friend-relation-not-but-kinda-ship. We clashed. Hard. Ironically because we’re at once extremely alike and fundamentally different. We argued a lot. We argued so much people actually attempted to intervene (we not-so-kindly told them to fuck off). We argued into tears and torment, into agony and sunrises, into fits and circles. We would routinely stop hanging out for multi-month stretches to detox from each other, then we’d hang out again, honeymoon for a month, and promptly dissolve into mutual toxicity and conflict. It went on like that for years. Long story short, I burnt out.

I think he may have too, though it wasn’t quite the same. For me, I lost my desire to argue. I started to draw lines. It initially was hostile. I got irritated once it became clear there was a disagreement. I blamed the other person. Gradually, it receded into something more healthy like, “Look, I don’t think that’s right, but I don’t actually know, so…” Sometimes, particularly if I’m low on spoons, I regress and get a little toothy. But I try to stay mindful, to recognize that differing opinions aren’t personal attacks. Likewise—and this one I learned from massive conflict in my current relationship—it’s okay to be wrong. You don’t need to try to convince or convert when you talk. You can listen openly, and if it turns out that they know more than you (woe to those with brainy spouses), you can adjust your thinking. It’s hard. It’s really hard, but it gets easier, and you get happier. Again, luck in the form of conflict.

All these epiphanies fall under the types of things you’d cover in BPD-specific therapy. I learned them the hard way, but I learned them well. There’s probably more that I’m forgetting, but whatever. I promised myself this would be a low-pressure blog and I meant it. This is a record, recorded to process and ponder outside of myself.

Anyway, I got tangential (that never happens). The point is, I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I work. BPD is a big part of that. We’ll likely get into others (sleep is essential, discipline is a bitch, meditation changes everything, referring to yourself in the second person disowns responsibility, etc.). For now, though, I wanted to talk about some of the mistakes I made that caused me to fuck up and drop this blog, as well as…way too many other things.

A big mistake is over-planning. If I can barely get myself to write, forcing myself to write this, then that, then this, when maybe I want to write that other thing over there is going to cause me serious issues. This can be applied more broadly to life as a whole. I need to not set myself up to fail by over-planning and trying to take on a mountain when I can’t even tie my shoes. I need to pick reasonable, small, manageable goals. They add up.

I went to TEDxMileHigh (speaking of places I’ve been) last year and there was this talk the punchline of which was “collect the 1s.” Essentially it means collect small victories instead of aiming for the big ones first (in terms of the talk, the 1000s). The 1s add up to 1000 eventually. What’s more, they motivate you to keep going because they’re tangible results. On the flip side, while failure can teach you, every time you fail, you encode the idea that you can’t do the thing you failed at. So, if you’re constantly failing at the same task, it becomes increasingly more difficult to do every time.

Basically, I’m saying this hot, tangential mess of a post is a 1 rather than 100 (maybe a 10; I just realized it’s pushing 1500 words). But I felt better even as I wrote its initial draft. Because I was writing it. I was actually doing what I intended to do (still am). I didn’t get hung up on the fact that I really meant to talk instead about ‘hey, so here’s why I failed before, and here’s what I did right!’ in a nice orderly and catchy post. And, frankly, I did talk about those things. I talked about them like I would if I was holding you captive in my office and you made the mistake of asking “What’s new? It’s been forever!” No joke, that question involves ducktape and no potty breaks if you expect the whole answer (I lose my train of thought easily; I’m sure you’d never guess).

And speaking of what’s new, in lieu of a better transition, since this is just a brain dump apparently: silence is another change. Ironic timing, but it’s true. Silence: I’ve tried to find it and feel it. To accept I don’t need to live in the spotlight 100% of the time, and that attention elsewhere has nothing to do with my worthiness or value (that last bit about worthiness, specifically being worthy of love, comes from my shrink and was an intense process Fall 2015). Silence blossoms. When you’re quiet the world can get in. And honestly, not every thought needs to be heard by others (another trait of borderline personality is needing to give an action to every emotion, and for me that is usually talking). This one is still a work in progress obviously, and I’ve kinda fallen off the wagon the last couple months. But that’s partially because my partner and I were binging on each other.

We aren’t going to have any time coming up here because of my super tight Spring schedule (we’ll also get into that). Speaking of, I need to go the sleep asap if I want to meditate in the morning. It’s 11:24pm and I have class at 9am. So, sorry to end this abruptly. Maybe I’ll edit it to be tidier. Maybe I’ll leave the snarls and tangles and brambly bullshit for posterity. I mean, if you’re coming on this ride, you should know whose driving. This is a pretty clear picture of the license.

-L.

 

 

Post Script: Reread this prior to posting and opted to leave the stream-of-consciousness, even though the last page or so led to deepening winces. In my defense, I was racing the clock. (I lost, by the way.) Hopefully, the next post will be more focused. I’m still playing catch up so we’ll see what happens. Things will continue to develop organically, but will likely find a form eventually.

Still Broken (but under repair)

It’s been four years. Ow. Four years, and by my own definition, I’m still broken. Still here. Still hopelessly at home. It’s difficult to know what to say. If you’d asked me, as I published my last entry on the Passenger Mentality, where I would be now, the answer would not have been at home, or at least, not at my parents’ home. It is both painful and embarrassing to admit it. But here I am.

This blog was designed initially to spur accountability, though as every failed blogger knows, one must first be accountable to themselves before seeking external pressure. Or at least that’s how it works for me. The opinions and pressures of the outside world push me deeper inside when I’m a mess, and motivate me once I’m cleaning things up solo. So, consider this me trying to clean up again. This time will be similar to the last, though perhaps a bit more casual and less planned. I want space to stretch and breathe, to relax my mind and unfurl the lessons without pretension. And honestly, perfectionism is a poison. It erodes my willingness to work because I know there will be more work. Again: ‘casual’ is the watchword.

I still plan to dig into things and philosophize and interrupt myself (don’t know that I can stop). I also still plan to document the steps I take toward becoming the adult people tell me I already am. Admittedly, few of those people see me sitting here on a yoga ball, bound in an Alice-in-Wonderland hoodie and Dark-Side Darth Vader pj pants, musing over my failings and successes since last I wrote whilst idly bouncing and listening to unnervingly eclectic music. So…failings and successes…

The short list is: I’m officially a freelance editor and I have a day job at a community college tutoring Communication (and previously writing); I have my associates degree and am pursuing a second over two semesters, which will be followed by a Bachelor’s in Communication (and possibly writing); I drive places I don’t know aided by Google maps and my phone (but I still can’t parallel park and refuse to go into the city); I’ve successfully maintained a five-year relationship; I’m learning how to actually cook and working through a recipe book; I meditate daily; and I’ve managed to deal with a lot of my mental baggage. On the flipside, I still don’t know how to handle my finances, deal with my medical paperwork (let’s be real: any paperwork), or make remotely enough to support myself; I have minimal accountability or discipline; my body is a mess; I’m high strung; and, of course, general life skills are still seriously lacking.

But hey, I’m not exactly where I used to be. Just…close.

So here we go. Again.

Broken Boomerang Learns to Fly: Act I (The remake)