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 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?