I can’t know for sure how anxiety manifests for other people – and to be honest, it’s only in recent months I acknowledged I have my own manifestations – but apparently, I have anxiety. With a capital A. As I’m currently feeling extremely anxious, now is a good time to put thoughts and observations down on “paper” …
The biggest and most obvious way anxiety appears in my everyday life, is my need to be liked. I cannot bear the thought I might do or say something to cause someone to think ill of me. I’m left with a pounding heart, shaking hands, incapable of speech and on the verge of tears. Socially this is difficult. I’m happy and comfortable around friends I have known for decades. I can say and share anything and we have a level of trust and support, friendship and love that balances any fear I may have. I am still nervous about saying the wrong thing, but I trust the consequences won’t be devastating – we listen, we learn, we forgive, we move on. But outside that close network it’s trickier. In work situations, it’s much trickier. In casual social outings or being introduced to strangers it’s very tricky. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I haven’t read their vibe and personality correctly? What if they judge me before they know me? The first mountain I must conquer at work is to become liked by my colleagues. It’s not hard in my current employment – there aren’t a lot of colleagues and I like them all. If I practice my listening skills, quickly master the tasks I’m set, be kind and considerate and friendly and enthusiastic, then with a little bit of luck, they might like me. At the very least they won’t hate me.
I don’t know where my fear of being disliked came from. Perhaps it was my mother always worrying, “What would the neighbours think?!” Perhaps it was learning as a youngster that other people’s feelings are more important than my own. Perhaps it is my nature, not my nurture that makes me paranoid. Who knows?! It doesn’t really matter in the end – I am nice to everyone so they might be nice to me.
This anxiety also brings a major fear of conflict. I don’t fight. Ever. I will stand up for my beliefs. I can have a discussion with an alternate point of view. But I won’t fight with you. I can’t do it. You can yell and scream at me until you’re blue in the face, and I will stand frozen to the spot trying to die a little on the inside and chanting, “This too shall pass” silently in my head. If major conflict arises in the workplace I will probably resign. I’ve done it before. I would do it again. It shames me to say that. I feel like I have no emotional fortitude, but I can’t do conflict. Unfortunately, there are also times when my pathological fear of conflict, wars with my pathological need to be responsible – to care for others and defend those who can’t defend themselves. In a group setting, I steer clear of conflict – at any cost. But in a group setting, I also need to ensure everyone feels heard and understood and represented. Sometimes I will speak up – usually at a high personal cost. I will choose personal humiliation and grief over abandoning my moral compass which leaves me in a lose-lose situation. I become extremely anxious and distressed regardless of which path I choose.
I also fear failure. While being disliked is a big failure, there are many others – fear of auditions and interviews, fear of gaining weight, running late or making any mistake whatsoever have been a major theme throughout my life. But perhaps all these fears hark back to the first? If I stuff up and someone notices, perhaps they won’t like me. Perhaps they’ll think less of me, be cranky with me, consider me stupid, inept, unkind or unethical. Just writing that down increases my heart rate.
Everyday life normally trots on by okay for me. I don’t have major panic attacks. When things are going well, I manage these fears the same way I manage all my other emotions – I ignore them. Every single day is scattered with a thousand little moments of fear I try to ignore. There’s no relaxation or down time until I’m curled up in my pyjamas on my bed. And to calm the chaos in my head, I’ve become extremely adept at organising the chaos around me.
When everyday life throws curve balls, that’s when my anxiety quickly skyrockets. And when the rockets are skyward bound, that’s when thoughts of self-harm and disordered eating behaviours flare out of control.
The past 48 hours have been extremely stressful. There’s been a communication breakdown with a group of online friends. The bickering and bad blood led me to extract myself from the group – like conflict in the workplace, I have effectively resigned and run away. And today I will be supporting one of my children as they face the consequences of a really poor decision. I am terrified. Terrified for him. Terrified of the future and the consequences. I spent the past two months trying not to think about it, to be positive and hoping for the best. But today is truth day and has the potential to impact my little family in a big way. The unknown is a bad place for me to be and it is easy to yearn for old coping behaviours that numb difficult emotions and still those runaway thoughts.
I read somewhere that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster, and that after the pesky Monkey messed around with everything last year, the Rooster will bring good luck and prosperity. I am depending on that little Rooster to calm my nerves and create a positive mindset so my anxious thoughts can settle and not escalate. This Too Shall Pass…