In the midst of my recent confusion about what to write, a few things popped into my head that have made my life not necessarily more difficult, but certainly more colourful. It’s quite nice, in a way, to look at some of these things and realise how far I’ve come, as well as finally stumbling upon an explanation as to why certain things have happened. It’s mildly interesting to see the spectrum of things that anxiety has affected, and to acknowledge that sometimes, even without knowing or trying, I have managed to push past its tricky little traps and Get Shit Done. Thus, I proudly present thirteen things that have been affected in some way by my healthy-sized dollops of the sauce they call anxiety:
It took me 30 years to start learning (well, 13, seeing as it wasn’t legal until I was 17). Although I’m pretty near to taking my test, I passed my theory 4 months ago and still haven’t booked the practical. I can do it, but if something unexpected happens I go into fight/flight/freeze mode – and obviously, I freeze. There’s always so much happening as well, and when your brain is anxious that doesn’t necessarily mix well. There’s already a lot happening. I can’t connect between making a mistake and how it impacts me afterwards; it clearly does, but not consciously, like my brain is shutting off to stop me being overwhelmed. I can go through the motions, but I’m yet to excel in planning or anticipating, which is somewhat ironic for a brain that has thrived on ‘what ifs’ for so long.
Staying at people’s houses
I’m okay with this now, but when I was younger, I would feel nauseated or actually be sick any time I stayed over at a friend’s house. It was just something I learned to accept, but of course, the anxiety about it happening trapped me in a circle for some time. I don’t remember it being too much of an issue when I was a child, but as a teen it definitely planted its feet for a couple of years, and honestly, I’m still not exactly sure why.
Making phone calls
I’m better at this now, out of necessity (ringing up harassing people about my mental health appointments), but I still get anxious about doing it sometimes, particularly in a work setting. I would always, always prefer to email. My excuse would be an email has an audit trail if you’ve asked someone to do something or vice versa, which is pretty smart, but for the longest time I was just plain shit scared of the phone. Would I stumble over my words? What if the person I need to speak to isn’t there? These and other pointless ruminations would convince me that should I attempt, the whole thing would be a disaster.
Making plans with people
Will I be okay to go on the day? Do they really want me to go? I want to support my friends but do I want to be in that environment? Will I remember the time and place? Will they turn up? What will I talk about? What if they never want to meet up again? How am I going to ruin it? I can still make and follow through with plans, but if someone new or unexpected steams in with some sort of social invite, that panic flares up. I never want to appear rude, so might go along with things only to cancel last minute, or simply force myself into a situation I’d rather have avoided.
Talking about myself
This is a hard nope. Despite being a blogger who talks pretty much exclusively about herself, to do so in person pains me extraordinarily. My default is to assume that I am boring, no one cares about anything I have to say, I don’t know as much about things are other people, my opinions are wrong and will be challenged, I won’t be able to defend them or myself.
Even if I am passionate about something, I’ll be extremely hesitant to bring it up for fear of mockery or a nonplussed, glassy-eyed stare. I’ve become a keen vessel for information about other people, lubricating the conversation about them, and retaining details that others might not. Yes, you’ve told me that story before, I remember it all, but I’m too polite to say. Tell me again so I don’t have to talk about myself.
On the one hand, I can remember every little slightly awkward interaction I’ve ever had. I can remember, with great clarity, most of the things I’ve done wrong. I will remember plans, people’s faces and names (despite worrying that I won’t). I remember birthdays, probably to ‘prove’ that I am a good, caring person. Can I remember what to do if something goes amiss when driving? Rarely. It’s the freezing I mentioned earlier – this puts a stop on me accessing things I’m sure are wedged in my brain by now. If someone asks me directions, can I remember the way? Can I billy-o. Anything useful sails out of my brain the moment I am expected to actually recall it. Which leads us to…
Offering my knowledge or opinion
An example: as a child, I was pretty good at spelling. Other kids knew this, and used to ask me how to spell things. I would, more often than not, say that I didn’t know. Why? I’m not sure. Probably because I was worried about giving them the incorrect answer. Possibly I thought they would argue with me, even though they had asked in the first place. Quite likely, I subconsciously thought it would mark me out as ‘other’, despite the fact someone had asked, clearly already knew I was good at spelling, and this not having affected what people thought of me in any way. I’m still wary now if someone says I’m good at something, and worry that the moment it comes to proving it, I’ll fail spectacularly.
Even now, as an adult, people can be talking about something to which I might know the answer or have something valuable to contribute, and I will stay quiet. To my discredit, they could be talking about something that’s flat out wrong, prejudiced, or otherwise unpleasant and I’m still hesitant to correct or reprimand them. Whilst Twitter is a breeding ground for morons, many of whom need a sharp reminder that they are completely incorrect, my fear of being called out or of other people’s pigheadedness still keeps me quiet.
Eating in front of people with whom I’m not familiar
This is awkward anyway, I think, but I’ve always felt a bit funny about it. Again, I think I’m much better at it now, but there was a time when the thought filled me with dread. Will they have disgusting table manners? Do I? Will they judge what I’m eating? Going to restaurants is an anxiety-riddled barrel of laughs as it is, but again, I’m getting slightly better at this. Slightly.
Being in a relationship
Cue the theatre of my brain with its latest smash hit, ‘WHY DON’T THEY LOVE ME?’ Have I ruined it? Are they leaving me? Probably cheating on me. Well, I’ll show them. What will I do if we break up? Ooh, someone else is paying me attention, validate me! Nightmare. This is probably a post all of its own, really.
Education and learning
I’ve always been fairly bright, not a natural genius and not someone to whom cleverness is innate, but I’ve done okay. I’ve worked hard when I’ve needed to. My reticence to offer my thoughts or a correct answer has sometimes held me back, as has the fight/flight/freeze instinct. Someone has asked me a question? Freeze. I can’t remember anything, and even if I do, I’ll be convinced that I’m wrong. If I got the answer wrong, everyone would laugh, right? Probably including the person who asked it.
Asking for help
This, in so many ways, has been affected by anxiety. Stuck on something at school or work? Tough! It took me a long, long time to realise that asking for help didn’t mean I was stupid – it just means I want to know what I’m doing, and do it right. I’m a little better now, but still very hesitant to ask if, for example, someone at work is busy and I need them to do something or help me with something. This has probably stood in the way of me getting things done at times, and contributed to my frustration and panic if I’ve ever been left with too little to do. Going to work itself has been enough of a problem, let alone trying to navigate my way through awkward social exchanges when I’m there.Strangely, asking for help with my mental health has never been as much of a problem. I didn’t when I was a teenager, but I didn’t really understand it then. When I reached adulthood, this became easier. Not exactly fun, but easier.
I’ve written about this before, but alongside the near-permanent exhaustion lies another little snake. I’m scared to try new things for fear of doing it wrong. I’m scared of exerting myself and it being too much for my body to handle. I’m frightened of looking stupid. It’s safer to assume that it’s just ‘not for me’. I’ll constantly wonder if other people are watching and if they think I’m lazy, inept, or both.
Being in public
Fortunately, this is not a full-blown phobia. I am not agoraphobic and I will not attempt to equate my experiences as such. For the most part, I can make it out of the house with little fanfare, and if I can’t, then I just stay firmly put. When I am out and about, everything is usually fine, but sometimes, that little voice marches in, sits down, and sets up a little Panic Camp in my head. Why did that person look at me? Have I something on my face? Does my outfit look weird? Do they know someone I know, who’s told them what a weirdo I am? Can people tell I’m not well? I can function fairly easily whilst all this is going on, but it still happens.
What if I see someone I know? What if I’m off sick from work, but need to go to the shop? Surely someone will see me and report back that actually, I’m not sick at all. I would, at times, go to great pains to make sure that I looked ill if I was making the five-minute trek to Sainsbury’s for some food on a bad day, just in case. Don’t smile, don’t look too kempt, make sure you look miserable and anxious.
Oh, anxiety, how we laughed! I’m glad to have given myself this understanding and to acknowledge the space anxiety has taken up in my brain, not least because it’s given me something to write about and a chance to stave off the responsibility of actually checking if my writer’s pool has completely run dry.
Until next time. Stay weird, folks.