In a recent post (The Lies I Tell Myself), I shared what it is like to struggle with anxiety.
It was a hard post to write, and I still sometimes want to delete it and just hide from it. But, it is a part of what makes me the person I am, and if you’re going to judge me for it, that’s on you.
For most people, the thoughts that anxiety causes don’t make sense. Or they really don’t understand what the thought process is. Well, thanks to Sara Bareilles, I can offer a small glimpse of what types of thoughts go through my head when I have to meet new people, or really just interact with people in general.
I stick with real things,
Usually facts and figures.
When information’s in its place,
I minimize the guessing game.
I don’t like guessing games.
Or when I feel things,
Before I know the feelings.
How am I supposed to operate,
If I’m just tossed around by fate?
Like on an unexpected date?
Sara Bareilles “When He Sees Me”
Aside: This song is from a musical that she wrote the music and lyrics for called “Waitress“. It just did a short run in Boston and will be hitting Broadway starting next March. A selection of songs from this show was recently released, and I took a short break from listening to “Hamilton” on repeat to listen to it. Both are really good albums and I want to try to get to NYC to see both.
Now this post has been a long time coming, and I’m sure that I’ll have second thoughts after it is posted and be tempted to take it down and run away. However, it’s time that I say this and maybe it will help someone the way similar posts have helped me.
It doesn’t mean that I’m not scared to write this and hit post. It doesn’t mean that I’m not afraid it will cause people to look at or treat me differently. It doesn’t mean that I’m “cured” or anything like that. It simply means that I’m finally able to share with others this glimpse into myself and the extreme vulnerability it brings along with it.
Let’s start with this question: What do others seen when looking at me?
Someone with an advanced degree and a good job? Someone with friends and people that care about them? A person with a unique set of skills and talents that can be used to help others? An intelligent person? A strong, confident woman?
But it’s all false.
Why can’t they see it too?
Each and every day I tell myself a series of lies. Some days, it’s only a few. Other days, my thoughts are overwhelmed with them. Depending on the day, I believe them to varying degrees – but the fact remains, I struggle with these lies, and what they do to me, everyday.
Here are some examples of the lies I tell myself:
- I am not good at anything.
- Any success I experience is the result of luck, not my actions.
- Nobody likes me; they are just being nice to me because that’s what people do.
- I’m alone in all of this.
- Everyone hates me. I have never and will never find a place to fit in.
- I’m not smart or intelligent.
- I’ve clearly done something to make that person hate me, so I should just avoid them.
- I’m going to get in trouble for something, why can’t it just happen now?
- I’m going to let that person down.
- Why bother? I’m not going to be able to succeed or make anything happen.
You’re probably thinking, “No way you think all of those things! There is so much evidence to the contrary all around you!”
My response: “Nope. There’s not. Duh.”
You see, this is what anxiety does to me. It makes the truth next to impossible to believe. It makes it hard for me to believe in myself and my talent. It makes me doubt that anyone actually likes me, and instead is just using me as a way to get something.
I can’t internalize the positive but am a magnet to the negative. You can point out things that disprove each of the lies above, but I won’t, I can’t use it to change my mind. That’s another fun aspect of anxiety – it robs you of your ability to think rationally and use logic to solve problems.
What is frustrating, is that I use my problem solving skills for many many things – everything from what to have for breakfast to how to solve problems at work to fixing some tricky CSS to get a website to look how I want it to. There are a number of things that come quite naturally to me that others struggle with. I would give anything to not have to struggle to believe in myself and shake myself free from the weights that anxiety (and its friend depression) put on my shoulders. I would trade the ability to do graphic design to not have to second guess every interaction I have with people in fear messing up. I want to believe that I am smart and not have someone pointing that out cause me to shrink away and feel uncomfortable.
But I can’t. It’s not that easy.
What people don’t realize is that I’m struggling internally to avoid making those lies become a reality. I will sacrifice myself in order to avoid letting people down or failing. I will give up my time, energy, knowledge just because the alternative – dealing with what is bothering me and trying to fight the anxiety – is just too much right now. If I ignore it, it’ll go away, right?
It also bleeds into all parts of my life. When I’m on my game and I’m able to limit the lies I tell myself, I’m able to get a lot done and not give too much time to my anxiety. However, when things start to slip – it’s all downhill from there. People around me may not see it because I’ve trained myself over the years to hide and put up a strong facade.
I spend hours thinking over things that make me more anxious and stressed. I fear even basic human interaction since I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal. I want to run away and just hide and be in a space where I feel comfortable and can control what is going on around me.
The alternative? High levels of frustration. Anger. Racing thoughts, racing heartbeat, rapid breathing, body prepared to flee at a moment’s notice, a tightness in your stomach – or in other words, a panic attack.
They are not fun, and when my anxiety is at its worst, I spend a majority of my energy fending one off leaving me exhausted.
I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
But one thing I have come to learn is that this is a part of who I am. It’s a struggle I will face moving forward and there is no magic wand to make everything better. This is one of the biggest issues with things like this – people don’t understand that I can’t just take their positive feedback and use that to keep my anxiety at bay. I can’t just put on a smiley face and be happy. I have to use various techniques – like with other illnesses – to limit my symptoms and avoid flare ups. It’s not easy, but it’s a part of who I am.
I want people to understand that if I need to retreat into myself, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I just can’t handle more things. I want people to understand that just because I have anxiety, it doesn’t mean that I’m weak or less skilled. I basically just want people to know – because I’m sick of hiding or giving vague answers to questions instead of just owning up to what is really bothering me.
I also need some things from those around me. I need to not be made to feel as though I am broken. I need support. I need people to remind me at times that taking care of me isn’t selfish. I need people I can laugh with; people to accept me for who I am. I need people to not ask too much of me, and understand if I need a break.
Right now, I’m in a place where I’m generally not happy. The things that I would normally find interesting and enjoyable seem like a chore and I try to find ways to avoid. This isn’t a good place to be in because it is letting the lies win. It may lead to me letting people down and people hating me because I was afraid to ask for help.
That needs to end. I need to know that it is ok to ask for help (something I often tell others), and learn to trust those around me. I need to take small steps to get back to a place where I feel at ease and not checking around every corner for the next huge obstacle. I need to know that anyone that judges me for this has no place being in my life.
I need to feel calm, happy, and like myself again. And not like I’m living the lies I tell myself each day.
I’ve been there before, and I can get there again, I just need to keep trying and not be afraid to ask for help.
Maybe then those lies won’t seem as real.
Edit: Right as I was debating whether or not to hit publish, this post from Thought Catalog came across on my Facebook feed. Oddly helpful since I find myself feeling so tired right now.
Note: I apologize in advance if I misuse any terms – not my intent. If I am misusing any terminology, let me know and I will make the necessary edits.
I received an email today from the Minnesota Republican Party encouraging me to contact my legislator to encourage them to support the Student Safety and Physical Privacy Act (HF 1546). Now, I’m used to being on the opposite side of the Minnesota Republican Party (MnGOP) on most things. However, I am not used to their logic being so just. . .nonsensical that it makes me head hurt and inspires me to write a blog post. Well, congrats MnGOP, today you did just that.
In the email, their reasons why this bill should pass are as follows:
“- Ensure that schools continue to provide bathrooms and locker rooms separated by biological sex.
– Ensure schools can meet individual student needs who are uncomfortable using the facility that corresponds with their biological sex by providing access to a private, faculty, or other facility.
– Protect all students’ basic physical safety and privacy rights when in personal intimate settings.
– Protect the current status of girls’ athletics.
– Maintain local control by school boards, and policy oversight by the legislature, with regard to transgender accommodations.”
Now, to be fair, I’m not on the opposite side on all of these points.
Should we “Protect all students’ basic physical safety and privacy rights when in personal intimate settings.”
Absolutely, without a doubt.
And I’m totally in support of local schools districts taking a stand in this policy area, just like the St. Paul Public Schools did earlier this week. Good on you, St. Paul School Board, for being a leader on this issue.
However, let’s look at the points where I think MnGOP logic fails.