Category : anxiety

Cogito Ergo Cogito

There’s this fun thing you do when you have anxiety: overthinking. Yes, lots of people overthink things. Most probably do at some time or another. With anxiety, it’s a whole ‘nother level of overthinking. Catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, paranoia, hypochondria. Your fight-or-flight button, blinking like a sputtering neon sign, spins your thoughts all over the place, and trying to calm yourself down, picking the irrational thoughts away from the rational, when you can’t really tell which thoughts are rational or irrational, can get you paralyzed in a state of overanalyzing everything.

“Josh, you overthink things,” a friend in college told me once while I was fretting over something.

“Really?” I said. “Do you think so? I dunno…maybe I do, but–”

“You’re literally doing it right now,” she said.

Anxious overthinking is tremendously unfun. When it’s happening, you really wish you could shut your thinking off (or at least, as Sarah Fader says, put your brain on airplane mode).

However…

There’s another kind of thinking I do that may appear to people who aren’t me as overthinking. It isn’t.

I think a lot about how I live my life, how I do the things I do, how I don’t do the things I don’t do, how I dress, what food I eat and how I eat it, what I’m reading, what I want to read next, what TV shows I’m watching, what TV shows I want to watch next, what I write about and how I’m going to write it…it never ends. And it’s never going to end.

Maybe it’s an ENFP thing. I’m a┬ácontemplative, intuitive extrovert with energetic, introverted feelings. I’m always going to be thinking of an Ideal Josh living an Ideal Life…and I’m never going to be that person living that life. I’m never going to be satisfied with The Way Things Are Right Now. I’m never going to stop wanting to tweak things. Rearrange, recolor, start, stop, reverse, play back, add reverb. I’m always going to bouncing from cloud to cloud in my head. And because I generate ideas out loud, you’ll often see me posting online, or hear me in personal conversations, pondering my writing and how I approach it, or my job and how I perform it, or, to get really meta, how I think about thinking. And from the outside, it can look like I’m overthinking things, especially when you’re used to me stuck in anxious thought patterns. But I’m not overthinking things, I’m thinking things just right…for me.

When I verbalize these trains of thought, I invariably get someone telling me, “Stop overthinking it! Just do what you want to do.” Which isn’t bad advice, per se.

But what I want to do is…think this stuff out. And rethink it again later. I want to try living my life one way, then try living it another, then another and another. The universe is a laboratory, and my life in an experiment. My natural state is motion and change, thinking out loud as I go. I’m not a noun, I’m a verb.

So if it seems like I’m contemplating my life a little too much and I should just relax and do what comes naturally…that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m just…joshing.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly what this post is.


Self-Diagnostic 5

I think it’s time for another self-assessment check-in on how my brain is doing. This is gonna be fun! Let’s go! (more…)


After the Revels

Insomnia is a monster that stalks the night.

I take Xanax nightly to help me fall asleep and sleep through the night. It works better than anything else I’ve ever fought insomnia with. I don’t take it every night, though. If I don’t have to work the next day, I’ll sometimes let myself stay up as long as I want to, which is usually until somewhere between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. And some days I’m so tired, my weariness is stronger than my insomnia and I don’t need any help with sleep.

Last Friday, I woke up sleepy and couldn’t really shake that sleepiness all day. I drank as much coffee as I usually do (2-3 cups) and realized that I’d hit a wall where drinking more coffee wouldn’t help me with my tired sluggishness, it would just crank up my anxiety, so after lunch, I switched to drinking water for the rest of the day, like I usually do.

That afternoon, I wrote in an email to my girlfriend, “I’m so tired, I could easily fall asleep as soon as I eat some dinner. Then again, I might also get a second wind and stay up until well after midnight.” Surprise, surprise, I caught that second wind and did some writing until around 1 a.m. I didn’t have to work the next day, so I was happy to stay up and write. Then I switched to reading on the sofa, and a short while later, I was starting to nod off. “Well,” I mumbled to my cat, “off to bed I go.” I brushed my teeth, shuffled to my bedroom, and climbed under the covers with a sleepy smile on my face.

And that’s when the anxiety kicked in. Thanks a lot, Sandman!

When people talk about their insomnia, they usually talk about dwelling on bad memories, spiraling thoughts of mistakes and regrets, or internal monologues about their worthlessness and hopelessness. I was spared all of that, Yay! What I got instead was just a growing unease and edginess. Feh! The bed felt too cold. My bedroom was too dark. The light coming from the bathroom was too bright. The bed felt too warm. I couldn’t stop fidgeting.

After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, I gave up and went for the Xanax. I took a double dose because that generally knocks me out as if I’d gotten into the ring with Muhammad Ali. (Rest in power, champ.) But not that night. It was still at least half an hour, curled up in front of the TV, watching comfort shows, before my brain finally went dark. I slept well through the rest of the night and yet I still woke up besieged by anxiety that lasted all morning.

Insomnia is a monster that stalks the night. Sometimes you get the monster, but sometimes, the monster gets you.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.


Some Random Thoughts About Anxiety

Sometimes I’m not sure if my anxiety is getting worse as I get older, or if I’m just more conscious of when my anxiety hits. What if I’ve forgotten or blocked out past times when my anxiety was bad?

A couple of years ago, I reduced the amount of caffeine I was consuming in an effort to help lower my anxiety and not be bothered by insomnia as much. It didn’t help at all.

Taking deep breaths can help bring me down when I’m having a panic attack. When I’m having high anxiety? Not necessarily. It’s like my dial is cranked up from “normal” but not high enough to be “panic”, so if I start to take deep breaths and I don’t begin to feel better, “I’m not feeling better” becomes a source of anxiety.

Sometimes I can identify what triggered an anxiety attack. Sometimes I can’t. This is what makes Generalized Anxiety Disorder generalized. And disordered.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I can get hit by an anxiety attack, which can then blow up into a panic attack, in a place or situation that I usually consider safe, comfortable, fun. Anxiety’s an asshole like that.

Despite the wonky chemistry going on in my head, I really do love my brain. It’s where a lot of my best dreams and ideas come from.


Base Under Siege

I was watching the latest episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD tonight. It’s a particularly intense episode, a “base under siege” episode, like a lot of classic Doctor Who stories, like the amazing film by Howard Hawks, The Thing from Another World, and the also amazing remake by John Carpenter, The Thing. A place that’s supposed to be safe is suddenly closed off from the rest of the world. Monsters are all around you, lurking in the shadows, just on the other side of a closed door. You don’t know who you can trust. You’re not even sure if you can trust yourself. You’re wired on adrenaline and exhausted from running and fighting. You’re battered and bloody, inside and out. You want to run and you want to fight, but you can’t tell which is the right thing to do, so instead you want to curl up in a ball and do nothing.

That’s what anxiety feels like to me. Places I consider safe and fun suddenly feel threatening or vulnerable. People I consider friends seem distant, dismissive, unconcerned with how I am. I’m on edge, but I’m also tired, drained. I want to run and hide, but I also want to lash out, yell, break things. Mostly I want to collapse, curl up into a tight ball, and cry until whatever’s happening has stopped.

Anyway, this Agents of SHIELD episode. The scientist Jemma Simmons, bloody, bruised, heartbroken, afraid, begins to break down. Tears stream down her face as she says over and over that she can’t go on. And the one person she knows she can trust tells her, “It’s okay. I’ll do all the fighting. I won’t let them get you. We can do this.” Then the two of them get up, throw a loose plan together, and get on with the battle.

And it hit me: the next time I feel overwhelmed by everything around me, the next time I feel hurt and scared to the point of paralysis, the next time I feel like I can’t go on, I need to remind myself that I have friends who love me and will protect me, doing the fighting for me. I need to remember that even if I feel like it’s too much and I can’t go on, I can. And when I get through the anxiety–because even though it feels like the anxiety will never stop when I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack, the anxiety always goes away sooner or later–when I get through it and I need to rest, I can let myself rest. Because I damn well deserve a rest after that.

This was written for Sarah Fader and her Twitter hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike.