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Doing Emotional Work.

5 November 2014

I tend to operate at high levels of anxiety. I think this comes as a surprise to no one who knows me, even just online. I fear that sometimes this comes across as pointless drama, but in actuality, I’m regularly feeling deeply concerned about at least two or three aspects of what I consider to be my core identity. Home, career, relationship, family of origin, health, social interactions. I’m nearly always distressed about a few of these in one way or another. The one central aspect of my life that does not trouble me is my sobriety. There I fell centered and stable.

Recently someone I care about told me that they were relieved that I didn’t freak out over a minor issue. I found it jarring. And they were right to expect me to: I have in the past and I will again. The difference, this time, is I had advance warning and knew what to expect. So I didn’t freak out because even though the plan was a little anxiety-provoking, things went according to plan. I’m often like a panicky investor: it’s not bad news that’s the problem, it’s unexpected news. But I was a little distressed that my anxiety provoked a negative reaction in someone I want to feel positively towards me.

I have never been the picture of mental health. If I had a portrait in the attic, it would be of a drunken lunatic, terrified and hollowed, callow, vain, obsessed, and picking at scabs. I suffer from at least two mental illnesses and possibly three or four. Of these, I think two are pretty solidly in remission. But my anxiety is not. And I need to do something about that.

I used to take Xanax. I like Xanax, but I can’t take it anymore.

When seeking answers to mental and emotional issues that trouble me, I use tools I learned in psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and Alcoholics Anonymous. My anxiety is usually related to something real: there is a leak in my house; I have more work to do that I think I can get done by my deadlines; I have made an ass of myself among my friends. I need to look at where in my mind those distresses nestle, to begin their work of causing me to fixate and ruminate.

Usually it relates to feeling safe. To the fear of losing something I enjoy, like a relationship or a place to work or live. Separating my anxious fantasy from my reality is difficult for me. The first difficulty is just recognizing that I am catastrophizing, or that my anxiety may not be in line with the gravity of my real-world situation. Once I’ve done that, I will often vacillate rapidly between feeling silly, self-comfort, and embracing the anxiety.

Sometimes there’s a behavioral solution. Meditate. Bathe. Run. Sometimes I simply have to endure it until the circumstances change. I used to drink, or take (prescribed) pills. Now, I will talk to a sponsor. Or simply try to engage more deeply with the calmer places that hide inside me during times of stress. And one way or another, I manage the anxiety without going completely insane.

But finding a way to not become anxious in the first place? I am still working on that. And I don’t know the solution there. It may simply be beyond me. And that’s ok. I have the right to experience my world the way I do. I would like to experience less anxiety, but that may not be an option for me. It is not how I feel that is the problem: it is how I respond to my feelings. And there, I have power.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. aimee permalink
    5 November 2014 10:38

    I don’t think there can be any doubt that a tendency to high anxiety has a strong hereditary component….. all of us in the family are worries and gnawers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with moderate anxiety – it can be a good motivator sometimes. Of course we can’t let it take over. I struggle with so called “global anxiety.” It’s just free-floating, looking for anything to glom onto. So for example I can reliably be counted on to freak out fifteen minutes after leaving the house wondering if I turned the stove off or not. I stress out a great deal more than anyone ought to about climate change and other problems over which I have zero control. I used to take an SSRI for anxiety but I haven’t in about four years now. I manage it with a mix of strategies – some healthier than others. I may need to go back on the meds at some point. It’s a better option that constant stress-eating.

  2. Dee permalink
    6 November 2014 11:44

    Meditation has greatly improved my anxiety, I used to have horrible panic attacks also. I also have a teacher at the Zen Center and go for day long sits every few months. Interesting work getting to know myself on a deeper level with the help of a sangah…

  3. Syd permalink
    17 November 2014 22:31

    I started taking an anti-anxiety med years ago and still take a very low dose. I am not going to mess with what appears to be working and chilling me out. With depression running in both sides of my family, I am not adverse to taking medication that helps to reduce anxiety.

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