Anxiety lies

There’s been a lot of posts on Facebook and Instagram recently (at least on the pages that I follow, which to be fair there’s more than a few about mental health) about anxiety and how it doesn’t look like a lot of people expect it to. Even when I first got the “official” anxiety diagnosis a year or so, I didn’t realize that a lot of the things that I was experiencing could be attributed to anxiety. Headaches, upset stomach and digestion problems, irritability, insomnia, jumpiness, anticipating the worst (I honestly thought that this was a bipolar thing, which it very well might be, but I personally think it’s the anxiety).

But how can you trust yourself when your brain is constantly lying to you? Telling you that you’re not good enough, making up scenarios with absolutely no evidence and then convincing you to believe them (things like your husband is cheating on you while you’re at work, that everyone is just pretending to be your friend and they really can’t stand you, and on and on and on), making you reinterpret things that happened into something totally different.

My anxiety, at least, gives me these really dark, fucked up thoughts. These are not rooted in any kind of reality, but these are the things that my brain has convinced me are legitimate fears, no matter how times I’m told these are not going to happen.

***This is going to get a little graphic, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach.***

We have an alarm system on the house. Not because we’re worried about things getting stolen, but because I’m convinced that someone is going to break into the house and mutilate, maim, and disembowel the cats and hang their bodies on the wall. I know, this is totally fucked up and has no root in reality, but this is one of my greatest fears. Not many people know about this, but the ones that do all agree that this is one of the most fucked up things that they’ve ever heard and very not likely to actually happen.

I know that. I know this is irrational. But I can’t make it go away.

***It’s safe to start reading again***

I’ve talked about these dark thoughts in therapy (and believe me, this isn’t the only one, but probably the most common for me), and the best solution we’ve come up with is to acknowledge them, understand that this is not reality, and try to move on.

Yeah, easier said than done.

What people don’t realize is that when your own brain is the one that’s lying to you, it becomes really hard to differentiate what is real and what isn’t. Mike and I have played the Real or Not Real game a few times when I really need help sorting through these thoughts. Sometimes they get so bad that I really can’t make sense of things.

I wish that there was a better course of action other than the “acknowledge, understand, move on” bullshit, because I have to tell you, sometimes this is almost impossible. Please don’t take this as bragging, but I’d like to think that I’m a fairly intelligent person. Which makes not being able to trust myself that much harder. I hate it all. I don’t wish this on anyone.

Anxiety lies, and she is also a cruel mistress.

Do you know where your llama is?

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I worked 26 days straight between the two jobs, and by yesterday I was dead. I was exhausted, had a low-grade fever, my stomach was acting up… I ended up calling off for the last day of that stretch. I just couldn’t do it. I ended up sleeping on the couch until 4 PM. Clearly, I needed it, because I don’t sleep like that unless I’m sick or dealing with an episode. All looks clear on the mental health front, so I’m guessing it was just due to overwork and my body finally said “hell no” to another day working. I ended up doing nothing the whole day, other than finally finishing Broadchurch and making some progress on The Crown, and it was glorious. I never got out of my pajamas, I ate leftover pizza and generally was a lump on the couch.

I was talking with a friend of mine about anxiety (she suffers, too), and about how it’s constantly the monkey on our back. I know personally, even when my bipolar is in control and I’m in a euthymic mood state, the anxiety is still there. It gnaws at me constantly, telling me how everything I do is wrong and how all I’m going to do is screw up everything in my life. It ends up with a lot of self-sabotage. For example, I almost walked out of my full-time job a few weeks ago. It was one of those nights where nothing was going right and we were getting killed, and I was convinced that I was going to be fired for some (probably) minor thing that in reality, I had no control over. My thought process was that it was better to do it myself rather than wait for the hammer to fall. And you know what? I didn’t get fired. Nothing really went all that wrong that night, but at the time, it felt like everything I did was the wrong thing. That niggling voice in my head convinced that this was it. The end of the line.

But it’s funny what anxiety can convince you of – you’re going to be fired, your husband is going to leave you, the house is going to be foreclosed on (ignoring the fact that you haven’t missed a payment), you’re never going to find a job in your field that pays enough, your friends don’t actually like you, and on and on and on. I know that none of these thoughts are rational, and I’ve spent a hell of a long time in therapy learning to identify these thoughts and brush them aside. But when you’re in the throes of it, it’s so damn hard to keep a clear head and remember the things that you’ve learned. That little, annoying voice gets louder and louder and louder until it blocks out any rational thought, and all your left with are these thoughts jumping around inside of your head that you know, on some level at least, are false. But you can’t make them shut up.

When you’re finally back to your rational mind you know that everything that your brain has been feeding you is false. But it all felt real. It sounded plausible. It made sense. And you feel like a crazy person for ever having believed it.

This is the monkey on my back. This is anxiety for me. And I wish I knew a way to make it shut the hell up once and for all.

That’s not real…is it?

So… I was doing a little research this week on a problem I seem to have (that my therapist claims everyone has, I just have it a little more often than “normal” people). He calls them intrusive thoughts. I call them scary as hell.

These are the thoughts that come along seemingly randomly. Things like, while you’re driving, “I wonder what would happen if I wrecked my car into that pole.” Or (among my personal favorites) while holding something sharp, “I wonder what it would feel like if I stabbed myself in the stomach.” Another good one is while standing at the sink getting ready, “Mike could easily come up behind me with the shotgun.” Not that he’d ever do that. But there it is.

Yeah. Not fun. Fucked up. Creepy. And totally jarring.

I do have ones that aren’t quite as violent. The thought that I’m going to get fired is a common one. They’re still unsettling even if they aren’t as violent.

My therapist claims that everyone to some degree or another has these thoughts, but the regularity and severity of mine are definitely a symptom of my anxiety. It’s unsettling to have these thoughts, even if I don’t act on them. And I know they’re not based in reality.

It’s interesting, while I was doing some research for this post last week, really the only mentions I could find of these types of thoughts were women who postpartum. They talked about having thoughts that you couldn’t take care of your baby, or that something bad was going to happen to you or your baby, etc. But none of these websites dealt fully with the fucked-up-ness that these everyday thoughts bring with them.

Anyway, my therapist (his name is Sean, I don’t feel like typing out ‘my therapist’ every time I mention him) and I came up with a plan. I would develop some kind of mental totem, if you will, to remind myself that these thoughts are irrational. This works most of the time, mainly because my totem is so absurd. It started out as Leonard Nemoy wearing a crossing guard vest, holding a stop sign, saying “this is illogical.” Then I watched a whole lot of Futurama and it became that Leonard Nemoy. I think it works so well for me because it is absolutely ridiculous. But it’s a visual I’ve trained myself to create quickly, and it makes me stop and really address that the thought isn’t logical or true, and I can dismiss it.

It can be hard to realize that these thoughts aren’t real, or aren’t something you would do. But they AREN’T real, they AREN’T true, and you AREN’t crazy for having them.