The past few days have been so difficult. I’ve had so much time to sit and think. I did whatever I could think of to keep busy. Today I cleaned. Yesterday I went to the gym. Twice. On Thursday, I tried doing nothing. I tried to relax, sitting in a hundred positions in a dozen places trying to be comfortable as my mind cartwheeled from worry to worry.
It seems like many of my coping mechanisms are maladaptive. In college, for example, I became so overwhelmed by the things that I was being asked to do and the feeling that I couldn’t do it all that I actually avoided doing anything. Ask my roommate. He’ll tell you. Often I would wait until the last minute and by way of panic induced insomnia I could finish projects, albeit very poorly, overnight. More often I just didn’t do anything.
Avoidance is also my go-to strategy in pretty much any social situation. “He’s shy,” my friends say. “He’ll warm up.” I’m really not all that shy, though. I love to meet new people. What I don’t love is feeling pressured to say just the right things so I don’t come across as weird or boring or whatever other snap judgements people will make. Ironically enough, my quiet moping in the corner has exactly the effect I seek to avoid.
Coping with anxiety effectively is so difficult. The short term stuff – deep breathing, reframing the situation, progressive muscle relaxation- is great for managing stress in the moment. The problem for me arises after, when I have time to reflect. Then, instead of practical self-talk and gentle coaxing, I’m tearing myself down for missing opportunities. This is when I start to replay scenarios over and over and over again. At this point you may notice that I seem distracted. I may be slow to respond, I’m probably very fidgety, and dear lord do not expect to get a coherent thought out of me for the next several minutes.
In the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model you’re taught to challenge negative self-talk. First you have to recognize when you’re being too hard on yourself. That’s not easy when you’ve been degrading yourself for years, and just accept that this is my identity now. Of course, this is a skill that can be practiced, hence my being here writing about everything that makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I am able to catch myself but I have NO IDEA what to do next.
It’s like this: imagine you’re in the jungle and somebody is going to pay you to bring back a tiger. You go in with a tattered net, and nothing else. After several unsuccessful attempts you finally manage to catch a large striped cat, feeling very lucky to be intact yourself. Good for you! Now what?
Of course, my thoughts aren’t going to maul me to death, and you’d probably be more likely to die of malaria in the jungle than to catch a tiger, but the analogy stands. Even if I manage to recognize that, hey, this is a bad thought, I don’t know how to move on from there. I’m stuck in this cycle of shitty coping and hopelessness. But, one day I’m going to figure it all out.