Wednesday, February 16, 2012
Let’s talk about real stuff today. Let’s talk about anxiety, stressfulness, the “aaarrgh” times. I, for one, am at once carefree and anxious a lot of the time. I also vacillate pretty wildly. Last week, I was on the stressed side of he spectrum. I’m listening to the Avett Brothers in my ears right now, and I guess it’s kind of like their music. One song is simple, sweet, and carefree, while the next is fast, with some good shouting. I come from a long line of people with a good amount of anxiety, on both sides. We euphemize it as good at analyzing. I write about this, because I always like it when someone else articulates my thoughts. Maybe you can relate.
My anxiety is a many layered thing really. I’m not entirely sure what is the foundation of it, but all the layers interplay.
1. I just have too many ideas for the time and energy constraints of my life, of anyone’s life, really. I wrote about “Creanxiety” here awhile back. Creanxiety is a term I made up for the intersection between creativity and anxiety. I just have a lot of ideas, whether it be for shows, videos, blogs, hanging out with friends, songs–I have song ideas–me–I do, outrageous ideas for helping the world be a better place, business ideas, or any other randomness. At any one time, I’m thinking of probably 20 projects. The ideas don’t go away, I’ve still got ones from 10 years ago floating around up there.
2. I think that I can pull anything off, or rather, should be able to pull anything off. You know the term, “Thinking outside the box?” I don’t have a box, and that is problematic. All the ideas are out there, and a more realistic, box having person, would eliminate a lot of them because they are too out there, too big, or too undoable. For me, they all seem equally possible, and equally risky if I fail at them, or more accurately, fail at trying them.
3. I often feel like I am behind, or that I’m not doing enough, or I should be doing more. “Should” and “Enough” are the operative words here. I don’t know what the root of this is, quite frankly. However, I have the impression that I am capable of so much more. I have the impression that others are ahead of me. I have the impression that doing anything short of complete and thorough is some sort of tragedy. The ideas that I have are out there, I think that I can pull them off, and I think that I am failing by not having completed them yet. There is some deep stuff in this one I haven’t fully extracted. It’s one of those straight up insecurities.
4. I have a hard time being settled with unfinished things. In college, I was similar, but college life fit with it better. I could be stressed about a final, and then, that final would arrive, and be completed. Real, adult life does not allow you such beginnings and endings. Most everything is open ended. That approach doesn’t work in my real life.
5. Living with uncertainty is tough for me. Forcefully transitioning things from uncertain to certain is my main tool for dealing with anxiety. The problem is, there are so many things that are not that way. Take the job search for example. I can work really hard and really try to make things happen, but landing a job is only one part hard work, the other parts are time and luck. That is why this last year was so amazing for me, nearly every aspect of my life was uncertain, in an industry whose defining characteristic is uncertainty.
6. I assume negative things about how things are going to turn out. This is the root of most anxiety, I think. I look at my future projects, or deadlines and think, “This is not going to end well. What if…” Really, if the “What if” part of that is completed it’s, “What if I don’t get it done, or done well, or something unexpected happens.” Truthfully, though, the future is up for grabs. The future only exists in our heads, it hasn’t been born into existence yet, and when it does, it will be something altogether different, the present. I don’t find the present scary. If the future is something that only exists in our imaginations, then we get to decide if it’s good, bad, or neutral. It’s clearly a choice and I nearly always choose bad.
7. I erroneously think that I will reach a place where I won’t have to think about these things. Currently, the thought is, “Yeah, I’m stressed out, but I have to have that now, because when I get a job that is creatively and financially fulfilling, I won’t have to worry about anything.” The secret is though, when/if I reach that place, I’ll have the same hangups. Also, there is no “place” to reach. That is BS, and always unhelpful.
8. I think that I can figure things out. I think that if I just think my way through the things stressing me out, I can fix it. It’s a weird thing. The problem is really over analysis, and my solution to the problem is to analyze as much as I can, thereby creating more over analysis, thereby creating a reaction to analyze…and so on and so on.
So, those are the layers. It’s a strange stew. I throw in a bunch of ideas, mix them with the thought that I can accomplish all of them, toss into into the insecurity that I’m behind, but should be able to do more. Let it sit. Then, add in some uncertainty, a healthy dose of negativity toward how things are going to work out. Sprinkle in the lie that there is a place I can reach and that I can get there by just thinking extra hard about how to get there.
Because stirring is exactly how it feels. This mix of stuff is circulating around and around. It’s like I have a window into the side of the pot, seeing the things pass by as it is stirred. Each time something else passes by, I think, “Eek, I need to worry about that too.” I think that I need to do something about it, but every time I touch the pot, it’s hot, and I jump back scared. This plays out in my real life because I feel like I have a million things that I’m worrying about that are taking up a lot of real estate in my mental capacity. When something new comes along, a request from a friend, a detail, or something Michelle needs me to do, I think, “Oh no, I can’t handle that, I’ve got too much going on (in my head). Ooh, stress, stop it. I can’t.” The reality is that, I do not necessarily have an abundance of actual things going on, I have an abundance of things going on in my head.
Here the thing: I know the solution to this.
I realize that my stew/stirring pot analogy has already reached a limitation, I gave it a window, might as well add something else to it. This pot full of anxiety soup spinning around that has a window on the side, also has a trap door, leading down into nothingness. It doesn’t make sense? I don’t care, it’s my made up analogy.
I often think that distraction is what I need, after all, it quiets my head, and is easy. For me, this is TV, or the internet. It is a fine and entertaining short term solution, but when I turn off the sound, the spinning anxiety stew remains. Another solution is exercise, which I love, and it distracts me, tires me out, and gives me some endorphins. It works for longer, but I end up in the same place.
Sometimes it feels impossible for me to process, let alone solve. Is there a process? Is there a solution?
For me, it’s writing.
I don’t mean writing this blog, which has it’s own purpose, I mean writing for myself, that only I will see. I do this entirely too infrequently, but when I do it, I absolutely love it. I sit in a quiet room with a pen and a notebook. I just write out my thoughts, all of them, the good ones and the bad ones, the rational ones and the irrational ones. I just write them out. I’ve tried not writing before, just sitting and thinking. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t think in a straight line. Back to the analogy, my thoughts spin around. If I’m just alone in my thoughts, I go in a million different directions, following no path further than the first thought. When I write, I can follow a through line. One thought can lead to another along the same theme, which can lead to another along the same theme, and so on. What I’ve found is that the further the thoughts go along a line, the less fearful and reactive they are, and the more helpful and positive they become. The thoughts continually dig deeper toward the things that are really going on. I don’t know what it says about me, but I have a hard time mustering that same thing using just the interior of my mind.
Writing is like magic to me.
What starts as agitated scribbles reflecting the feeling of my anxiousness of my thoughts become slow, reasonable reminders. Writing is the tool that unlocks the trap door below the stew. It is the only way to flush them away. It is the only way they escape my head. It truly feels like a flushing, or an emptying.
Afterwards, the circumstances are the same, but they come at me more slowly, and seem more doable. It gets me to a place of reminders. I’m reminded that those things aren’t so scary, as the surface would want me to think. I’m reminded that the present is a wonderful place to be. I’m reminded that things aren’t about successes and failings. I’m reminded of trust. I’m reminded of stillness. For me, it is where I most reach God, as well. If God communicates in our hearts, then reaching my heart is meaningful beyond a mere anxiety cure. In fact, despite some of the ways I’ve stated things on here, approaching it as a cure doesn’t work. It doesn’t work as a goal oriented process. It is anti-goal oriented. It is about the process more than the conclusions.
You know, I never actually come back to those writings, they are just for the present, and truthfully, aside from the names of things, they are strikingly similar. If I was a more routine type of guy, I would do this routinely. I wish I did, it would be really helpful. Instead, the stew slowly rises again after the emptying and I take care of it as it comes.
I get more excited than I should when people reveal their insecurities, anxieties, and doubts. I also get excited when people say, “Oh, that’s how you are? That’s understandable.” I think everyone likes those things. I write this, in part, for that purpose. I tend to think that everyone else has their crap together and that I’m the only one like this. I’m not stressed out an anxious all the time, by any means, but this is what it looks like inside when I am. It’s kind of nice to communicate this thing that feels incoherent at times, with some coherence.
I know my mom, and a few other friends can relate to this. I wonder if anyone else can.
Let’s eat some stew.
Wait, that further screws up that analogy? Never mind.