This is the first in a series about the quirks of my anxiety brain.
How I made obsessive thinking kind of productive.
In the beginning…
The thing about anxiety is sometimes you feel like your thoughts are running a mile a minute about everything and other times your thoughts are running a million miles a minute about one thing. If my brain is in either mode I am living in my own impenetrable thought bubble world. I get stuck in a train of my own thoughts. Unfortunately they tend to spiral out of control. For example:
- I’m walking and I’m like sidewalk….sidewalk…
- How heavy is a slab of sidewalk?
- How many panels are there in this block?
- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6….
- How many panels are there in this whole city…
- …the whole country…?
- ….the whole world…
- How are we going to sustain a never ending need for sidewalks?!??!?!???!!
- What if run out places to dispose of old broken sidewalk and all the other garbage produced by humanity?!??!?!
- We could ship everything into space…
- WHAT IF THE EARTH LOSES ENOUGH MASS TO MESS WITH ITS GRAVITATIONAL FORCE THAT KEEPS US IN ORBIT
- No more sun…we’re gonna freeze and die and our frozen planet with hurtle through space forevermore into the blackness of space
- OR WE CRASH INTO THE SUN
- *cue panic*
- And if Brain is really feeling it…*repeats process with something else* 😀
And the worst part is, you feel like you are completely at the mercy of something you can’t control. I couldn’t just stop thinking like this despite the fact that I knew it was irrational. I recognized the silliness of thinking like this and often used (and still do) examples like this to explain to people what it’s like to be me in a humorous way. Even though my rational mind knows that these thoughts are completely absurd, my brain overreacts and kicks into apocalypse mode and perceiving them as a real threat to my existence.
Dealing with it method #1:
When I was formally told that I had an anxiety problem, I began to read obsessively about anxiety. I knew of social anxiety (which I have had), and PTSD, but not at all about generalized anxiety. When I say obsessively, I don’t just mean I was googling all willy nilly. I was also reading academic articles, medical textbooks, anything I could get my hands on. All the months of research has turned me into a self-proclaimed quasi expert about my own condition.* As meta as that is, it doesn’t actually help you get better. But as far as coping mechanisms go I guess it’s fairly harmless. At least I would be focused enough on doing something that didn’t end in a panic attack.
Anxiety itself (in its theoretical and physical form) consumed my life. I could hardly think about anything else other than about anxiety, my own anxieties, and my anxiety about my anxiety for months. I was bringing it up in conversation a lot which then turned into worrying that people would start associating me solely with anxiety.** Talking about mental health is super important, but I feel like I was overwhelming people by being anxiety personified. For example, ” HI I’M ANXIOUS AND I DON’T KNOW WHY!!!! 😀 DID YOU KNOW THAT RIGHT NOW MY WHOLE BODY IS FLOODED WITH ADRENALINE AND I CAN’T THINK WEEEEEE…. wait, what were we talking about? I GOTTA GO FOR A RUN kbyyyyeeee.”
One night I put two and two together. Dogs make Karen feel better + Karen does not have dog = Karen should get dog.
Once I decided that I had a true medical need for a dog in my life I channeled my obsessive thoughts into focusing on researching literally everything about dogs. (Also, I may have run out of new information to read about anxiety). This new topic had a productive purpose. I watched documentaries, read books, memoirs, academic studies about dogs for anxiety and depression, and so on and so forth, you get the idea. I did a lot of reading.
So let me tell ya, I am so ready for this dog.
The other great part about deciding that I’m getting a dog is that I can talk about it to people! Who doesn’t love dogs?*** However, I have unintentionally built up quite a reputation as a crazy dog lady. I feel like my level of obsession has dwindled as I’ve gotten more of a handle on living with anxiety. My dad doesn’t voice concerns about my level of obsession about dogs anymore. I did try to explain that it was either distract myself with dogs or spiral into panic mode.
Key take aways:
Channel obsessive thought energy into something productive, like a project.
Project: Acquire Dog √
Project: Write about dog in progress
*My family doctor is not the most up to date on mental illness, particularly anxiety, and just from talking to her, I can say I know more than she does. Which is good in a way because now I know that I need someone else to help me, and can tell who is a good resource and who is not. (She asked me what was the root cause of my anxiety… And I’m like, ‘literally everything and absolutely nothing’. Then she kept asking and I was like, ‘duuudeeee you need to staaawwp. It’s just a state of being k?’).
** I mean, I wasn’t broadcasting it to just anyone, but I would definitely bring it up a lot at home.
*** Don’t answer this.