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What Goes On in an Anxious Mind When Someone Asks to Have a 'Quick Word'

“Could I just have a quick word with you in my office?”

An innocent, harmless little sentence but one which strikes fear in to my heart. With my anxiety I tend to live my life one hour in to the future. If I have a situation coming up which I know will do a “spinal tap” on my anxiety dials, I need to know at least an hour beforehand. That’s how long it usually takes for the meds to kick in. Hearing this sort of instant request disrupts my plan for the day, and it brings instant terror.

As I walk towards the office the anxiety starts to build like the painful wail of an air-raid siren. Gradually getting quicker, stronger, more unsettling. My mouth dries, the fidgeting starts before I’ve even reached the room. My mind is already assessing temperature (both of myself and the destination); if I have anything on me that can be used as a distraction tool e.g. notepad/pen, glasses, keys; the possible duration of the “quick word;” if I’ll be able to stand or be forced to sit face-to-face and how loud that air raid siren is screaming. We’re told that manufacturers of computer processors design lumps of silicone that can handle millions and millions of bits of information each second – that ability has nothing on the anxious mind! That’s how the inside of my head feels at times like these. To the other person I may appear to be listening, giving information and asking questions. From the inside it is a completely different story.

When I speak I often feel as if it isn’t me somehow. Sure, I’m operating the jaw and muscles and words are coming out, but a part of my odd brain is asking, “Who is speaking? Is this my voice?” There is also the continual swirl of questioning what the other person is thinking about me. Do they think I’m waffling and talking rubbish? Do they think I look anxious? Are my clothes hanging OK? Do I look fat? Can they see my discomfort? Judgment is a big part of my world and has been since I was a boy.

When sitting in an airless room with the door shut and no distractions, all the questions and judgment assessments go in to hyper-drive. Like I said, a supercomputer is but slate and chalk next to anxious grey matter.

Less painful but still uncomfortable for me is meeting people in the street whom I may not have seen for a while. It’s as if my whole nervous system gets a strange kind of shock. The sort of shock you get when you have a sleep twitch. My brain seems to instantly split in to three concurrent trains of thought.

  • I haven’t seen this person in ages and I’m interested to hear what they’ve been up to.
  • Oh no – I don’t want to be trapped here on the street, I don’t want the anxiety, and I don’t want to hear all about your interesting life because mine pales in comparison and it makes me feel boring, inadequate and worthless. I want this encounter over ASAP – I want them gone!
  • Guilt, self-loathing because of thinking the above point!

They seem to last hours, and I then spend ages afterwards analyzing them in nauseating detail. Even a supercomputer must plug in to the power supply somewhere, and there must be an Off switch. How I wish I had one of those.

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Thinkstock illustration by Digital Vision.