The Little Ways I Take Back Control in My Life With Anxiety
I’ve learned over the years that the biggest trigger for my anxiety is the loss of control in my life. I tend to make up for the lack of control I have over certain things by being over-the-top in control of things I know I can. I know I can’t control the actions or behavior of others, but I can control my own. Therefore, I tend to be extremely aware of the things I do and say. This is why I spend hours having hypothetical conversations with people in my head in the slim chance I will actually have that conversation.
My anxiety also makes me super aware of my surroundings. When I walk into a coffee shop or go to the cinema, the first thing I’ll look for is the exit sign. In the coffee shop, I’ll always choose the seat facing the front door. In the cinema, I’ll always choose the aisle seat, not just for the extra room, but in case of an emergency, you can bet I’ll be the first one running for freedom. These are the things I can control, and it’s important you don’t think I’m a little weird for wanting this.
Included in that loss of control is needing everything to be planned in advance, down to the littlest thing. For example, if I want to go out with somebody who isn’t my best friend and who knows my anxiety in and out, I can’t just make spur-of-the-moment plans. I can’t just say, “Sure, I’d love to!” when somebody asks me out for coffee — that sends me into a tither. As anal as it may sound, I need to know certain things. For example, if I get invited to a gathering, I need to know how to get there, who’s going to be there, how many people are going to be there, how far it is from home in case I need to leave in the event of a panic attack and how much time I can tolerate being there before I can bail without seeming rude.
Something important to understand is that even though you may be the reason I may be anxious, it’s never anything personal. I know it might be puzzling to know that you’re the trigger of my anxiety and you might take it personally, but it’s just how my brain reacts to what a person might say or do, not to who they are or my relationship to them. My brain is like a road map with all kinds of lines going every which way, and something a person does often triggers my thoughts to take off down an entirely different road than the one that person intended me to go. Then I get a little lost until I get brought back to where I started.
The look of my anxiety takes its form in one of two ways. The first is when my body will become rigid, stiff and I’ll go completely silent. I’ll be afraid to make even the slightest move in case it sends the entire planet spinning off its axis. Take, for example, the time I took the train with my best mate for the first time. I spent the entire trip stiff as a board, stuck in my seat, listening to a relaxation meditation track on my iPod and I freaked out whenever anybody tried to sit in the seat next to me. The other form is the opposite where I’ll talk your ear off because I’m afraid of creating an awkward silence, which ends up triggering even more anxiety. I’ll be like an out-of-control toddler on an overdose of sugar. For example, when I went to a friend’s Jack and Jill, where I was surrounded by a bunch of old classmates, the majority of whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty years, I spent most of the night talking non-stop to an old friend, feeling like I couldn’t shut up and that I was amped up on adrenaline. With my anxiety, you never know which one you’ll get so unfortunately, you have to prepare for both.
Asking me to go somewhere where I have no access to go online is also a serious issue. Most people use online to keep in contact with people , to play games, or what have you, but I use online as more of a safety tool. I’ve developed a lot of safety tools through the computer over the years, such as contacts, websites, forums, etc. that I can use to talk me down from any crises. For me, if there’s no Wi-Fi or internet connection where I’m planning on going, I’m going to stay right here. It also means I will sometimes cancel plans at the last minute. I try not to, and I don’t want to, but sometimes my anxiety has other plans. It tells me that if I go, I’ll end up saying or doing something ridiculous, make a fool of myself and everybody will spend the rest of the night avoiding that “strange girl in the corner of the room.”
Finally, sometimes you might think I’m not listening to what you say or that I don’t care that we’re hanging out because I seem to be in some far-off, distant land. But I actually am listening and I do care very much about the time we spend together. However, please know that sometimes, it’s just my anxiety that gets in the way of me truly being in the moment with you. I try very hard not to let it interfere and, believe it or not, most of the time, I do have it under control and I can enjoy myself just as much as anybody else. But just like you when you have a bad day at work or get in a fight with your significant other, it’s very much the same way with my anxiety. Most of the time, we get along but sometimes, it just happens.
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Thinkstock photo via grau-art