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Anxiety Makes Me Think Everything Is My Fault

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As someone with an anxiety disorder, my mind is always in overdrive, racing at top speed trying to figure everything out. For each and every problem that presents itself, my brain reasons out hundreds of possible reasons why, usually settling on the worst possible scenario or the one that bears the most personal responsibility. I see myself as broken and flawed, so I naturally assume the fault must ultimately rest with me.

When a friend does not acknowledge my messages or doesn’t respond back right away, my mind races to decipher what I must have done to upset them without realizing it. I ponder whether or not I’ve been such an awful friend, caught up within my own misery and personal problems. I believe I must have devalued their friendship, damaging it irreparably, causing them to give up on me and walk away. Somehow, the worst possible probability always seems more likely to me rather than the sheer possibility that they might just be busy, distracted by their own lives at the moment.

When my partner does not respond to me with absolute elation or passion, I start to wonder whether they are falling out of love with me. I dwell on how much of a handful I have always been in the relationship, whether real or imaginary. I wonder whether they’ve stumbled onto someone else they mesh with better and I honestly could not blame them if it were to happen because I know how horrible I can be sometimes. No matter how much or how often they tell me they love me and they cannot imagine their life without me, my anxiety leaves me with an overwhelming sense of insecurity that convinces me that anyone else in the world would be a better choice than I am for them.

If something goes wrong at school or at work, I automatically assume I must be to blame and seek out how I must be ultimately responsible. Even if I know for a fact I had nothing to do with a situation happening, I look for areas where my intervention may have prevented the mishap and I blame myself for inaction. I feel as if I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, but either way, I’m still to blame.

If something breaks or stops working, I trace back to my last time using it, considering every irresponsible action I may have done that could have contributed to its demise. Somewhere in my head, I rationalize that forgetting to shut off a machine when I was done using it once six months ago must have ultimately caused a chain reaction that led to its deterioration and destruction. It doesn’t matter if a dozen other people have each done a dozen different things since then to contribute to the situation at hand. In my mind, my mistakes are so glaringly horrendous that I cannot fathom any other explanation being more likely. It doesn’t matter if an item was past its prime or threadbare and past due to be replaced. My anxiety tells me it would still be usable if not for me.

I internalize everything. I assume the chaos within myself is constantly leaking out into the world around me, seeping into everything I come in contact with, making everything ultimately worse. My mind races straight for the absolute worst possible scenario, making a pit stop at every other negative possibility along the way. My anxiety tends to blind me to the positive possibilities or even to the simple likelihood of coincidences or happenstance. It discards any randomness, always looking for a definitive answer and cause. There must always be a reason why, must always be someone to blame, and my mind has designated me as the sacrificial lamb.

I do not do this intentionally. It isn’t that I’m just being a “Negative Nancy,” refusing to listen to reason or see the positive side of things. When I blame myself, I am not having a pity party, expecting others to feel bad for me, too.  I genuinely feel responsible whenever anything goes wrong. Part of having an anxiety disorder is having a brain that is constantly, consistently, working in overdrive, looking to connect and explain everything around me, whether those connections are real or imaginary. Even if those links seem ludicrous to others looking in, when my mind makes those connections, they feel genuine. My brain is often on autopilot, with me just along for the ride. Whenever the rational side of my mind tries to speak up, speak out, to even suggest I might be overreacting or making something out of nothing, that voice is drowned out by a hundred other voices, a thousand other possibilities, of ways and reasons that I might be, must be, wrong.

If I’ve ever had a friend in the past who has distanced themselves because they felt I was too much of a handful, part of me assumes other friends will follow suit and discard me, as well. If I’ve ever had a partner fall out of love with me or cheat with someone else, part of me braces myself for the next time it will happen, leaving me abandoned and alone. Because of this, I have trouble letting people in, trouble trusting others and allowing myself to be vulnerable. I am terrified of being hurt, of putting myself in that position again. As much as part of me knows my current friends and partner are not those people who hurt me in the past, my brains keep pushing to link everything together, to make connections even where none truly exist. Even worse, when I am faced with pain or abandonment from others, I still question myself, looking to take personal responsibility for the choices and actions of everyone else.

Perhaps even worse than the initial blame game I play with myself is the way my mind will keep building and compounding my theories upon themselves, escalating them to unfathomable proportions. I build these fragile houses of cards in my mind, adding new card after card until I’ve created a precarious tower of self-loathing and blame. I tear into myself with a never-ending monologue that continuously harps that if I had just tried harder, just been better, not been so broken, been more responsible, none of this would have happened. My mind taunts me, telling me I should have known better than to even try, reminding me that everything I do, everything else I try, will fail, too, in time. I tell myself the lie that I am destined to be alone, that sooner or later everyone always leaves, then push everyone away, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I allow my anxiety to convince me that failure and loneliness is an inevitable part of my life and I don’t deserve any better. I sincerely believe it’s just what I do, just how my life will go, that I cannot fight the inevitable.

Even if it eventually comes to light that I was not to blame, even if the situation had a simple explanation that has nothing to do with me, it does not quell my anxiety. Instead, I tell myself, “It might not have been me this time…” as I begin to mentally brace myself for the next time I actually will be at fault. I chalk it up to sheer luck and I don’t see myself as ever truly lucky, so I consider it a rare “free pass,” unlikely to ever happen again.

I often catch myself traveling down that anxiety-ridden path, needlessly panicking before I even know all the facts. I find myself looking to rest all the blame on myself even before I fully understand the situation or its underlying cause. I often find myself taking any distance from family and friends personally, without considering their lives are busy, too and that life happens to us all.  I feel like I have to be ever-vigilant, ever self-aware, so I have even the slightest chance to rationalize with myself before the inevitable self-blame-game begins. Even then, it is a struggle within myself because my body automatically reacts to the anxiety festering in my mind. Even if the logical part of my brain is able to determine I am not at fault, there’s always that kernel of doubt bouncing around in my head, asking “…But how do you know for sure?”

Years ago, I had a friend that used to jokingly tell me, “Beth.. get off the cross. We need the wood.” It’s a sentiment I’ve come to relate heavily to my own anxiety. After all, I have been needlessly carrying the burden, real or imaginary, of everything going on around me for my entire life. I am slowly learning to differentiate between the rational and irrational, taking ownership of my own actions and decisions without carrying the weight of the rest of the world on my shoulders. While I cannot will away my anxiety disorder with mind over matter, being able to catch myself and separate what is probable from what is unlikely is a good start. I may have to live with this anxiety monster on my back, but I don’t need to keep feeding it.

This story originally appeared on Unlovable.

Unsplash photo via Hai Phung

Originally published: June 22, 2018
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