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How ‘Overthinking’ Affects Me as a Person With Anxiety and Chronic Illness

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My mind fixates on things, and sometimes, I just let it do its thing. Overthinking has always been my downfall. I overthink myself into incredibly anxious and stressful states of mind, and a part of me stands back, observing, tutting away: “You’re doing that thing again… you know the one? Where you take something small and won’t let it go? Dog with a bone, you are; a dog with a bone.”

I’ve always done it — fallen into the stress-pool of overthinking. When I was young, and really sick, I used to believe people were watching me all the time; that they could see from the outside into my damaged lungs, and they knew just how defective my body really was. The skin and bones did nothing to protect me from their x-ray vision. And I’d walk down the street, with my head twitching nervously, unable to stop: because someone might be looking at me. It sounds so ridiculous now. I don’t do it anymore; I’m over the fixation I had of hiding my illness, pretending it really wasn’t…

Really? So what about the red van the other night? I was driving home in the dark, and a red van whooshed in, way too close behind me, and the driver started honking his horn. I was tired, I had lost focus for a minute and my speed had dipped below the 60 kilometer limit. That’s the only reason I could come up with for red-van-man’s behavior. So I pushed my foot down, picked up my speed… and red-van-man continued to follow me, super close, intermittently honking his horn. My anxiety kicked in again, like the flick of a switch, and I convinced myself it wasn’t safe to drive home, where my husband would undoubtedly have scared off any red-van-honking-man. I didn’t opt for the “sensible” though; I ended up driving past my street, and even after red-van-man eventually turned another way, I continued driving until I was utterly convinced he wasn’t lurking somewhere… and then I headed home to my husband. And since that day, every time I see a red van, my stomach clenches and I check my speed.

It was the same years ago, when I wasn’t able to get pregnant, and all I ever saw were pregnant women. It didn’t seem to matter where I was; I could always spot a pregnant woman. Sometimes even pregnant women with young children. And every time, my mind thumped into overthinking, stressed-out mode again, and reminded me, again, how useless this sick body of mine was, and how ridiculous I was to even imagine I would ever join the tribe of the wandering pregnant women. Those beautiful, happy, stressed, tired, elated women did nothing to me, not a thing. It was all the internal machinations of my mind that made me feel the visceral pain, when it reminded me, yet again, that I was never going to be good enough to be a parent myself. Until I was, and suddenly all of those pregnant women disappeared. I had become her. I was her. I was pregnant. I was a mother.

And in a flash, the years disappearing behind my eyes at a startling rate, the miracle baby who had pushed the swarm of pregnant woman away had grown up. He was so handsome, and tall and slim, and beautiful. And he died.

So now, at the supermarket in particular, it’s the tall, skinny young men that my brain refuses to unsee. They are everywhere. What is it about the supermarket that makes me see them? Is it the fierce concentration on the list I’m holding in my hand, and the confusion I seem to face every time, when at least one item isn’t where I would have expected it to be? Is it that then that allows my brain to run away with me again, and see shadows of Harry in the isles, those walking reminders of him? Only to remember, in that split second when I turn to smile at him, that it’s really not Harry? Should I just give up on the supermarket, and dive into online shopping?

Or should I just embrace that knowing I grew into (eventually), that even if people with x-ray vision could see though my skin and bones and recognize how sick and sore I am at times, it wouldn’t matter. Because I knew who I was, and I knew I was so much more than the pain within me. I am so much more than the pain within me, whether physical or mental. I am so much more than that.

It is well beyond time that I allow the part of me that stands back, observing the overthinking, to step forward. Tutting away about a dog with a bone serves no purpose. Reminding me that I am an overcomer, that I am resilient and there will always be red-van-men on the roads is more useful. Instead of tutting about online shopping, prod me into the realization that those unconscious glimpses I get of Harry are more of a blessing than a reason for heartache. The observer is just a part of me, after all, and I get to choose the internal dialogue (or at least the volume at which it plays).

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Getty Images photo via stevanovicigor

Originally published: March 19, 2018
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