That old vicious cycle screaming within
As I talk of the building with the crashin’ about
~ Mother Love Bone, Mindshaker Meltdown
A big part of managing my anxiety has come from not thinking about certain things. I’ve had to learn how to control my thoughts. If thoughts were bugs, i’d be Willie Scott in the Temple of Doom. I had to reach my hand into the little tunnel full of the creepiest and crawliest of them in order to release myself from the prison i’d created in my own mind.
How can i stand there, covered in little fears with whispering legs, and then willingly place my questing hand into a black hole filled with more chittering terrors?
Well, i don’t think about it, that’s how.
Wrangling my thoughts seemed an impossible task. I was always at their mercy: racing thoughts, invasive ones too, obsessions aplenty. All cavorting through the big carnival tent of my skull, carousing with impunity. I was just Weary Willie (different Willie – look him up) who came in to sweep up all the Cracker Jack and elephant shit when it was finally over.
I grew sick and tired of being at their whims, various and sundry. I also got pissed off. My brain, admittedly a bit of a fixer upper, has some big, beautiful windows that merely needed a good cleaning, and the open beam cathedral ceiling is really quite spectacular. If i didn’t agree to take on the job of getting her marketable, she may very well have been razed to the ground.
No promises, but i think i’m done with the analogies for now.
Anyone who’s been in the grips of runaway thinking knows how hard it is to stop. And that thing you know you shouldn’t think about, because you’ll be lost to time and reason, too. I emerged from those dismal sessions empty of everything save self-loathing. Some period of depression always followed. Then the slow work of picking myself up, carrying on, and attempting to get traction and maybe some momentum (? HA!) would begin.
Anger came to my rescue, as it so often does. I was laying there in a wrung out, pitiful heap of emotional sludge, the echoes of those words still keeping me company, when i just got angry about the whole thing. The fed-right-the-fuck-up kind of mad. I told myself enough, i wasn’t going to live or die at the mercy of transient thoughts. I decided i would no longer allow those particularly sticky ones to gain purchase in my mind.
At first i thought it was going to be one of the hardest things i’ve ever done, but the wonderful surprise is how easy it’s been. Once i realised how adept i already was at not thinking about some things, i just had to apply the same technique to thoughts i’d believed i was powerless to resist. Take perceived faux pas, for instance. If i did something in a social situation that i thought was stupid or wrong, it was all i could think about, almost from the moment i’d done it, until well after it was over.
It would start with embarrassment. Exclamations of horror, replete with histrionic declarations (I’m never going back to the grocery store, EVER!) and laden with cursing (Oh shit, goddamnit!) Then would come the pointless questions i never had an answer for, that only dragged me further down (Why do i always do that? WHY?!) Until finally i’d be nothing but a puddle of nihilistic ennui (What’s the point? I’ll always be this way.)
I deal with that thought immediately now. First i acknowledge it, then i do a quick run-through of how it’s gonna go if i allow it to overwhelm my brain. (HINT: Not well.) Next i ask myself if there’s something tangible i can do to relieve the anxiety. Like, could i call up the person i was talking to and clarify what i meant to say or apologise? Could i ask what their perception was of our interchange? If yes, i do so, and if not, i remind myself of all the potential for negative fallout if i have too much of a think on this thing. And then i distract myself. Like, ASAP. My current favourite is housework done to loud rock n’ roll.
It’s been working.
If i can be at a family function and not give a single thought to what so-and-so over there did to me when i was twelve, i can not think about how i laughed too shrilly at dude’s joke when he handed me my coffee and doughnut.
If i can look at the beautiful thing at the store that i want but can’t afford, moving along to the thing that’s not perfect but good enough and in my price range, then i needn’t obsessively mourn lost relationships.
If i can step back and let my children and other loved ones make their own life choices, even if they’re not what i would personally choose for them, then i needn’t suffer the pervasive angst of the life i might have lived.
I can and am doing this, one thought at a time. Is this benefitting me? No. Is there anything i can do about it? No. Am i willing to pay the price for giving in to it? No.
So… It’s Mother Love Bone and window washing then?
Have a weekend, will ya? I will, too.
Love and Peace,
IMAGE: Austrian National Library