Thursday, June 18, 2015

On facing the thing

If there is a thing that you are afraid of ... No, wait. First principles.

If you an anxious person, there is always at least one, and usually many more than one, thing that you are worried about, or actively afraid of, at any given time.

How dominant this worry or fear is depends on a lot of things, including, but not limited to, your state of physical health, the presence or absence of other life stressors, how much sleep you are getting, how diligently you are practising whatever combination of CBT / mindfulness / distraction / medication management bundle you have found works for you. There are lots of times - maybe even a majority of the time - that I, anxious person though I am, feel happy, feel carefree, feel brave and confident and optimistic. I do not spend all or most of my time in a state of funk. 

But one thing that having anxiety means is, the exertion of pressure on a weak spot will always produce a disproportionate emotional response. Essentially, when a peak fear / worry event approaches, the anxiety will start to rise, slowly at first, gaining strength as the day, then the hour, draws nearer, until eventually it blots out the sun. Proportionality and rationality have no dog in this race - it doesn't matter how vigorously you intellectualise the absurdity of the anxious feelings, they persist and persist and grow and grow and grow.

There is, always, a moment when such an event / trigger is inescapably imminent - sitting in the depature lounge waiting to board a plane; sitting in a hospital or clinic waiting room waiting to be called through for a medical procedure; waiting in the corridor for a job interview - when the thought presents itself in the anxious brain: I don't actually have to do this. I could just, in fact, leave. I could just go, and then it would all be fine.

Of course this notion is immediately ridiculously seductive, and resisting it will then take a lot of mental energy. For me, I have found the best thing I can do is to play a game of "If so, then what?" with myself. "I could just not get on the plane..." Me, to self: "You could, but then what?" Jerkbrain: "Well, I wouldn't get to Queensland with my family..." Me: "And then what?" Jerkbrain: "I wouldn't get to be with my kids for their first plane flight, and I'd spoil everyone's holiday, including my own." Me: "So...?" Jerkbrain: "Oh SHUT UP." *gets on plane*

It's not a perfect technique and I won't lie - it is supported with tears and ritualistic behaviour in most cases. But it's got me onto a plane. It's got me through a resignation conversation. It's helped me address issues that were difficult and painful to broach. It helped me, today, to go through with a diagnostic procedure under anesthetic which I seriously do not like. (And the procedure was a success, hurray).

And on the other side of facing the thing, and staring down that beast? Yeah, that's when I could take on a mountain lion for breakfast.

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