Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Catastrophic Thinking...

Content warning:  This post includes discussion of extreme anxiety and some of the less than healthy ways I have dealt with in the past.  It does reference self harm and substance abuse. 

In the world of "You are not alone..." today I'm pondering my habit of catastrophizing. There was a meme that went around social media not too long ago:

Anxiety Girl - able to jump to the worst conclusion in a single bound!
Catastrophic thinking is like that, except I don't just go to one worst conclusion, my brain likes to supply me with a range of catastrophic options - four, five...hey let's go all out! Here are ten horrible scenarios for you to play around with for the next eight hours. Sleep? You think you might sleep? Muahahahahaha, you foolish woman!! Here, have two more horror stories to obsess over.

It is exacerbated by the belief that whatever the catastrophe is must also be my fault...somehow. Even if it is quirk of being born - "this terrible thing would not happen if I didn't exist." Yes, I recognize this is 100% irrational as my birth is something I really had zero control over, but the thought, however irrational it may be, is still there. And there is this belief that I am inherently flawed and thus I am always one moment, one step away, from causing something awful to happen.

I don't find the concept difficult to explain, I think everyone at least once in their life has experienced their thoughts going from zero to disaster in a moment. What is difficult to share is how paralyzing, all consuming, and debilitating it can be when it is happening. Once the thoughts appear they rise to a mental volume that does not allow for other voices to be heard. I find myself unable to focus on other things - important things like, eating, work, school, class planning, writing, painting, etc.  It takes over.

It is also difficult for some to understand just how irrational it can be.  An extreme, but true, example... 

I'm in a car.  I hear a thump in the back. My mind goes right to, "Oh you hit a dog...a cat...a small child...that thump was surely something alive."   

I stop the car. I see nothing.  I do get on my knees in the mud to look beneath it  I walk a quarter mile along the road the way I came. Nothing. 

I get back into the car and as I do I see the half empty bottle of windshield washer fluid against the back door.  Rationally I know the sound was this bottle rolling around the back of the car, but I still roll it into the door four or five times myeslf until I'm fully convinced that is what made the noise. 

Other times it is simpler...

My boss says she wants to talk to me.  My brain kicks into action and tells me that I am surely about to be fired.  How will I pay my rent?  How will I feed the cats?  In a few short seconds my mind takes me from happily employed to homeless and alone, and feeling the shame of my former friends seeing me dirty and begging on the street. 

It turns out she wanted to give me a raise...

It is like gas lighting myself. It is crazy making.  

I have not always dealt with this well.  I have self medicated with wine, bad television, and various sleep aids.  These are actually an improvement as many years ago I would cut myself for release.  I stopped that when I discovered that I could put an elastic around my wrist and flick it over and over until the pain of the sting was stronger than my horrible thinking. There have been times when I would have done just about anything to quiet the screaming going on in my head. 

Today, there are other things I do.  I try to remind myself that most of what happens in life is beyond my control and even if the worst thing does happen there is nothing I can do about it.  I breathe.  I reach out to the one or two trusted friends who I know won't dismiss my feelings.  I look back to other times and remind myself that the worst case almost never happens, and then tell my mental monster to shut up with it chimes in with, "But wait a minute...remember that ONE TIME..."

It comes and goes, and the past few weeks it has been back full force.  I have turned to wine more than once to quiet my mind.  I know it is likely to get worse before it gets better so I've made the decision to start therapy again just to deal with this particular issue.  I would encourage anyone who deals with this level of anxiety to seek help.  I know from past experience life does not need to feel like I am living in the midst of a never ending personal apocalypse. 

I believe it will get better. 

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