Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness

Dear Anxiety

“Trapped in a cold white room
I want to know, who’ll be there when you snuff the wick?
I won’t reflect the same as you
I want the proof you’ll promise to let ’em down quick.
I never want to see clear at all
There’s nothing that could be there now
Pull out your teeth (until)
There’s nothing left (at all)
Immediately I feel relief from dragging this vessel around.” –Circa Survive

Hypervigilance. That’s what the professionals call it.

For me, it means I can’t sit still or relax. It means the pain in my joints is so preoccupying, I am often seen stretching my arms and neck and legs, letting the tension pop its way out. It means I have a difficult time with down time. I’m obsessed with being productive with all my time. It means I sometimes shake uncontrollably, or go quiet and closed off, caught in a loop of immobilization.

Years ago, I wrote about “immobilization” as an enemy of mine, something that was a result of demonic and hellish influence. I saw idleness as sin, and the temptation to be idle, an external force. Now I am aware that it’s okay to relax sometimes.

It takes an incredible amount of effort to focus. Work is difficult, even watching a whole movie or episode from a show is a restless endeavor. I’m constantly aware of what needs to be done, and feel like a bad person if I don’t get my tasks out of the way each day. Once I finish my to-do list, I am at a loss for more to do. I have no hobbies except writing and cooking. Entertainment feels like a waste of time, even though I know (cognitively, not emotionally) it’s not.

I wish I had a solution. Part of having anxiety, combined with being brainwashed to believe in the existence of an all-powerful deity, is it makes for simplistic solutions. There was always an answer for me, growing up. Always some “wisdom” that would help me in every detail of life, from policing my own thoughts to what political party I should vote for. I often wait to write until I’ve done significant research, ending each post with a sense of closure.

But life doesn’t always have closure, I’m learning. There is no big secret to commanding the human emotions. I’ve been looking for the key that will make life fall into place. Maybe it has something to do with my attitude, my level of gratitude, my hindering beliefs – anything over which I hold the illusion of control. Then I run in circles, trying to control my thoughts and beliefs all over again, before realizing once again that I’m expecting a total solution.

Solutions are easy when your belief system is waterproof. From the outside, Christianity has more holes than a colander, and Christians look like a bunch of people who wear colanders on their heads – as long as they aren’t used for holding water, their beliefs work just fine. Every logical argument against it is met with manipulation. Not sure if you’re hearing God? That’s your problem to solve – he is never distant, but we humans can distance ourselves from him. Not sure if the Bible is all that great? That’s your problem to solve, by reading it with a contrite heart. Any questions about the goodness of God? Don’t worry – God is good, you just can’t comprehend ultimate goodness.

So, now as both an adult with severe anxiety and a person who knows god isn’t real, I comprehend what is happening when I grasp for solutions. It’s a deeply ingrained expectation, deep as self-delusion and thought control. It feels like I do it hundreds of times a day. My partner will express his own chronic pain, and my immediate response is to offer something that will help – a heat pad, help with stretching, a massage, etc. Solutions, solutions, solutions. I want to solve it all, and make the patterns lay down, so my mind can finally be at rest.

But as I practice mindfulness, I recognize that the search for solutions is a distraction. The root of my aim is how can I make this go away? When there is ultimately nothing I can do to relieve my partner’s pain, nor my own, for that matter. In this sense, the search for solutions has become the culprit behind my resistance.

I jump to solutions because it was my responsibility for years to have them, and I was to fear a lecture or violent outburst if I failed. And I failed a lot. Mom would leave lengthy to-do lists whenever she left the house, expecting it to be complete by the time she got home. If I couldn’t do it all, I was made to feel like a despicable person. The resulting anxiety still courses through my body, finding its way into joint tension and a fluttering pulse. Even though it’s been years since my parents were a part of my life, I am still dealing with their voices, both while awake and asleep. They insist that I solve everything by the end of the day, and I fight with them every time I close my computer for the day, determined to relax despite the hypervigilance.

The determination to relax presents its own problem, because it takes effort. Relaxation just means to relax, right?

If only it were that easy.