Archives For Anxiety

Alone in the dark

August 5, 2013 — 159 Comments

Over the past few weeks I experienced a particularly nasty bout of insomnia (which, fortunately, has resolved). It happens to me from time to time, for no particular reason. When it happens, I have plenty of extra time to think about all kinds of stuff. You may have seen this New Yorker cartoon:

Insomnia Jeopardy

I have played many, many games of Insomnia Jeopardy, and I’ve added a few more categories:

  • Every regret I’ve ever had
  • How much better my life would be if only X, Y, and Z
  • Why X, Y, and Z haven’t happened yet
  • All the things I meant to do that day but didn’t get around to
  • How will I die?
  • Is there anything in the house to eat that doesn’t involve preparation?

I used to get insomnia as a kid too. Even in those days I worried about a lot of things, including but not limited to:

  • Fire
  • Volcanoes
  • Spontaneous human combustion (actually, I still worry about this)
  • Sharks
  • Monsters
  • UFOs
  • Jack the Ripper

(Bear in mind that I watched a lot of In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy.)

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the dark. I’m a night owl. I’m not afraid of the dark and I actually like it. Except if I can’t sleep, and especially if I’m the only one awake. Then I hate it. HATE IT.

When I was little, I’d lie there in the dark, afraid that I was the only person awake in the entire neighborhood. That terrified me. So I’d look out the window at the buildings across the street. If I saw a light on, or if I saw someone’s television flickering through the curtains, I felt much better. I felt less alone. If nobody’s lights were on, I’d panic. WHAT IF I’M THE ONLY ONE AWAKE??? I guess it never occurred to me that if something horrible happened, I could (and should) wake up my parents. Instead, I periodically peeked through the blinds to see if anyone had turned on a light. I’m happy to report that not once did I spontaneously combust. And nothing else horrible happened—not on my watch. No volcanic activity, UFO landings, shark attacks, monster sightings, 67-alarm fires, or murders by Jack the Ripper. I might have been only a little girl but dammit, I was vigilant.

I don’t really know why I still dread being the only one awake. I’m not afraid to be alone in general. There’s just something about being up while everyone else is sleeping that really unsettles me. During this latest bout of insomnia, I sat on the balcony every night and conducted a visual sweep of my surroundings, looking for signs of life, longing for the quiet companionship of fellow nocturnals. As usual, if I saw a light in a window or someone walking down the street, I was enormously relieved. Solidarity, friend. I’m here too. One night there were no lights on. No cars, no pedestrians, nothing. It was about 4am. That familiar panic bubbled up. Then I remembered the 24-hour deli and the hospital two blocks away. See, it’s okay. There’s always someone awake nearby.

And then I went back to bed and hoped I wouldn’t spontaneously combust.

Demons and ghosts

November 16, 2012 — 169 Comments

(This is not a post about actual demons or ghosts, by the way, sorry.)

There must be something in the air/water/pixels these days.  Maybe it’s the colder weather, less daylight, the upcoming holidays, or a combination of things.  But everyone seems to be having a particularly rough time lately.  Depression, anxiety, life problems, etc.  Other bloggers have eloquently described their own struggles lately, and I wanted to be one of the cool kids so now I’m taking my turn.  I’m not writing this to elicit sympathetic comments; I’m doing it for myself, as an act of defiance, as it were.

We all carry demons and ghosts with us.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  The thoughts that cause us to doubt, fear, flee, self-destruct, etc.  The memories of awful events that cause us pain each time we recall them.  They live in our brains.  Some are louder than others, some are more powerful than others.

My demons have been with me for as long as I can remember.  Some have taunted me since I was very young, others have popped up only sporadically over the years.  The ghosts of people and experiences from my past appear over and over as if they were still real, to remind me of the awful things have happened—and could happen again.

Not long ago, I realized that these demons and ghosts, as destructive as they are, have been trying to protect me—in their own twisted way.

Don’t talk about yourself.  Distract people.  If they got to know you, they’d be disappointed.  It will only hurt you.

Don’t draw attention to yourself.  It will only make people aware of your flaws.  And they’ll end up hurting you.

If you take a risk and stick your neck out, you’ll just get your head cut off.  Don’t do it.

Everyone else is smarter, funnier, more interesting, more successful, prettier, thinner, and generally better than you are.  You need to remember this so you won’t be disappointed when you’re rejected.

This person reminds me of So-and-So for some reason.  Remember how he/she hurt you?  So stay away from this one so you don’t get hurt again.

When someone is mean to you or leaves you, it’s probably your fault somehow.  It’s not them, it’s you.  The only solution is to stay away from people so bad things don’t happen.

Remember that time?  This is just like that.  Get out of this before something bad happens again.

See what I mean?  They’re vicious.  But they’re worried about me getting hurt.  They base their information on my past experiences but they’re looking at everything through a really skewed, negative lens.  They know that telling me I’m worthless is upsetting, but they think it’s less upsetting than if I were to hear it from someone else.

I blindly obeyed them for a long, long time.  I trusted that they were keeping me safe from further pain and rejection.  It’s taken me a long time—and a lot of therapy—to look these demons and ghosts square in the eye and say, “I get what you were doing, and I think you meant well.  Thanks for trying to help me, but you have to go away now.”  They’re stubborn, though, and they don’t go quietly.  They’re also not the most rational things, these demons and ghosts.  You can’t reason with them.  The only thing you can do is forcibly evict them.

The funny thing is, if you met me in real life, chances are you wouldn’t suspect that any of this was going on in my brain.  I suspect I come across as fairly confident.  I don’t have much trouble asserting myself and I can talk to pretty much anyone.  And I really will cheerfully kick the shit out of anyone who truly deserves it.  I can do these things.  Probably because they don’t involve making myself especially vulnerable.  I guess there’s truth in the saying, “The best defense is a good offense.”

I won’t lie to you, it’s been a tough battle, exorcising these demons.  How do you assemble an arsenal to fight these little fuckers when you have “Creep” as your emotional soundtrack?  It’s not easy.  It means throwing away my entire operating system and starting from scratch, alone.  And understanding that self-protection—and self-esteem—are about building myself up and taking risks, not keeping myself down and barricading myself against things that might cause me pain.

So these days, I have to take it on faith that people aren’t scrutinizing me and cataloguing every single flaw—and if they are, then I need to tell myself that they’re the ones with the problem.  I have to remind myself that most people are basically decent and that they aren’t out to hurt me deliberately.  I have to trust that I’m okay, and that the demons are wrong.

Come to think of it, fuck you, demons.