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.

Hello.  My name is Madame Weebles and I’m a trypophobic.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most of you haven’t heard of trypophobia.  It isn’t one of those phobias that everyone knows about, like claustrophobia or acrophobia.  But it’s real.  Peculiar, but real.  Google it.  You’ll see.

Trypophobia is basically a fear of holes.  Or, more accurately, it’s an extreme aversion to holes.  Or clusters of holes.  Or other clusters of things clumped together.  It’s hard to explain.  Things like honeycombs.  Cracked earth.  Spores.  Seed pods.  Wasp nests.  Holey cheeses.  Closeup images of pores or cells.  Clusters of alien eggs in horror and science fiction movies.  The bubbles that form on the top of pancake batter as the pancakes start to cook.

I’m not just saying that these things gross me out or that I hate looking at them. It’s waaaayyy beyond that. I’m saying that they affect me on a visceral level.  I get physically and mentally repulsed.  I get angry.  I panic and squirm.  I feel nauseated.  I desperately want to flee and wash off all the cooties.

This isn’t something that affects me on a daily basis, fortunately.  If I were a beekeeper I would have a big problem with all those honeycombs, but ordinarily I can go about my days happily, free from offending visuals.  Although every once in a while a television show will sneak in a honeycomb or cracked earth or some other nasty hole-riddled item and I have to close my eyes.  And I have to prepare myself when I watch movies because you never know when they’re going to show some sort of pods or insect sacs or vampire eggs or something.  But I can safely watch cheese commercials because I’m okay with most cheeses.  Most.

This cheese does not upset me.

Yeah, I know, it sounds strange and silly. But hey, if you’re going to have a fear/intense aversion to something, it may as well have some comedy value.

I didn’t even know it was an actual thing until a few years ago.  I assumed it was just my own personal weirdness. Then Mr. Weebles found an article about trypophobia on the Internet—he showed it to me and said, “I think this is what you have.” And sure enough, that was it.  After years of getting wigged out by all kinds of dots and holes, I finally learned that my weirdness had a name!

Nobody really knows what causes trypophobia or why these images trigger this reaction in some people.  There seems to be a genetic component to it because it tends to run in families.  My mother has it too, and I didn’t even know it until I mentioned it in passing several years ago and she said she had the same problem. There are theories that it involves genetic memory—a primitive, instinctive understanding that things with holes can indicate decay, disease, or danger, and should be avoided.  But I don’t know that this sufficiently explains such an intense revulsion.

If you want to have some fun, do an image search for “lotus seed pod” or “Surinam toad.” But be warned: they’re really disgusting, even to a lot of people who don’t generally have an issue with this type of stuff.  But just the idea of them is making me sick and creeped out right now.  It makes me wish I could scrape my retinas to rid myself of those images forever.  Unfortunately, I will always have pod- and toad-related flashbacks.  Those horrific little fuckers will haunt me until the day I die.

Okay, I have to go and throw up now.