When I initially sat down to write yesterday, I had a topic in mind. I didn’t get out my laptop. Instead, I fell into a kind of stream of consciousness into my iPhone notes section. It was initially intended to be a “topics brainstorming with key points” session with myself and evolved from there. Midway through, I realized that this article would be something else.
A hashtag got started up within the recovery community on Twitter that sparked my interest: #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. In reading back my thoughts, I realized that the piece I was writing was less about the topic I had started with (though it does explore that as well), but more about the way my brain operates and how anxiety inserts itself into so many aspects of my thinking and operating. It isn’t all bad. Everything is not a total panic or meltdown. In fact, most things teeter somewhere between there and just a general “all over the place” feeling. Here’s a glimpse into where my brain goes when it gets into these strange zones, with minimal editing.
This Is What Anxiety Feels Like…
When you finally get sober and off auto pilot you’re faced with the daunting task of “now what?”
I’m stuck there right now. It is currently my favorite anxiety fuel. What should I be doing? What am I doing now? What do I want to do? What is my passion? Is it to write? If so, what does that look like as a vehicle for putting food in my mouth and a roof over my head?
These questions inspire in me a wide range of emotions from excitement (maybe too much) to complete worry and panic.
I can say with the utmost certainty and conviction what I do NOT want to do because in my 14 years of professional life, all I have truly managed to uncover is the realization that what I currently do (teach) is not my passion. I’ve known this for probably 12 years but I was always too afraid to take a risk and try something new, take a pay cut, and hustle in a new field. My hustle was nonexistent. I tried my best in my job, despite evidence to the contrary sometimes, and there are aspects that I do find rewarding and genuinely enjoy, but it doesn’t drive me out of bed each morning and, to be frank, the frustrations that are inherent in the work have impacted my overall wellbeing. It is hard to be good at this job and remain unaffected by it mentally and spiritually, unless it is your life’s calling (and even then, sometimes it can). I digress. This isn’t meant to be a soliloquy on teacher burn out.
But such as it is, now what? What do I love? What drives me? I love writing, I devour podcasts and knowledge, I love activity and aspire to love actual fitness as much as I gush over the idea of it. Where do those passions lead employment or entrepreneurial wise? I have no idea and if I invested half as much time worrying about it as I do actually making moves (albeit blind, directionless ones), I might have more clarity and be set up better than I am now.
I teeter between trying to maintain the blog and making concerted efforts not just to write but to engage with others and be a functioning part of this community and changing gears completely. I tinker with marketing and then the seeds of doubt that question if this really is my passion project begin to rattle inside my brain and I pull back a little. I’ve done this with countless projects in my life – hallmarks of a chronic quitter who can’t seem to maintain focus for longer than a few months at a time.
There are days I’m so nauseous or physically uncomfortable from pregnancy that I am remanded to the couch and further tormented by the optics of it all. What are you doing, Alicia? Pick up a goddamn book. Use this time productively. You’re wasting more of your life. Don’t just lay there. Haven’t you laid around enough? While you’re binging Netflix or HGTV, someone ten years your junior is living her dream. Move, sister!
There is definitely some greater wisdom inside me trying to break through, some insight that wishes to be heard and steer this rickety ship, but I am in a battle with myself to find it. Meanwhile, instead of just being here in this moment and embracing my small victories, I become increasingly racked with guilt and anxiety over nonexistent goals I should be working towards. I do not know what is next. I’m flanked on all sides by uncertainty and I know once this baby is out in a few months, the game changes forever.
In short, I am driving myself crazy and accomplishing little in the process.
Author’s Note: About here is when I realized this entire post had gone off the rails and it was turning into something else.
This is what anxiety feels like. This is one of the many examples of what it is like to be trapped inside of wildly busy brain that gives little peace or rest. I used to calm the storm with booze and mindless habits like smoking. Smoking was always a sort of meditation for me, a way to check out. I’ve eliminated those and so I am back staring down the beast. What are we to make of each other, this sober self and this neurotic, anxious occupant sharing this body?
Social media is ripe with inspirational memes coercing us to take the leap, live our truth – trite little prods to be “authentic” and stop wasting our days. What does that all mean to the newly sober and eternally anxious?
Is it just bullshit equally lost souls post to feel more purposeful and guided than they really are? Are we all just playing at a game where we create a happy, fulfilled online persona for the world to see and say, “oh you are living the dream, girl!” Is it all smoke and mirrors? Or are these the enlightened ones who are in on a secret I don’t yet? Maybe it’s both.
I live in a place where I have access to so many interesting parts of the world. I can post pics with inspirational hashtags and look the part. I can make my blog seem bigger than it is. I can fabricate something akin to the reality I desire and participate in some warped version of the Sims. I’ve done that in the past. Boozy pics of epic nights, vacations, fictionalized rendezvous that in reality hurt far more than the photos suggest. That existence feels empty. It makes me want to log out. Remove all social media from my phone. Write articles but limit my interaction of these topics to the blog itself and immerse myself more in the real world where I can find some direction.
Author’s Note: I chuckle a little bit reading this back because this is the existential crisis part of anxiety that sometimes leads to really insightful shit, but other times is just another rabbit hole to fall down. How did this post turn into a mini diatribe against social media? Do I really believe what I wrote yesterday? The irony that I will post this piece onto a few social media platforms is not lost on me. Okay, on to the last bit.
What are the ways we are unnecessarily fueling our anxiety? How do we stop? Booze was not the only way I checked out and did myself harm. I’m still doing it in many ways by indulging my worries and reaffirming them online by comparing myself to others, the avatars they’ve built, and thinking “I should be…”
I should be.
Somebody on Twitter said to post an article about what anxiety feels like and so this is it. This is how muddied the train of thought can be, and in the spirit of transparency, I’m not even having a particularly anxious morning. I woke up feeling pretty good, no nausea to speak of, yoga completed, up before 8 AM on the weekend – the good stuff. Yet, this is where I somehow landed.
(End of yesterday’s post.)
I didn’t really put the finishing touches on my thoughts yesterday because I had a busy schedule and knew I wanted to sleep on it and revisit this piece in the morning. I think about this topic of what anxiety feels like and what I hope to accomplish by sharing this little unedited wackiness with folks, and I think it’s this: it’s okay to be a little nutty. I firmly believe that I am not the only person whose brain runs around like a hyperactive toddler. Some genuinely creative writing happens in these moments. Other times, it’s a small torture that I’ve learned to muscle through. It is what it is.
Anxiety is a magnifying glass on problems that would be otherwise normal. Most people wonder if they’re on the right path, don’t know what the next steps should be, and hide behind things to avoid facing some hard truths. It’s just with anxiety, you do these things x10 and it can be difficult to get grounded, especially in those moments that it lodges in your chest and turns into a full-blown panic attack.
But we do somehow. We get through it, and we carry on.