Last year I was still calling myself the Retro Witch. I had a catchphrase that went along the lines of I lived, “where chaos resides” or something to that effect. I was pretty fixated on chaos. Of course this was before I discovered I was bipolar, I knew my brain was often quite cluttered.
Today I sat here looking at this empty writing prompt with around three or so topics brewing in my mind. The chaos or clutter of my mind was too much for me to get anything organized so I decided to write about what it is like having so much clutter, or background noise as it feels like, inside my brain.
I hear people all the time say they just want to get some “peace and quiet” but I never understood that. When I am alone with my thoughts, whenever it is too quiet is when my brain gets cluttered. That is when my doubts and fears come to the forefront of my brain.
In addition to bipolar disorder, PTSD and borderline personality disorder, all of which I have written about extensively, I also suffer from general and social anxiety disorder, severe. I have been diagnosed by multiple mental health professionals as such.
Anxiety is difficult to explain. With BP I know I have racing thoughts. With BPD I understand I have difficulty regulating my emotions. With anxiety everything feels intense. Couple this with the other disorders and I am a person with a lot of difficulty fitting a coherent thought inside my brain. More often than not my thoughts are like a flash of jumbled images all pounding their way into my frontal lobe simultaneously demanding attention.
Today I watched a video on 12 things people with anxiety do. I quickly discovered I do all 12 things. I want to talk about some of the issues that my anxiety causes me.
First is the emotional distress. Most people are aware that anxiety means distress. This is the picture people tend to have when you tell them you have anxiety. They figure it means you stress out easily. Which is true I certainly do stress easy. However the part that I don’t discuss is how intense these feelings can be. With anxiety I have intense fear of rejection. I am often so terrified of being rejected I won’t even bother putting myself in a situation where I could be told no. You can imagine how stressful applying for jobs can be for me. I am putting myself in situation where I expect to be told no repeatedly. It is emotionally draining on me.
Deeper than the fear of rejection is the feeling of abandonment and inadequacy. These combine into a singular mesh of intense fears that are often overpowering.
Here is an example. If I send someone a text message I sit and count the seconds until they reply. I get so anxious waiting for a response I will shoot off a dozen texts to multiple friends in the hopes that any one would reply right away. The longer it takes to get a reply, the deeper the pain is. It’s a very real pain. It feels like a mixture of rejection coupled with abandonment, inadequacy and shame. At first I feel the anxiety in my gut. Why aren’t they replying? I must not be good enough. Oh no I am bothering them. I feel bad for being a pest. I quickly apologize for sending a text then I wait even more anxiously for their reply which either never comes because I figure I offended them or they reply with it’s okay I was busy, working, etc., to which I feel guilt and shame for disturbing my friend because I feel unworthy of their time and attention in the first place. All of these cycle through me in a matter of seconds. By the time someone does reply, even if it was mere seconds, it causes a sense of relief to wash over me. I feel less tense and suddenly worthy of my friends time.
The same thing happens whenever I call someone on the phone only it is magnified by the fear of rejection the longer the phone rings unanswered. I try not to take it personally but whenever I call someone if they don’t pick up right away I assume I am bothering them and then guilt plus shame sink in. If they do answer their phone I promptly apologize for bothering them which usually nets me a stern reprimand which further causes more anxiety as I feel I let them down.
Even when a friend does everything right. They answer my text immediately with affirming messages, agree to call me quickly and then proceed to all me right away, I still feel anxious those brief moments between initial text to answering the call. Once I get a friend on the phone I dip into guilt. I feel like I was a bother to them. I promptly apologize again to which I get another stern it’s okay stop apologizing and then we converse as needed. Before the conversation ends I will have my internal clock inside tell me if the conversation went long enough to satisfy my emotional needs. In the event that takes place I will end the call satisfied my friend is still someone I can count on and that our interactions enriched their life as much as it does mine.
But if any step of the way doesn’t go as planned the anxiety takes over. I feel a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Sometimes I would rather avoid the pain of the entire process than risk actually receiving the reward of a positive social interaction so I can often go days without saying anything. Sometimes I can’t muster more than hi.
Let me break down how important hi is for me.
I have written about how difficult it is for me to make connections with people. I have a limited space for friends in my brain. Once I have filled my friend slots I cannot accept any more without pushing someone else away or neglecting someone. This is because the anxiety once again kicks in. I feel like I am not capable of keeping tabs on too many people. It becomes an obligation to reach out, to say hi and check in on my friends. As time goes on I have to determine which friends I can count on to answer my initial hi with some sort of response. Sometimes I am too emotionally drained to go through the process of interacting. I don’t want to send a text to initiate a conversation as the prospect of said conversation sounds exhausting. Again remember the above process. Sometimes I want to avoid that process entirely but still let my friends know I am thinking of them. This is when I send a single word text, hi. In those instances not only do I not expect a response back, most of the time if I get a response I will feel threatened. This is difficult to explain. You see if I am feeling lonely I will reach out to all my friends and request a phone call or voice chat. Once I have exhausted the previously mentioned cycle of reaching out, rejection etc, I land in a place where I just want to say hi so they know I was thinking of them but I don’t want to start a conversation. Sometimes I will say hi with the expectations they will be glad I said so but it doesn’t go any further.
Then there is the hi, how are you doing? If I go beyond a simple hi which is like a tag we’re still friends code, into the how are you doing, now I am expecting a reply. Again anxiety will kick in the instant I hit send. The longer it takes to get a reply the deeper that anxiety cuts me. However if I send how are you doing I am expecting a response. In this instance I have determined we’ve not interacted enough lately and I desire, crave or feel the need to connect. Sometimes, most of the time really, I am satisfied with a good and you? Sometimes if I get too many responses right away that too will cause me even more anxiety. So when I say hi I don’t expect a response. If I ask how you are doing I kinda do hope for something but not much. This leads me to my next trap, are you free?
Sometimes I am incapable of initiating a conversation. I will say Hi and leave it at that. This is my way of showing my friends I still care. But sometimes I will desire conversation so strongly that the longer I go silent the more intense the pain of rejection feels. This is the most difficult emotion to manage because this is where I become annoying to most. I will be so desperate for a call I will message as many friends as I can with the hopes just one will reply back in the affirmative. I won’t typically care which friend it is as long as I have someone’s voice to sooth me on the other end. This is when the anxiety can take its toll. Some times life get’s in the way. People get busy, sick or have to work. Sometimes I mentally understand they can’t call me right now but emotionally I feel betrayed by their lack of urgency. Sometimes in my desperation multiple friends will respond and I find myself juggling too many conversations. This leads to more anxiety where I feel not only I panicked my friends for nothing but also that I am now taking on too many social interactions thus draining my supply of spoons faster than I otherwise would.
Then there is the urgent I need someone to talk to right away. It is rare I will send this message. It comes after an intense emotional trauma or distressing event has already put me into panic mode. Sometimes this is when I suffered loss recently, am facing a new hardship or overpowering negative emotions bog me down. Sometimes the pain these emotions cause me will be so intense that I shut down. In those instances I don’t want my friend to call me just to tell me it’ll be okay. These are the most difficult messages to decipher for my friends because I can often feel such intense raw emotional distress over the tiniest things that when I text urgent in that moment it felt like the most important thing in the world but once we talk it out I feel like a doofus for having been distraught over something so trivial.
This brings me to my final state of anxiety. I feel hopeless and just need to talk. IN this instance the actual conversation itself is irrelevant I just need to hear your voice, any voice will do. When I am in this state I have already gone through all of the steps of anxiety causes above. I have broken down and cried multiple times. This is when I feel such intense pain from my anxiety that I am willing to risk ending the friendship to nag my friend or guilt them into giving me attention right now immediately. This is the worst state of mind for me to be in because it could be a very real distressing situation with pressing need for assistance to a perceived crisis that only exists in my mind. If it is the latter I can become quite irrational in my pleas for help. This is the state of mind where I lose the most friends. They become so mentally exhausted by my intensity they cut me off for their own benefit. This returns me to a state of feeling rejected, betrayed and inadequate all over again. I will mourn the friendship, feel intense emotional distress for a few days then as suddenly as it all began erase that person from my memory and move on. This is callous but it is how I survive. My heart is fragile. If I get to the point where I have lost a friend and I know there is no mending the relationship without further trauma I walk away. I let that friendship end.
I hate it when this happens. I see it happening when it starts. I watch myself unfold right before my very eyes yet am incapable of doing anything to stop it from happening.
Remember when I said when facing rejection I have intense emotions, those will often devolve into intense anger my friend didn’t bother to care enough about my pain to respond in a timely manner. Again this is irrational but it takes over. If I get to this point I am likely to end the friendship over a single instance of betrayal, even if it is entirely fabricated in my mind.
This is what I suffer with. When I wake up every day I find myself in an immediate state of anxiety. I remain there until I finally get tired enough to go to sleep then I feel it throughout the sleep cycle which usually manifests as intense nightmares. This is my life.