Tag Archives: One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety

The Big Sleep by Jamie L. Rotante

Jamie_L_Rotante_The_Big_Sleep_illo_by_Laura_Collins

The Big Sleep by Jamie L. Rotante

An examination of my history of using sleep as a method of anxiety avoidance.

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

When I was in high school my favorite extracurricular activity was napping. I spent a good portion of my teenage years in the depths of slumber. I didn’t have many part-time jobs, I sure as hell didn’t participate in any team sports, and I definitely wasn’t going out partying or on dates. Most of my free time was spent wrapped up in a blanket, snoozing my life away.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time; most teenagers are lazy (at least that’s what I told myself, I know now how untrue that is) and the “best years” are, in all honesty, pretty damn tough (this, on the other hand, is very much true). You study for eight hours, presumably get tormented for (if you’re lucky) only one to two hours in that time, spend most of your waking life trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be after those four years are over, and you deal with parents who just don’t seem to get it.

So, yeah, exhaustion is kind of par for the course. Plus, I wasn’t alone. A lot of my friends also took pride in their slumber. It’d be like a challenge between my friends and me to see who could sleep in the latest. Over the summer it would get really wild—I’d be impressed with my waking up at two in the afternoon to only be bested by another friend who’d clock in for the day at five o’clock. We didn’t have anywhere to be, and time, at that point in life, didn’t seem very fleeting, so why not spend most of it in a dream world where everything is just a little bit more exciting?

As I got older, I’d grow to learn that sleep wasn’t really just from exhaustion—it’s a solution. To boredom. To consistency. For avoidance. It’s a bad habit that runs in my family. My grandmother was known to sleep when she’d get upset—it would sometimes take multiple people to wake her up in the morning. In my formative years, my mom would often retire to her bedroom mid-day, exhausted and in need of space. It was hard for me to understand as a child why she wanted to sleep more than spend time with me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it wasn’t her not wanting to spend time with me; instead, it was easier to sleep than to deal with the stress of her newfound (and unexpected) motherhood. I get it—I’m guilty of the same. If things are rough—sleep it off. If time is ticking a little too fast—don’t fight it. Go with it and sleep it all away. There will be another day tomorrow. Another chance to deal with what’s bothering me. Another opportunity to face challenges, as hopeful as that may be.

Nowadays, I think of naptime as a luxury I can only award myself if I feel I’ve truly earned it—or if I’m sick and have no other choice. And even then, I feel like any hours spent sleeping midday is time that could be better spent doing something, anything, else. Sleeping instead of productivity is a real-world nightmare, but even if I reject the notion of sleep, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m living to my fullest potential. Even to this day I find myself lying vertical on the couch in place of confronting deadlines. If I sit on my couch in my living room and start to think ahead to my workload, my eyes instinctively begin to shut, my body to slouch. My internal clock falls off the wall for the night and any sense of urgency is trumped by a desire to sleep and get away from it all. And if I do manage to fight the sandman off, my time is instead spent mindlessly scrolling through my phone, playing some stupid app or another, until my eyes get heavy from staring at the screen.

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That being said, the opposite is also true. Nothing upends my week more than an inadequate amount of sleep. As much as having a jam-packed weekend of fun and friends is great, it interferes with the amount of rest I’ll have to gear up for the next work week. Some of my worst anxiety attacks have happened when I’ve allowed myself to stay out late or party too hard on a Sunday night (a very rare occurrence), weekend me not caring enough about what Monday me will think. Waking up burned out on a Monday morning isn’t a good look on anyone—but for me, the mental exhaustion it causes is far worse than any physical tiredness.

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So what have I learned? All the health tips aren’t lying—it is important to get the right amount of slumber, especially if you have anxiety issues. I’ve also learned that sometimes sleeping it off does help. When the anxiety quells late at night or the emotions run high in the wee hours of the morning, falling asleep to turn it all off and press the reset button for the next day is the best possible option. Sometimes those dreaming hours are the exact recipe needed to unwind. That being said, I’m also making strides to not only defer to sleep as a cure-all, especially when it is instead a roadblock to creativity, productivity, or an escape from issues that need to be handled.

I’ve gotten better at budgeting my sleep time wisely (removing my comfy napping couch from the living room in favor of my desk has also helped—I’m much less likely to lie down in my bed early on, instead forcing myself to sit at my desk and actually work.) I’ve also learned how much more I appreciate getting home from a fun night out with more than enough time to get a good night’s rest. But the balance is what’s key; sleep is important but, unless absolutely necessary, shouldn’t take precedence over carving out time to spend with friends and loved ones. I’ve still got a lot more to learn and still need to get better at the whole budgeting my time thing, but I’m getting there, one snooze at a time.

Waking up, however—that’s a whole different story. I’ll save that for another time; I’m far too tired now.

 

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but I’m a pretty neurotic person. Maybe it’s my proclivity for crying, my obsession with the end times, my fear of being happy, or just my general, unending sense of uneasiness that tipped you off, but overall I’m a pretty off-center person. Here’s another fun fact about me: I currently do not go to nor have I ever been to a therapist. And that’s not because of any sort of aversion to them or to the psychological process it’s… well… it’s like this…

I believe in the positive and remarkably helpful effects of therapy—yet I find myself fear-stricken with the idea of moving forward and actually going to a therapist. It’s like going to a job interview but instead of explaining the boring minutiae of your day-to-day work life and career history and hoping they don’t judge you too harshly on it, it’s the intricate goings-on inside your fucked up head and hoping that they do. Here’s what scares me about therapy—and it’s not the naive notion that I won’t be “fixed” or that the highly qualified person won’t tell me what I want to hear—it’s the same anxiety that drives most of my neurotic thoughts… what if they don’t like me?

I’ve heard some psycho-horror stories: A therapist falling asleep while the patient was explaining their day; doctors who aren’t paying attention or belittle their patient’s problems; others who pay a little too much attention and are too hands-on. What if my doctor thinks my problems are childish and doesn’t take me seriously? What if they joke about what I’ve said with their friends? Sure, that’s legally prohibited, but who really can tell? What if, on the other end of the spectrum, they diagnose me too quickly and try to push me to take medication I don’t want?

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante
I completely believe that the right pills can be incredibly effective and helpful to those who need them, but I’m also frightened about taking anything that can become addictive or change my brain chemistry. If they work, great. But what if they have an adverse effect? Also, swallowing pills gives me anxiety. My throat closes up as soon as they enter my mouth and I end up gagging, spitting them out or—ugh—chewing them. There’s a reason I never take anything larger than seasonal allergy tablets and baby aspirin. But we’ll save that story about my fear of hospitals and the entire medical practice as a whole for another day.

So how do I cope? Well, writing, for one. Putting my thoughts onto paper helps me understand—albeit from a very crude, rudimentary standpoint—what’s going on in my head. Sharing these thoughts with the world (which, for some reason is easier than just sharing them with one person, who knew?) and hearing from people who feel the same helps me lose that sense of isolation that so often triggers my anxious thoughts. What I’ve also noticed is that, because there are so many people out there like me, there’s been a huge movement over the last few years to bring mental health awareness and therapy to our fingertips. Apps, websites, podcasts, and more exist solely to provide tips, guided meditations, and even therapy sessions to people in their own homes.

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante
I’ve tried a few. I’ve downloaded countless apps for guided meditation and daily affirmations. I forget to make the time to meditate. I get the text alerts with my “feel-good” advice in the morning and curse them from disrupting me from over-sleeping. I sign up for the email lists that do the same. I scan the tips: Create a vision board. De-clutter. Organize. I’m trying. I’m trying to do that digitally too, but these new therapeutic email lists are contributing to my mess. I see the emails keep piling up—the stress of an overfilled email inbox sends me into a panic. I filter the messages by sender and start to power my way through them, but they keep coming faster than I can mark them as “read.”

Very recently I took what was probably the biggest step in my attempts to get digital self-help: I actually spoke with a therapist through video chat. It was part of this special intro program that gave users a ten-minute session to chat with a therapist of their choosing. Admittedly, I picked one at random, not entirely understanding what the whole thing was about in my quick read of the website during my lunch break. I assumed I’d watch a video she had pre-recorded or it would be a group chat, sort of like an online lecture or a livestream, with everyone asking questions and her answering what she could. Instead, it was a real therapist giving ten minutes of undivided attention to me.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I almost bailed. Nervously, I hemmed and hawed so our ten minutes wouldn’t involve anything too serious. I asked her about how to approach therapy and coping with generalized anxiety. She was incredibly kind, patient, and promised to send me a link with tips that she actually recommends, as opposed to so many of the emails and websites that offer self-help rituals that may only benefit the person writing them. I have not yet received that link and I’m still too nervous to try and ask her for it, but that chat made me feel like I could do this. Maybe. Even if it’s just by starting out with video chats and taking it from there.

What the therapist I chatted with also gave me was a sense of confidence in my search. She was upfront and honest—yes, there might be some therapists out there who I won’t “jive” with, but there are also many who I will. It’s daunting to put yourself out there in the wild like that, but it doesn’t have to be a hopeless cause. And if just those mere ten minutes of talking made me feel better, I can only imagine what a full hour—or even a half hour—would do. Yet, putting myself out there and open to less-than-savory experiences is still intimidating, though no longer seemingly insurmountable.

Maybe one day, when I’m incredibly rich and famous, I’ll start an app kind of like Tindr or Bumble—maybe I’ll call it Brainr—that lets users swipe through a database of highly rated, effective therapists in your immediate area and you can match with ones you feel can help you the best. Maybe go on a trial therapy run with them; find a bar with a comfy chaise lounge to relax in while you unload all your dreams, fears, and paranoias, and hope that the person on the receiving end treats you with kindness and doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, send you on your way, and send you an inappropriate picture in the morning.

Until that day comes, I’ll keep reading those emails. I’ll keep downloading those apps. I’ll follow other like-minded people on social media and read their stories. Maybe I’ll even make another attempt to video chat with a licensed professional who understands, but take it a little more seriously next time. I’ll start serious research into the most compatible mental health professionals in my area. And, as always, I’ll keep writing.