One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff
This piece was originally going to be about setting boundaries. Namely, my complete inability to do so.
I don’t know if that’s hilarious, sad, ironic, or just some fucked up mashup of all three. Now that the world is setting boundaries for us, everything’s changed. And it’s all my fault.
Okay, fine, I know it’s not really all my fault, but that’s still where my brain goes in the midst of all this uncertainty. I’ve spent the better part of this year in a state of panic. From financial strains, mounting obligations, people requiring much of my time, and just the neverending anxiety about the state of the world, I feel like I haven’t had a chance to rest, a chance to stop, a chance to just breathe. So many times I wished that just, for a brief period of time, people would leave me alone. That I would be able to spend a day or two isolated from the outside world, time just for myself to reflect, work on myself, find some kind of inner peace.
This was not what I wished for.
As I’m writing this, many states are in some state of total lockdown in an effort to combat the deadly and rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. I live in New York, one of the states hit hardest by it. I echo the sentiment shared by so many others I know: this is one time, again, that we don’t want to be the #1 in something. We’re given constant warnings of how things will continue to get worse and with each new update, my heart races faster; with each new headline and each new Twitter trend, I find myself gasping for air, monitoring my breath to make sure I’m healthy while forgetting how to breathe properly. I check my temperature every ten minutes. I worry myself into a frenzy because, at least when I’m worried about my own health, it doesn’t hurt or scare me nearly as much as worrying about the people I love.
I think back to how stressed I’d get about saving and spending money, about not wanting to go out with others because it took away from time I could be spending on myself and the new hobbies I’ve been trying to cultivate, and I look forward to being stressed about those things again, because if that’s the worst of things, it’s really not so bad at all, is it? I’m trying to visualize the future I want once all of this is passed us by, which it will, but I get stuck in the “when” and the “at what cost?” and I remember how many people won’t have the chance to visualize their future. Who am I to try to find happiness at the end of this seemingly neverending rainstorm?
I spend the majority of most days glued to my phone, keeping tabs on my family and monitoring the lives of others around me through social media. Even in the moments when I stumble upon something that makes me happy, I just as easily follow a path of news and opinions that sends me spiraling down into an even deeper depression, leading to anxiety that keeps me up at night thinking of every possible worst case scenario and trying to remember how to breathe. I take comfort in the articles written for people like me, about how to stay sane during all this, and words of comfort about how we’re all experiencing this and handling it in our own ways.
And, let me tell you, for as miserable as it is, anxiety does NOT love company. I keep trying to have solace in the fact that we’re all in this together (though apart), and there’s an intrusive voice in my head that keeps saying, “Your anxiety doesn’t matter right now.” Who am I to have a breakdown when there are others in worse positions? What makes my panic special when we’re all in a collective state of stress? Why should anyone care about how I’m doing, or if I’m in the middle of a breakdown when I’m not the only one?
I think about reaching out to my therapist and unloading all of my deepest, darkest thoughts, but I get stuck in worrying that I’d be inconveniencing her. I’m sure she’s stressed and handling her own matters in all this—why does she need to hear about my fears? I want to cry and curl up into a ball, but there’s still work to be done, deadlines to be met, and no time to wallow in my despair. I take moments when I can to cry, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying as I’d hoped, because it’s not stopping what’s going on outside of my brain.
Here’s what does help: telling my husband I love him, talking to my mom on the phone, watching British game shows and trashy reality TV shows that make me laugh, looking at pictures of pets and animals on Instagram, those fleeting moments where I remember that this will pass and I will spend time with the people I love again, whenever that might be, and yes, of course, trying to think some positive thoughts while I wash my hands.
My greatest hope right now? That by the time this piece goes live, we’ll be on the other side of it. That we’ll be picking up the pieces and returning to normalcy, even if it looks and feels a little different. Until then, I’m going to keep washing my hands, keep talking to the people I love, and keep my head up, even when I just want to bury it under my pillow while my weighted blanket pushes me farther into my mattress. I’m going to message my therapist, even if it’s just to see how she’s doing.
And then, when all this passes, I’ll finally work on that whole boundary thing. But you’ll have to wait until next time to read more about that.