Measuring Success

Photo: Ana Yankova.
Courtesy of Stockvault.

I’m beginning this post coming out of a minor episode. It’s been a productive day today, but there have been a few random rough spots. Right now, I’m thinking about anxiety and how it’s been affecting me.

I can’t remember a time where I haven’t needed to psych myself up to do things in life. It started with big things, like school performances or important exams. Over time, it got to the point where I needed to work up the courage just to clean my apartment. Moving around a lot when I was little and then in college, I also did things like keep most of my stuff in storage containers. It makes the eventual move that much easier.

Of course, I know there’s supposed to be stress and a little fear regarding big things in life. The problem is, mundane things can become quagmires for me. When I think about mowing lawn, for example, I start going into a mental checklist of everything that needs to happen in order for me to do it. By the end of the process, I’m imagining getting heat stroke as a whimsical idea to actually going through with it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve mowed lawn dozens of times over the years. What matters is that I have an unfounded trepidation.

Naturally, people process anxiety differently. Some people are just able to not worry at all, and others are able to worry without letting it consume them. I envy both at times, because they seem to possess a superpower I’d like just to function. It would be nice if I could plan a trip to the store without mentally having a hangup about which route I’d like to take.

These problems aren’t easy to measure in terms of severity. Some of them prompt severe depressive episodes. Others bubble up like a brew in a cauldron, eventually simmering down. They all involve fear to a certain extent, an increased heart rate, and rapid, uncontrollable thoughts. Because I can’t measure them, I can’t tell if coping strategies work, or if I need to take a different route in managing my anxiety issues.

Maybe other people with anxiety can relate to this. I don’t know, because I also have a tendency to minimize how I describe them. My fear of anxiety is sufficient enough that just writing about it is like re-living it. The best I can compare it to is talking about smoking. I really want a cigarette whenever I reminisce about having one in the past. This tends to make me think that maybe anxiety is just something that a brain does in response to stimuli, and I’m just an unlucky person who has a brain that’s susceptible to it.

I suspect that success with anxiety should get treated like success with depression: it doesn’t exist in the way that I’ve been taught to believe about it in the past. There isn’t a finish line or some medal to win. It’s about building a life in spite of it.