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.

3 thoughts on “Measuring Success

  1. I occasionally succumb to a problem called procrastination. Before I can do a task, say A, I have to do, B, and before I can do B, I have to do C, but I can’t do C now because … then I can worry about not getting A done or not (I have an excuse).

    All of these “requirements” are artificial. If I just jump to working on A, all of the things I need to get A done get done but mentally I can construct a whole chain of things that “have to be done first.”

    If I really want to get something done, I jump in and do it. If I am feeling lazy, well, there area whole bunch of things that have to happen first. I think I am just coming up with justifications for my laziness in case I am challenged.

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  2. Yes, I’d say other people with anxiety can relate 😀
    It’s interesting to read about the different mental processes and cycles other people go through. I completely recognise the overwhelmed by risks cycle. I have that relating to anything that involves people telling me what to do and/or bureaucratic stuff. Passport, driver’s license, doctor, filling prescriptions… Last time I had to renew my passport I threw up on the way to the consulate. I’d built up a scenario in my head where because I was missing a document I was going to be stateless, passport-less, sent to prison. And it all seemed perfectly plausible and reasonable in my head. I imagine you know what I mean.

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  3. I relate a lot. At this point it’s hard for me to even cross the road or do basic chores, along with the hypochondria and I totally relate to the smoking thing too now that I’ve quit.

    The fact that you live with that anxiety and still get things done when it’s so hard shows how brave you are though. If people could see the world through the eyes of severe anxiety then they would understand just how hard basic things can be.

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