“Racing thoughts and wasted time. It’s the same old story-line. This is my nursery rhyme.” – Motion City Soundtrack
At our house now, the glass cooking tray in the microwave comes off the wheels underneath it. It won’t turn properly and repeats the same high-pitched squeal over and over. The food heats unevenly because only one part of the food is constantly exposed to the heat. When it’s adjusted and moved back on the wheels, the glass cooking tray rotates, and the food is heated evenly.
This is my brain on anxious thoughts, worrying over and over about the same thing. I overcook an anxious thought. When I’m anxious, my brain becomes the microwave glass cooking tray that is off balance. I can’t move on, reset, and think about something else without help. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to describe what was happening. Now, I’m in better control of my thoughts. Most of the time. I reset with medication, therapy, meditation, deep belly breathing, good old-fashioned logic, and asking others for help.
I would get a lot stomach aches as a kid. I’d lie in bed awake at night, scared that a person would break in and kill me and my family. I spent most nights in bed with my sister or parents until the ripe age of 16 because I couldn’t cope with feeling fear. I couldn’t talk myself out of the anxiety. I wasn’t even sure what I was so anxious about.
Panicked thoughts consumed my days and nights. I wondered if I left my car running when I walked in school. If a friend made a joke about me, I wondered if they thought I was stupid. I wondered if I left the garage door open. Did I have an assignment due? What if I fail a test? Was the oven on? What if my parents fight and get divorced? What if my mom dies in a car crash today? I was always on the defensive waiting for the next threat. When I wasn’t prepping for nightmares, I was daydreaming of a reality in which I felt confident, free of fear and self-doubt, and constantly happy. That was what I thought was the goal—to feel happy all of the time. Now I want to feel everything and not have it ruin me or my day. I want to be okay with feeling it all.
I was 30 years old when I admitted to a medical professional that I struggled with anxious thoughts, depression, and thoughts of suicide. I never knew to put a name to them, as I couldn’t even tell what I was feeling when I was feeling it. I always wanted to be happy. I wanted to be a person who lifted others up and didn’t drown in “negative” thoughts. I didn’t want to feel any negative emotion. I denied myself of fully feeling and accepting boredom, anger, disgust, sadness, guilt, and fear. I tried to snap out of it or be distracted enough by activities or friends that I didn’t have to think about my feelings at all. When I did inevitably give in to those feelings, repressing it for so long meant I burst all at once. If I got a bad grade on a test, if I was late for school, if someone said something mean about me, I would take it as an excuse to let out all my feelings at once. I would yell, scream, and cry. Maybe all three. They would be bewildered by my overreaction. They looked at me like I was crazy. I felt crazy.
Anxiety and depression tell me that everyone and everything is pitted against me. It’s far from true, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it. For me, it has been a constant process of stopping my thought process in its tracks, speaking kindly to myself and about others, and filling my life with distractions. I distracted myself for 30 years, focused on school, exercise, friends, and my career—all so I didn’t have to think about how I was feeling and what was going on inside my head when I was alone. I would focus on other people’s problems. The longer I distracted myself, the longer it took me to heal.
I still let the fear take over sometime. My glass microwave tray gets stuck from time to time, but I better how to reset it. Since I already shared my awkward fear of sleeping alone, night-time, and being murdered, here’s some of the greatest hits of my failures to cope with the fear:
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, Xanga was the preferred blogging platform for teenagers and those who still acted like teenagers. Here I have the result of how I spent a fear-filled weekend when my parents went out of town. I wrote this when I was a junior in high school and 18 years old on November 8, 2004.
“Before I go, I feel the need to brighten your days, or at least add some humor. I went and saw the movie Saw with my friends last weekend. Even though I did not deem it incredibly terrifying, once I got home, I was horrified. First of all, I chose to see it on the one weekend both my parents were out of town and I was spending the night at my house… dum dum dum… alone. My friend had offered for me to spend the night, but I thought I was going to be alright. Boy, was I wrong. She left my house around 10:30 pm. Nothing happened until midnight. Around then, I decided it was time to head to bed and proceeded to do so. First, I tried to sleep on the couch in our living, but the living room walls being windows prevented a pleasant slumber. Next, I tried to sleep in my sister’s bed because, normally, it is very comfortable (and I can have it all I want because she’s at college. I moved her t.v. Muahahahahaa.). Anywho, back to the story. As I was laying in my sister’s bed, I was certain, and still am, that I heard three knocks. I did not know where they came from, but I assumed the front door. I went there, but no one was present. By this time, I already pictured the frightening clown emerging from a closet to come and claim me and whisk me away to a horrifying basement. I clutch my cell phone in my hand as I pace up and down the hallways of my house. Nothing calms the fears that are cemented in my mind. I wander to the computer room and try to lay on the couch with my dog, but she accounted for three fourths of the couch, while I was scrunched into the other fourth. There are two closets in the computer room of my house. I open them a few times to reassure myself, but I still picture the hinges squeaking as the clown comes out of either door. By this time, I am scared like a little girl. For the last two hours, I had been debating whether to call someone. Finally, I decide I am not going to put myself through this agony any longer. I slowly dial the numbers and pray that a voice answers. She does. I slowly and quietly mumble, “Christan, can I come over?” Keep in mind, it is now 1:55 in the morning. My best friend, who had not been with us to see Saw, says to come on over. I am overwhelmed with relief. I scurry down the stairs and look with fear at our basement and two doors that swing open randomly. I race into my car and lock the doors and proceed to open the garage. I race down the highway to my friend’s house, arrive and finally feel relieved. We laugh heartily for a good hour or two before finally retreating to a much-desired slumber.”
My sophomore year in college, I moved out of the dorms and into a house off campus with two other students. They were a couple years older than me and would go out often. I wasn’t yet 21 and a self-professed nerd without a fake ID, so I stayed in. This particular weekend, they both went out of town. I was fending for myself. I had a small room that fit a small wooden work desk, papasan chair, nightstand, and a twin bed. The twin bed was right beside my bedroom door and across from a large window that looked out into the backyard. My desk, computer, and TV were in front of the window. After I exhausted late night television, I thought about how no one could hear me scream if I was attacked inside the empty house. I did my nightly routine of exiting my room, turning on every light in the house to peer around every corner, checking all the locks (probably twice), and then returning to my room. As I’m triple-checking the locks, the thought that my bedroom door doesn’t have a lock on it plays in my mind like my heartbeat in my chest. “No lock. No lock No lock. No-lock. No-lock. No-lock.” I remember thinking about how someone could walk in my room at night, stand looming over me, and then murder me. They probably knew I was alone in the house. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by waking them up, and I didn’t have friends I felt close enough with to wake up in the middle of the night and ask to spend the night. As the invisible threat felt more real, I decided to outsmart the criminal mastermind I had made up in my mind. I pushed my twin bed in front of my bedroom door. At least if they pushed against the door, it would also push my bed and I would have time to escape through the window. At least, that’s what I told myself. So, I pushed my bed in front of my door. It was a pain in the ass when I had to go to the bathroom every couple hours. I’d squeeze my hands between it and the wall, heave it toward the other side, turn on the lights in the hallway and bathroom, and check each room when I was done. I’d return to my own room, open my closets, and look under my bed and desk before crawling under the covers. Finally, I settled in, exhausted from saving myself from myself, and stared across at the window. How could I sleep knowing the killer could be in the backyard? I must distract myself. Where do I turn for comfort? Oh, none other than crime statistics for College Station. One murder in Bryan and a few aggravated assaults. Oh, logic, my long-lost friend. My fear and panic overshadowed you. Fight or flight was my voice of reason. I talked to myself logically about the possibility of being murdered. But then again, criminals aren’t logical! “Crime could strike at any time,” I countered, my brain too tired to think properly. Eventually I fell asleep, most likely to George Lopez or some other late-night television program. I awoke to the safety and sunlight at 1 pm.