Month: June 2018

The Anxiety Diaries: Stage One Meta

Two different bodies. A million different minds. Never quite in tune with anything, let alone each other. This is what it feels like to have anxiety. Let me explain.

There are days, quite a few of them actually, in which I very rarely, if at all, leave the comfort of my own bed. I suppose for many, this does not seem like anything out of the ordinary. After all, aren’t all millennials lazy and entitled? The answer couldn’t be further from the truth. For a mind wracked with anxiety, not moving is simply done out of fear. My mind tells my body to stay where it is because any other action could possibly adverslely effect myself, or more importantly, someone else. Irrational as it might seem, anxiety minds live in this constant state of fear-based analysis (or would that be analysis-based fear?). Even the most mundane, innocuous non-actions are subject to the most intense scrutiny, second-guessing and philosophical debate. The answer is always simultaneously both yes and no. Every move is both right and wrong at the same time.

When living with an anxious mind, every decision is sorted into a list of pros and cons, a rapid-fire, critical-analysis form of woulda-coulda-shoulda-but-ultimately-dind’t mental conversation. For me, most of this comes in the form of silence. More accurately, an almost pathological, devout non-speaking. Whether it’s crushing on another human and trying to strike up a conversation, figuring out what to say in a job interview, or simply making a phone call, the act of non-verbal (non) communication becomes my body – and my mind’s – greatest defense mechanism.

To speak, or not to speak, that is most often always the question, and on some days it almost becomes like a vague form of self-torture and harm. A depressing dance around a vortex of emotional explosions. Yes I should, no I shouldn’t, a back-and-forth that only serves to drives my mind more crazy than it was five or ten seconds previous; an endless loop of thought processes and over-active cerebral corteces.

But it’s not only about the verbal aspects of one’s daily life. Night time is often hell. For me – someone who considers themselves an artistic night owl – that often be particularly egrerious. Lately, anxiety has gone hand-in-hand with insomnia and it’s easy to see why. A body physically exhausted, a mind so wide awake it’s exhausting. It’s a constant Cartesian battle where there is often no winner, merely one side catching up with the other, hyper-aware of the constant tug-o-war taking place beneath its walls. How bad can the insomnia get? As I write these words, it is four twenty in the morning and I probably won’t get to sleep for another two hours at least. Good thing I work nights.

Speaking of work, there are days where I don’t stop working, don’t stop moving, because if I do, it will be the wrong course of action, it will negatively affect me or someone else. In times like these, my body often finds itself wandering aimlessly, with no real direction or purpose, whether its a walk down the street or simply pacing back back-and-forth in the office space I currently call a bedroom. And yet, senseless hyperactivity is almost preffered to the overactive silence that comes with our self-imposed social exile due to the fact that it stops the mind from thinking about the bigger picture.

Occasionally, life as a whole will come in focus – future plans, finances, work situation (social and professional) – but often only when the mind is really forced to think about it or is triggered by some random memory or thought that occurs on the 5th of watching Youtube videos, many of which were watched the day or week before. It really is just an endless onslaught of the inane yet relatable. I often try not to reach this stage as it can become borderline schizophrenic, but when engaging in acts of mental self-mutilation, goals and end results very rarely match up.

But sometimes I have to go there. Why? Because not thinking about anything – having a blank mind and staring into yourself – might just be the worst thing of all. At least when thoughts are racing through your mind, there is a certain sense of accomplishment, however vague or morbid it might be. The mind celebrates with “yay, I had a thought today, better than being a slab of dry concrete too thicki for any particle to penetrate”. The battle is starting anew however, when the mind thinks about how it is thinking or not-thinking, then starts thinking about why it is thinking about thinking. You get the idea. And yet by not thinking about anything at all, my brain feels like it’s letting everything – and everyone else – down because it is of the opinion that it should at least be thinking about something, even if it’s what colour socks to wear in the morning.

Even as I write this, I am wondering if I should go back, erase everything, and start again while at the same time realizing that this my only way of organizing any sort of thoughts as my body would never dare to vocalize even one syllable because it would be the wrong thing to say. Of course it would.

So how do I cope? Chai latte and beer mostly, though usally never at the same time. Does it help? Who knows? The latte often gets me into work mode, while the alcohol generally calms me down afterward and helps me take my mind off my mind, so to speak. It’s not ideal, given that I’m spend $5-10 dollars a day extra that I don’t have, but it’s often the easiest, and is, at the very least, a trusted coping mechanism that has served me well (mostly) over the years.

I’ll sum it up this way: anxiety is gettiing both distracted by your own distractions and distracted by nothing at all. It is a jumbalaya of depression, ADHD, and whatever else you decide. I even get anxiety about anxiety. My mental health has reached Stage I Meta, so that’s cool I guess. Also nerve-wracking. Which in of itself is both cool and nerve-wracking. Oh no, not starting down this rabbit hole again.


The Anxiety Diaries: Expanding The Comfort Zone

I recently left a new job because of how it was triggering my anxiety. That’s one thing we learn; anxiety – or whatever mental health issue ails us – can strike at any time and is often indiscriminate in its building affectations. There were so many little areas that heightened my already anxious and somewhat personality: the high cost of travel in-between gigs, personally purchasing items, and being trotted out for solo shows having no idea how to do them or what they entail. As I told a few people who helped me through this ordeal, I am more than willing to explore areas outside of my comfort zone – as an artist this is especially true – but also recgonizing that I need to do it on my own terms.

Enter Editorial Magazine. The Montreal-based work describes itself as “an independently run publication of art and fashion” that prints a new issue every quarter. Both the editor-in-chief and managing editor are ladies I went to high school. What does this have to do with my social anxiety you ask? I recently recieved on social media to attend the Toronto launch of their 18th issue. I was invited by another high school acquaintance who has a made a career as a photographer in Toronto. I had not seen any of these folks in over a decade.

I decided to go for a number of reasons. I could say hi to people from my past and try to “catch up”, I could new contacts and connections which could prove useful in my writing and theatrical work and have a better sense of community, and because I’m used to going to shows alone – predominantly music – it was not something completely out of the ordinary. As you can probably guess, I was a nervous wreck.

I had arrived about two hours after the event started due to work. I had not anticipated the event to have such a club-like atmosphere. By the time I set foot into Luanda house, most of the presentations seemed to be over and the party had transformed into a dance fest. Being at an event by yourself where you don’t know anybody can already be a nerve-wracking experience. Having social anxiety on top of that only amplifies what your mind is thinking. It is more than simply nerves, it is about magnified thoughts. Your brain is self-critical before your body has even done the thing it is self-criticizing. Interestingly enough, once my body experiences something new once, or finds itself in a new environment, every subsequent event in the space is generally okay.

My anxiety often renders itself as social awkwardness, which can garner a few bizarre looks from people. If it is in a bar or club setting, this often means turning to alcohol for help. This does not mean us anxiety-freaks are crazy alcoholics, rather having a beer or two is a calming mechanism that helps us relax our otherwise hyperactive synapses. This is par for the course.

I was two beers in before I was able to walk up and say hello to someone who had become a stranger since I graduated high school in 2006. Like 99% of all social meetings, it went perfectly fine, because of course it did. Given that she was the host of said, she quickly introduced me to whomever she was standing with before disappearing into the crowd, leaving me to return to being my awkward self coupled with even worse white boy dance moves. At least anxiety doesn’t change that.

That was my only social interaction of that event as I left a short while later, stopping at Tim Horton’s before catching an Uber home, not an uncomfortable experience. I guess I would look at it as an accomplishment. As my friend once told me “no matter how much you accomplish today, it is enough”. Yes. Yes it is.

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