On Anxiety & Other Monsters | Part 2
Despite my best efforts, I still manage to suck at life. Despite taking an antidepressant, I still manage to have bad days. Remove the shiny gloss of the internet and you’ll find a sub-thirty-year-old man weeping on the couch. It’s quite spectacular when your four-year-old daughter comforts you in her squeaky, undeveloped voice. “It’s okay, Mr. Giggles thinks you're cool."
What triggers a bad day?
Two events, on different ends of the timeline, can trigger a bad day. First, an event that looms in the distance, on average one to three days away. This could be:
…something at work I’m never done before and I'm nervous about.
..a mistake I made and I’m scared of the consequences.
…a conversation that I know is coming and dreading.
We all get nervous about events in our life but an anxious person amplifies it until it becomes unbearable. It can be Friday night and I'm focused on that event scheduled for Tuesday. Forget Saturday. Forget Sunday. Forget Monday because Tuesday is the king of my thoughts.
On the other side of the timeline, and equally as worse, is the event that is happening right now and I didn’t expect it. This isn’t so much the anxious side of me but the irritable side created by the anxious monster in me. An example:
I was planning on having a quiet evening watching television and I find out when I get home from work that we’re going to a party. And not any party, but a party with strangers. (Now I need to figure out a conversation, smile all night, and have a positive outlook on life; three things that are exhausting to me)
And when either of these events happens, the bad day begins. The key here is focus. When healthy, I can focus my attention on what is important in the moment. I can prioritize my time. On a bad day, my focus is driving blind down the highway, crashing into the sunset, and leaving victims in the ditch. It makes me impatient. Everything, even the tiniest thing, annoys me and I take my frustration out on the people around me.
Wife: Can you pick up the laundry?
Me: Do you really think I can think about that right now?
Can you snap out of it?
In the moment, I can tell you I'm in a bad mood. I can even express the event that is forcing me to be in a bad mood. But I can't shake the feeling. My anxiety is severe. It's constant. I can't turn it on and off. You might find me sitting on the couch. I'm not watching television, playing a game, or reading. I'm sitting.
How long does it last?
A trigger can follow me all day. If I've seen how much I've hurt my family, I can sometimes get myself under control. At worst, it will affect every day until the event happens. With time, I get better at it. I can predict what is going to trigger a bad day and try to resolve the issue. Surprise triggers are difficult. Only experience prepares you for them. My wife has learned to give me as much notice as possible. Even a few hours makes a difference.
How do you combat it?
I need to have a conversation with my wife. She needs to be understanding in the moment (which she always is) and help guide me through the thought process. Here's a real example:
Me: I forgot to do a report at work and had to scramble to get it done at 4:45pm on Friday. It was due that day and my boss wasn't able to get it in on time. I'm afraid she's going to yell at me on Monday morning. (looming in the distance)
Wife: What's the worst that could happen?
Me: I get fired, lose the house, have to move us back in with my parents.
Wife: Okay, what's realistically the worst thing that could happen? You have a good relationship with your boss, right?
Me: Yes, probably she has a conversation with me about being more organized and on top of things.
Wife: Okay, what's the best case?
Me: Monday comes around and no one cares and we go on with our job.
Wife: Is there anything you can do to resolve the situation now?
Me: I can think of some new organization ideas so this doesn't happen again.
Wife: Okay. That's a good idea. Can you do anything else right now?
Wife: Alright, on Monday, we'll talk about it right before you go into work. It will be okay. If your boss does yell at you, curses you out, does that mean you're less of a person?
Wife: Will I still love you?
Wife: &%!$ yeah I will.
Can you guess what happened?
I thought about it all weekend. That's what anxiety does but I was able to function "normally" through the weekend. On Monday, my boss never mentioned the report. Life goes on.
What have you learned from these experiences?
I have never gone through something that ended in disaster and ruined my life. At the end of the day, everything is going to be okay. Nothing is ever perfect but life goes on and a supportive community won't let you wither away. After going through so many experiences like this, you think I would begin to recognize the pattern. To sum up, if someone shows a pattern of not giving a crap, after awhile, I should not give a crap either.
How DO YOU talk with an anxious person that is having a bad day?
1) Empathy. In those moments, try to find common ground. I remember sitting at a party, having a hard time because I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t want to have any conversations. A friend came over and we talked about how nervous we were and how many people we didn’t know and you know what, it made me laugh. The rest of the party was fine.
2) Don’t point out the obvious. When I’m having a bad day, I know it. I know I’m being a jerk. I know my words are rude. Instead, I need some love because, in that moment, my self-esteem is low and my outlook on life is suffering. I need to know you're on my side. Later on, I’ll apologize.
3) Have some humor. Here’s a little inside secret. All my favorite television shows are half-hour sitcoms. Why? Because I take life so seriously that I need to laugh. On bad days, you might even find me watching cartoons. It helps take the edge off.