Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our spot on the site where we take some time out and natter about issues that may be affecting you, or people around you. Not every article is for every person, of course, but hopefully there’s something across the 28894292 (approx) articles we’ve run in this series that can be of use!
This week, we’re handing over to the brilliant Charlotte Harrison…
Back in December, at my most recent appointment with my therapist, I spoke about all of the things that were worrying me at that moment in time. All of the things. All of the many, many things that plagued my mind. Things that ranged from causing me mild concern to embolizing terror; the self-doubts that bubbled away, all-to-close to the surface; how I was just about negotiating the minefield that is anxiety.
This went on for quite a bit. Calling it a stream of consciousness would be both needlessly flattering or a massive understatement. Then she did something unexpected.
Then she said, “The thing is Charlotte. You seem to spend your life overthinking things.”
Now was my turn to pause. Was this some sort of trick? To make an obvious statement and see how I’d react? Would “Duuuuhhhh!” be an appropriate way to respond to this kind lady who has helped me greatly over the past 18 months?
She continued. “You’re spending your life worrying about what will happen next and letting yourself be consumed by it. In the process you’re missing out on what’s happening in your now.”
“Oh. Well. Yeah, I suppose I am.” Yes, there was a touch of Captain Obvious about this exchange, but actually it was what I needed at that point in time. It could have so easily have trigged me off on another spiral of anxiety, the thought I was not living my life properly.
That’s when I let myself see what she was actually saying. She wasn’t telling me off for being anxious or having anxious thoughts. She wasn’t criticising me for them nor judging me. She was vocalising concern whilst also pointing out I’d truly adjusted to living my life in this manner.
Some people seem to have a misconception when it comes to anxiety – many misconceptions in fact. There’s the idea that we have no reason to be worried, there are worse things going on in the world, so why are you stressing about things that matter so little? There’s the idea that if we just ignore our worries, or move onto something else, then they’ll just disappear. That we just need to ‘get on with it’. Then there’s the one that I find most harmful for me personally – the idea that I should fight my anxiety. As if when it emerges I must take it to the arena that is my cerebal cortex and battle it, fight it off and the war it’s been raging.
For me at least, that really doesn’t work. For one thing, if I went to battle during every anxious episode, I would never get anything done. That is literally all I’d be doing. Also, do you realise how exhausting it is to be fighting all the time? How much emotional energy it requires to even attempt to conquer the endless and relentless stream of self-doubt along with the occasional visit paid by self-loathing? Easy answer – it’s a lot.
Back in December, I was exhausted. Worn down by battles and the dodging of them. Fatigued at having to generate an infinite carousel of plan As, Bs and C’ to negotiate the often wonderful and often not-so-wonderful joys of London living. When my therapist pointed out the evident overworking of my amygdala (yes, I may have looked that up for dramatic effect) it was so as to draw my attention to it. I’d become so used to checking out of my present as I was too busy anticipating what the future might just throw at me.
Our session didn’t end with her giving me the miracle cure. That doesn’t exist. Instead we settled on some coping mechanisms. It might be slightly overdramatic to say they formulate my survival guide for day-to-day living, but that’s kind of how I view it.
She told me to recognise the signs of a bout of overthinking and to then respond to them by putting on a song – a song that I have intentionally chosen as my lifeboat song. The song that stops me from drowning in the thoughts, keeps me floating above them as opposed to sinking in them, and lets me stir myself away from them. I picked This Is Me from the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman. The lyrics of the song seemed and still seem to encapsulate exactly how I feel during my anxious moments – ‘ashamed of all my scars’ yet ‘when the sharpest words wanna cut me down/ Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out’ (making my lifeboat analogy even more apt!). It’s also Keala Settle’s voice on that song – strong, bold, and fearless. Down but far from out.
It serves a multitude of purposes. Sometimes it lets me soar, allowing those negative thoughts to be blocked out. Sometimes it lets me fall into them, with the song playing the role of safety net or a diving cage, letting me feel lost for a while if needed – then bringing me back up. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve listened to that song, and always try to keep it at hand. I’ve listened to it in my bedroom, on walks to work, on the tube, at work – I even ran into a public toilet one time to listen to it, barricaded in a stall, when the world seemed all too daunting.
I thought about making ‘Stop overthinking’ my new year’s resolution. I chose not to. For one thing, why does the 1st of January mark a new start – every day is a new start in its own way. Then there was the impossibility of the task I would have been setting myself; I’d be setting myself up to fail and only cause myself more anxiety/guilt/resentment when I broke my resolution, undoubtedly on day one.
I chose to make it my learning objective instead. ‘To try to stop overthinking, when at all possible.’ Less dramatic sounding but with a higher success rate. A thing I will try to do, if I can at that particular time. I’m choosing to be more aware of it, to acknowledge when it happens and try to respond as that specific burst of doubt requires of it. I’d become accepting of having every waking moment being a process of overanalysing and resigned myself to anxiety tainting every moment. We all deserve more than that from life.
And that’s one thing I take away from my song of choice: ‘There’s nothing I’m not worthy of’.
Thanks, as always, for reading.