Well, how is everyone doing during this strange time? It still just boggles my mind that our country is basically closed for business and that we need to stay at home. I understand why we need to do this, but it still just stuns me. Six weeks ago, I never would have guessed the chaos that would ensue, and that people would be hoarding toilet paper and paper towels for their survival.
Fortunately, I’m able to hunker down here at the farm and ride this out. I have left the farm a couple times to basically get groceries, get take-out food orders and to donate blood. Having the space to walk around is a blessing and having nobody as close neighbors is great too. Granted, I grew up like this so being out in the country for long periods of time doesn’t bother me as much as others. It also helps that nearly three years ago I put myself on a lock-down of sorts when I moved back to the farm. I was so exhausted that I didn’t leave the farm much the summer of 2017. I lived in yoga pants and t-shirts and didn’t see too many people outside of immediate family and a few friends. Who knew that I was getting prepared for COVID-19?!
I know that this is an uncertain time for everyone right now and I thought that I would share with you what I have learned, and continue to learn, about anxiety. I never really considered myself to have anxiety previous to my assault. I told this to my new therapist, and she was shocked that I had never worked through anxiety before. “Oh, just in the few meetings I’ve had with you I can tell that you have had anxiety for most of your life,” she stated.
I guess I hadn’t thought much about it until then. I mean, being assaulted made my hyper-aware and my anxiety was debilitating but I felt like I have gotten things under control again. She started asking me about before my assault and I how acted and reacted to situations.
Are you always the responsible one in a situation? Yes, 9 out of 10 times.
Do you put other people’s happiness before your own? Absolutely. I care about people so why wouldn’t I? That’s just selfish otherwise.
Have you been having writer’s block recently? Yes. What does that have to do with anxiety?
Do you typically prepare for the worst in most situations in life? Well, yes. I need to be prepared for any and all situations. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best…but I’m always assuming that the worst will happen.
A funny thing happened when I answered these questions. I was able to hear myself and my responses and realized that I might need to do some more work on myself. Geez…I am still tired from working my way out of the pit of desperation of the past five years. I’m not sure I want to jump into more self-help fun.
She suggested that I get the book, “Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind” by Jennifer Shannon, LMFT. She said that it was an easy read and that I would relate to examples in the book. I bought the book and lo and behold, this book could have been written about me. Absolutely unreal that I could relate to 90% of the examples. Bottom line is that the monkey motto is What you don’t know might kill you.
Let me share a few with you:
Intolerance of Uncertainty – The only time it is safe to relax is when you can anticipate and control absolute every outcome. This COVID-19 thing is throwing me for a loop because I can control very little in my life right now. The things I can control are what I buy at the store and how I distance myself from people. I like to be able to guarantee a good outcome whether it is with COVID or anything else in life. If I can’t control every aspect then I just assume the worst will happen. In my mind, myself or a loved one are already hooked up to a ventilator.
Now, let me just say that I have come a long, long way in this aspect. In my twenties I was a complete control freak, especially at work. I worked with youth development and spent every waking hour working on programs for the youth and the community. I absolutely loved it, but I couldn’t let anyone else help me. I wanted the control and the certainty of every aspect of the program. It got so bad that I didn’t even trust my support staff to send postcards out the right way. I would stay after hours to do my own correspondence so I could have the font I preferred and put stickers exactly where I wanted them. Crazy, right? Well, I burned out of that position in a blaze of glory and couldn’t keep up. I now tell people that I am a recovering control freak. I’ve probably gone too far in the other direction now and I just go with the flow and don’t plan too far ahead. The one thing that hasn’t left me in twenty years though is I’m always expecting the worst to happen. Stupid monkey mind.
Perfectionism – I don’t consider myself to be a perfectionist at all. Honestly, perfectionists and I are typically oil and water. I mean, I like things a certain way but I’m flexible enough to look at other perspectives. Rigid people give me anxiety. Which is why in most of my jobs I have surrounded myself with perfectionists because I know that they will keep me in check when I go off on a wild tangent (which happens often).
What I didn’t realize about perfectionism is that it is actually a fear of failing. I had never thought of it that way. Well, I have a healthy amount of fear of failing so maybe there is some perfectionism in me.
Our culture absolutely glorifies perfection. Look at social media and all the perfectly posed photos and the highlight reel of people’s perfect lives. I know that this is all a façade, but it still gets too me sometimes. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “My life is far from perfect, but maybe I could try a little bit harder.”
Here’s the part that kicked me squarely in the chest – Perfectionists often only do things they know that they will be good at. You’ll take the assignment if it plays to your strengths. You’ll join the team so long as you’ll be the best at your position. If you do get saddled with something you aren’t good at, you may just put it off until the last minute, where you’ll have an excuse – not enough time – to be less than perfect.
Well, crap. That just took the air out of me. Of course I don’t take on things I’m bad at. Who does that? Who wants to fail?
Some of the problems those of us with the perfectionist mindset is overworking, believing if people saw the real you they would think you are a fraud, ruminating over past mistakes, low self-esteem, procrastination (I am a champion in this category).
Of course I do things I’m good at. Why wouldn’t I? But, is that to my detriment? If I never fail how will I ever grow? Trust me, I have failed more in the past five years than in rest of my life combined but it still is scary to do something that you aren’t good at. I guess I will go out on a limb and start failing more. That thought just makes me nauseous.
When my therapist asked if I was often the responsible one in a situation, I felt like my chest kind of puffed up with pride. Of course I’m the responsible one. I like to solve problems and help people.
What I didn’t realize is that I am a text-book example of being an overly-responsible person. I have a hard time saying no and a hard time setting limits. I will almost always put someone else’s happiness above my own. I’m afraid of upsetting someone or losing a relationship. I need that connection with people. When I do try to set limits with people I will feel guilty if they are disappointed. Guess what? I go back to the old way because it is easier.
If taking care of your own needs is a casualty of taking care of others, you’re being over-responsible.
Well, that sums me up in a nutshell. I guess I do have anxiety and maybe that is why my chest is tight right now and I’m getting worked up.
So guess what, I have a lot of work to do. I’m actually happy to start working on this because I know it will help me greatly. I’ve already come a long way in my anxiety journey. I come from a long line of worriers. But, over the years I am now a recovering control-freak, I know how to calm myself down and I’m working really hard on setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is a really hard one for me because I am a people pleaser and want harmony.
So, why did I just give you a book report on anxiety? Because I know that there are people out there who can relate to the monkey mind. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I hope that many of you will join me in learning about your monkey mind and making good choices for yourself and not worrying about others.
I will start working through some of the practices to ease my monkey mind from the book and report back.
Wishing you health and safety during this uncertain time.
PS – Guess why I have had writers block? Because I want everything to be PERFECT. So, I threw this post together quickly and it is what it is. Don’t hate me.