When I think of anxiety, I mostly think of avoidance.
I had a therapist who told me that bad thoughts led to bad futures. She wasn’t mystical or anything; it wasn’t like we both had to read “The Secret” in order to come to any kind of understanding, it’s just that she believed that if you kept thinking about bad things, eventually they would happen and prove you right. Her advice, she told me, was to replace bad thoughts with rational good thoughts.
The issue with that is that you’re not dealing with the bad thoughts when you’re struggling hard to think of the good thoughts.
Mostly, my thought process goes like this. Bad thought pops into my head, followed by a sharp, “Don’t think about that,” followed by a “Right, right, don’t think about that. Think about this positive thing.” But somehow, the bad thought sort of pushes its way back into my brain, until I’m exhausted going through the same thing five hundred times a day. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT!
I’ve been through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – properly, not just “don’t think about bad thoughts” – and it does help. Essentially, you take your bad thought and weigh it against several factors. How bad is it really? How likely is it to really happen? If it did happen, would it be the end of the world? And in that way, you rationalize it so that not every bad thought equals alarm bells going off in your head.
I need more practice. If you don’t use CBT all the time, you start losing it. And the bad thoughts start sort of taking over. I get a lot of really annoying intrusive thoughts when my mind is idle, but it’s exhausting trying to keep your mind busy all the time. I start to feel like I can’t have downtime that isn’t sleeping, and then my reserves are lower for actually fighting the intrusive thoughts when they come.
In short, it’s an annoying cycle.
What I’m trying to do is to examine why I’m having intrusive thoughts. Why am I expecting bad things to happen? A lot of lived experience for me contributes to my anxiety. It’s the end of winter, so, it means I must be due for some sort of cold. Or I’m really stressed about something, so that means something else in my life must be going to crumble. Some thoughts I can’t even articulate here, because I really am so scared that they’ll actually happen.
A lot of my anxiety revolves around superstitions, mantras, prayers, and rituals. This is fairly normal for people with anxiety, especially if they also have phobias or tendencies towards the OCD spectrum (bingo for both of those when it comes to me). I often wonder if this bad-thought-good-thought cycle is another ritual that helps to keep me sane.
Then I start to wonder what “sane” is. Do I want to be “sane”?
I think what I want is just some peace of mind, which I know will come when my life-stress lessens. Until then, I’ll keep writing about this.
You can follow #TheAnxietyDiaries on Twitter and post your own experiences. This is part of my #LivingTheAnxietyDiaries series on breaking mental health stigma and bringing normalcy to mental illness.