“I felt stupid. I felt that I had been coasting on the idea that I was a good person for 5 years. I remember what it felt like to feel good about myself, and it was about 5 years ago. And that flicker would help me get through tough times, but I remember thinking to myself…if I was watching this person in a movie, I wouldn’t be rooting for him anymore.” – John Mulaney
I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism, but when asked about my Anxiety, I always compare it to having a superpower. And it’s true. Except for when it isn’t.
As long as you can keep it at an absolutely perfect balance, it can actually do wonders for your life. Anxiety keeps my house clean. Anxiety pays my bills on time. Anxiety keeps groceries in the fridge and my albums alphabetized. Anxiety keeps typos out of ma essays. I never miss deadlines and I’m never late. Anxiety would never let me get away with such things. When I want to quit halfway through a project, Anxiety reminds me that I can’t. Anxiety helps me do all the things I don’t want to do, but have to.
What I’m describing, however, is an extreme exception to the rule. If this balance gets knocked out of whack even a fraction of a percentage, Anxiety will spiral out of control and ruin your life. Gum up the works. Shut everything down. Now, instead of merely keeping the house clean, you’re vacuuming thrice a day and taking every minuscule scrap of trash immediately to the dumpster, because you don’t want anything in the garbage can. Instead of paying your bills on time, you’re balancing your checkbook after every purchase and refreshing your account information every five seconds until the transaction goes through. Instead of keeping food in the house, you’re throwing everything out because they’re within a week of expiring, and ordering take-out so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Instead of not missing deadlines and staying punctual, you’re cancelling appointments and calling in sick to work, because you have a full day of cleaning ahead of you.
I have done every single one of the above examples, and about a thousand more. It’s not ‘playful’ Anxiety or ‘quirky’ Anxiety. It’s the straight-up, documented, frustrating-as-all-shit kind, and I’ve been battling to keep it in balance for at least 25 years.
Remember this list? When I laid out just a sampling of all the weird rituals I had to do every day just to get out of bed and function? Well, note that it was posted over a decade ago. Now imagine having to live your life every day for over 10 years adhered to every one of these bizarre rules (and about 100 more I didn’t want to share). Just reading the list is exhausting, let alone treating it as gospel.
Like I said, when the balance is off, it’s bad, and your life can come to a dramatic standstill. I stayed as disciplined as I could for as long as I could; keeping blissfully optimistic with the ‘Anxiety as Superpower’ analogy. On good days, I could outperform anyone, but it was all due to these negative factors that were slowly deteriorating my body and mind. It took an incredible amount of energy just to stay ‘normal’ throughout any given day, but I didn’t really realize it because I had been doing it my entire life. It was some Dragon Ball Z shit; I had a Power Level of over 9000, but after the battle I would need days to recover.
This was my normal. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I also knew that acknowledging it is a problem meant I was going to have to deal with it.
But…I’m getting older, and I’m getting tired. It’s not a superpower, and I don’t have the energy to maintain it anymore. Unless I’m able to keep up this pace in a more positive, less harmful way, I was going to fizzle out and quite literally die. I needed to slow down, try to learn more about myself, and try to rebuild myself from the ground-up to accentuate my personality in a more positive way. This couldn’t be me anymore.
Okay. Where to start? Gotta take the leap. Gotta get better. Gotta stop lashing out. Gotta stop being moody and emotional. Gotta stop being unemotional and sociopathic. Gotta stop drinking to self-medicate. Gotta actually medicate. Gotta be there for my wife and friends. Gotta stop living in my head so much. Gotta not let my family drive me crazy. Gotta not let my past define and consume me. Gotta go through that stupid list one-by-one, and vaporize each and every goddamn quirk that’s turning me into a husk of a man.
This is mostly what I did in 2015 instead of writing. I had to do it for my long term. It seemed like I wasn’t doing anything. In reality, I was doing everything.
The process started slowly. I would just come home and attempt to unwind, instead of jumping directly into my post-work routine (which usually consisted of answering more e-mail from work). I allowed myself to sit on the couch (without vacuuming it), to play with the cats (without brushing them), to not vacuum immediately. Let’s see if I can wait until tomorrow. And maybe tomorrow, I’d be able to wait another day, and so on. It was painfully incremental. It was therapy.
My brain didn’t initially like this resistance. My philosophy when it came to discipline was that, once I fell off the wagon, I’d never be able to hop back on. If I skipped cleaning the house or some other mundane (yet irksome) activity even once, I’d instantly become a worthless, lazy bastard and never again have the motivation to do anything ever again. I thought if I slowed down, I gave up. I’m not much for middle ground.
But I stuck to it. I had no choice. It was an addiction thing; now that I actually acknowledged that I wanted to get better, it was then just a matter of conviction.
I won’t get into the minutiae (that’s for later), but I can honestly say that I’m currently better than I’ve ever been before. In fact, out of that initial list of 50 things I wrote so long ago, I currently still deal with less than 15 of them. Not too shabby.
One of the things I had to realize about myself is that I will probably always be a shifty, anxious, weirdly-motivated dude who always is particular about certain things. Just because I fight it and take time for myself every now and again, it doesn’t mean it’s ever going to go away. I’m not going to lose the things that I like about myself. The work will always get done. The house will get cleaned. The bills will be paid. I will not sink the future of my life and my wife’s simply because I want to sleep in and hold off a few errands until later in the week. I can just be a dude.
Anxiety is not a Superpower. It’s a work in progress, and I’m not done by any stretch of the imagination.
But I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty damn super.