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Origins of Anxiety - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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Origins of Anxiety [May. 24th, 2011|04:24 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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I've been thinking a bit about the origins of my anxiety (and, by extension, my depression).

When I was a kid, there were a lot of things that didn't make sense to me. Some things, like determining the time by being drilled on reading the hands of an analog clock, I was successfully taught.

Other things, like why people behaved certain ways, continued to baffle me.

New things and change both make me nervous even now because I don't have scenarios for how to handle them. I can't remember if I've talked about "scenario thinking" here before, but it's the name I give to the way I often think. If XYZ happens, I will do ABC. If LMN happens, I will do OPR. If BAR happens, I should react with FOO and BAZ.

I did it much more as child than I do now, mostly because after being on the earth for 41 years, I've run through a LOT of scenarios. I used to imagine how to respond to actual fires, versus being bored during a fire drill; plan out how to cross the street; pretend the aliens would land soon and put us all into survival mode; know if I farted & it was audible, I would be doomed, mocked forever by the entire school; think about where secret hiding places might be placed; etc. I was also really REALLY empathic, always imagining what it must feel like to be this person or that one, that animal on TV, or that victim of a car crash.

This, along with the gnawing on the hardened skin around my fingernails, picking at my scabs & scar tissue, chewing the insides of my cheeks, and the jackhammer leg action are all indications of anxiety. But back then, we didn't have anxiety. We had kids who were "delicate" or "easily upset" - and my personal favorite, "who thought too much" - terms expressed with the derision we reserve for the weak. I developed something ceciliatan calls the "Jersey deadpan" and persevered.

And now I know that there are short-circuits in my executive function, and that was why I couldn't figure certain things out. Battering myself against these blocks got me bloodied, metaphorically speaking, and also taught my brain how to route around the issues or compensate. I haven't quite nailed down where exactly I get stuck. In a fantastic expression of irony, it is an element of the ADHD that that is one of the things I have difficulty identifying and working through. But I want to chart it all out; find the neurological roadblocks and review their implications, reexamine my history, and see what influences caught me where.

But there's a certain amount of relief to be had in knowing that I wasn't "delicate" nor did I "think too much." I had (and have) a disability that manifested itself in such a way that I developed a pile of both healthy & unhealthy coping behaviors to handle it. They helped and even protected me for a long time, but now it's time to dissect, dismantle, and rethink, reimagine better ways for me to not only survive, but thrive.

Sorry if this sounds really RAH-RAH or sound-bite-y. I am not exultant or even excited by this self-knowledge. Even the relief is tempered by the anticipation of how fuckin' hard this will be. I just need to get it out of my head and into another format, so I can refer back to it and think about it more.
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Comments:
From: allessindra
2011-05-24 11:06 am (UTC)
I've done the scenario thinking for as long as I can remember - I remember one night, prior to age 10, thinking how relieved I'd be if my mom died, and then turning it around and trying to imagine my dad dying, and what would change. I always bit my nails, tho I finally stopped that somewhere in my 30s; I don't remember the other cannibalistic behaviors on myself. And I've not thought of myself as an anxious person; the scenarios calmed me, and have helped, I think, with my own reactions to things.

On the other hand, I'm really lost if I can't multitask, and I frequently realize I'm not actually looking at the person I'm talking to -- I'm scanning past them, watching the crowd, watching for other people, etc. Of course, my mom had a thing about being stared at, frequently alternating between "Don't stare at me!" and "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" (facepalm)

I need to find out what the Jersey Deadpan is. I expect I have it too.
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[User Picture]From: metagnat
2011-05-24 11:36 am (UTC)
I have been considering the structures of my own anxiety, this year, in part of a campaign to address it. I have some things in common with your story: empathy in excess of what I see in some other folks (especially when it comes to TV characters and such), the scenerio thinking and "thinking too much".

I haven't really thought about the roots of this stuff in my childhood - I haven't been thinking further back than college. Maybe I should.

Anyway, I don't think you're being too rah rah at all. I think you're totally justified in being excited. I know, when I figure stuff like that out, I'm usually excited, relieved or both.
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[User Picture]From: muffyjo
2011-05-24 12:21 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you are putting words to big revelations. That's a good thing. :)
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2011-05-24 05:06 pm (UTC)
yeah, that.
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[User Picture]From: lillibet
2011-05-24 01:47 pm (UTC)
Those are a lot of pieces to fit together--sounds like you've got the corners and most of the edge bits. Good luck with the middle section!

I've always loved the comment--one I often get at non-geek parties: "You're just always thinking aren't you?!" I mean, what is it with them and the breathing--in, out, in, out--give it a rest already!
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2011-05-24 07:45 pm (UTC)

This is very interesting to me

If you don't mind I'll share my perspective/story.

For me it's partly the same, partly opposite. The constant hypervigilance and planning out what might happen - what you call "running through a lot of scenarios" - I do that all the time. Constantly. Still do. I think incredibly fast on my feet, in part because I've mentally rehearsed all of the shit I can think of beforehand.

For me the discovery was that I needed to build conscious coping behaviors to counter my own brokenness. These coping behaviors involve making myself do, by rote, things that come naturally to most people. My own experience of my deficiency is that I'm never going to have that intuitiveness; I'll just get better/faster/more practiced at the rote behaviors that will make me seem more appropriate.
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