Managing Anxiety – When Doing Everything Right Still Isn’t Enough

As you may know – I’m not too terribly close-mouthed about it, at least in some respects – I have a list- well, a tangled knot of . . . emotional problems, or mental illnesses or disorders or what the hell ever the ‘correct’ term is. ‘Glitches’, as Captain Robert Brown said last week.

Chronic depression, several flavours of anxiety disorder (probably social anxiety is the one that rears its head the most, though they’re messily interlocked), a handful of other things. I mostly have a handle on them, these days. Mostly without pharmaceutical assistance. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a problem, that I’m ‘cured’, or that I don’t have bad days. It means . . . I know some ways to manage myself and my problems and stay functioning. I have an excellent, though small, group of people who are awesome and supportive to whom I can say ‘I am facing this everyday task and I want to cry thinking about it’ or ‘the thought of going to this necessary event makes me feel like I’m about to throw up’ and they understand, even if not from the inside. They encourage and comfort and never say things like ‘there’s no reason to be upset’ or ‘nothing bad will happen just calm down’. (I understand the people who offer these are trying to help; it doesn’t.)

Recently I got a rather unpleasant reminder that ‘I have figured out how to handle my problems’ doesn’t mean ‘I can negate the ill-effects of my problems’.

New situations make me anxious. Lots of people I don’t know make me anxious. The situation I was walking into was not new (this would be my third time performing the task) and there would be many people, but few of them would (most likely) want to interact with me. I could take a book for the time I would be waiting in line to distract myself and give a reason why I was ‘tuned out’ (even if I exaggerated the level of my distraction).

I knew how to approach the situation, and that I had come through it twice before with some lingering effects of anxiety and upset but no severe problems.

Despite the low-level anxiety – about what I would expect for this sort of task – I started off on the same tack. One of my friends helpfully encouraged and reminded me that I could do it and I would come out of it fine, and she’d be waiting to talk to me again when I returned home afterwards. I set off, book in hand, ready to try it, even though my anxiety had gone from feeling emotionally awful and dreading the place I was going to feeling physically ill with it and verging on wanting to cry.

I drove myself there, had a quiet surge of misery and anxiety when I pulled into the parking lot, and nearly did throw up when I saw the line stretching outside the building. When I couldn’t find a parking spot on my first round through the lot, I pulled back out onto the main street, on the verge of crying and still trying to master nausea and an anxiety attack while I drove, with no idea where I was headed.

After five or ten minutes, a little away from downtown, I found a spot under a tree to pull over, and spent another five to ten minutes crying and having a quiet breakdown. I dragged myself back together and did the stern self-management thing – okay; you need to either go back, or go home, but pick one and do it now, Serena.

I chose to go back. I dried my face a little, put Bridget in gear, and started off to find a place to turn around. Then realised I had been a little later than planned when I got to the place the first time (there’s a window of time to do it, relatively small) and had then driven away and spent more time breaking down. It might not be technically too late to go back, but. . .

I left and headed for home. After less than a mile on the highway I called a friend (one whose home is close to mine) and wobbled through asking if she was busy (yes, but with something she could easily stop) and then telling her I’d gone out to accomplish something and had a little bit of a breakdown. I asked if I could come and see her for a bit rather than going straight home.

I was welcomed with a long hug, allowed to sniffle and explain how awful I felt not just in the aftermath of the breakdown but for failing to accomplish this task I knew I could perform, and then distracted on to less upsetting topics. I stayed for a couple of hours (I honestly intended to derail her day for only a short time, but she neither complained nor shooed me home) and was eventually sent home with a much calmer disposition.

I couldn’t control the breakdown – sometimes I can’t. I did manage the aftereffects. I accepted that I couldn’t handle the situation at the time, even if it upset me, and removed myself from it. I drove away, safely. I asked for help, to the degree I could do so. Honestly that probably makes the day a win.

It doesn’t really feel like it. I did everything the way I should have, the way I have the prior times I’ve performed this task. It didn’t work out; this happens sometimes. I still feel like I failed. I haven’t attempted the task again yet (partly because several more things cropped up in the meantime that took up the days I could have) – I have asked for company the next time I do, and been told I can have it. We’ll see how it shakes out, maybe this week I’ll tackle it again.

Sometimes knowing how to manage your problems and even doing everything right just . . . isn’t enough. That doesn’t mean I’m broken and it doesn’t mean I failed, no matter what my glitchy brain sometimes tries to tell me. It’s okay when your best efforts still leave you shy of what you were aiming for. I guess it’s even okay to feel not okay about the whole thing.

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