Cocaine or Busyness? An Anxious Person's Take on Coping Mechanisms

November 27, 2018


I don't do drugs. Mostly because I've watched Trainspotting too many times, and I know what that shit does to you. Instead, give me a full calendar and a rapidly-approaching deadline and I'm high as a kite. What is it about a person with a (mostly) functioning level of anxiety that craves the crunch? Today, I want to talk to you about the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of anxiety and the dark places I go when I'm not running a million miles an hour.


The Good

Raise your hand if you have an anxiety disorder and you've ever heard the following phrases - 

1. Wow, you're so punctual!

2. Your attention to detail is impressive. 

3. You're really calm for someone with so much on their plate.

4. I love that you always seem to have a plan.

5. You showed some really great leadership today.


These are all super awesome compliments, right? Who wouldn't want to be known as the on-time, detail-oriented, calm/cool/collected person on their team? What other kind of mental illness propels your career and masquerades as the belle of the ball with their shit together? 


The statements above were all made about me this week. I feel more accomplished in my professional life than I have in a while, but the truth is that anxiety presents itself in some pretty insidious ways. 


The Bad

This past month has been particularly intense and I do weird stuff when I'm stressed. For me, they're completely normal things - but I recognize them as stereotypy (repetitive pointless tasks), especially when I am not completing a focused activity. Here are a couple of things that I consider 'weirdness' that aren't disruptive to my day:


1. Spelling words in my head as I'm walking. An old standby since I was a kid is the repetitive spelling of lieutenant. step L step I step E step U step T step E step N step A step N step T step. By the way, it only works if you step two times per sidewalk square - even the short ones or the ones that are a bit too long to comfortably take two steps. 


Sometimes I spell complex words, but they're usually words that hold some kind of strange or non-phonetic spelling. This is most apparent when I'm walking with someone who wants to have a conversation and I have to keep asking them what they just said. A lot of times I blame it on my partial deafness. It's a great cover story.


2. Since I was a kid, I've had Keratosis Pilaris, which is a fancy term for extra bumpy skin (thanks mom!).  Think of it like having a million billion tiny little plugged hair follicles on different parts of your body that are extremely pickable. For most people, KP just means you have bumpy skin, and it can look a little weird or sometimes get inflamed. In a person with anxiety and borderline OCD tendencies, it can spur on skin-picking (Dermatillomania). I pick my arms and legs all. the. time.


To cope with this compulsion, I wear long sleeves and NEVER shorts. I sit in bed and pick at my arms when I'm thinking or I can't sleep. It really bothers my husband that I do it in bed. 


3. I freak out in cars. This includes episodes like today where I am shrieking at my husband the entire ride home about how we're following too close and I am audibly gasping for air as he gently brakes when traffic slows down. I almost had to get out of the car today. It's been a while since that happened.


On my worst days, I won't leave the house. During those times, I've orchestrated a story about something terrible that happened, but not terrible as to not also be believable - which prevented me from going to the office.


The Ugly

None of this stuff is all that bad, Meg! What are you even worrying about? It sounds like you've got a good head on your shoulders and being busy is definitely not the worst thing that could happen. You're right, stranger. There are loads of people who are much worse off than I am. These all sound like very first-world problems.


Some folks don't have jobs - or legs for that matter. I can make comparisons all day.


I can do it while I'm physically exhausted. While I pick fights with my husband. While I lose patience for my children and cry in the bathroom. While I close my office door at work and put on my headphones and pretend I'm on an important call just to avoid human interaction.


I can make comparisons while I'm afraid to travel to family's houses on holidays. While every time I walk my son to school and he crosses the street, my mind plays the exact moment a car runs the red light and ends his nine years on this earth. What would I ever do without him? Could I ever live another day? Would it be weird if I walked him to school every day for the rest of his life? 


Oh well - step L step I step E step U step T step E step N step A step N step T step over and over while you march back home by yourself. 


These thoughts would consume me if it weren't for the high I get from being busy. While constantly running away from the demons is not the most helpful tool in my mental health toolkit, it sure as hell beats stopping for long enough to let them catch me. 





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