Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reflections at the end of Lent, part 1.

This Lenten discipline of trying to address my social anxiety has been hard.  I’ve had “unsuccessful” disciplines before, and I know that forgiveness, absolution, reconciliation with G-d and humanity is not dependent upon me perfectly performing my Lenten practices (if it is … we’re all screwed).  I acknowledged going into this that I might not beat it - that I might wake Easter morning with all the obsessive thoughts still churning through my brain.  And, at this point, I haven’t beat it.  But I have learned a lot - and grown a little, I believe - and that’s a huge start.
1.  I’ve learned just how much my social anxiety takes from me.
  • It takes my ability to finish homework ahead of time.  If I have time to review my work before turning it in, I become sure that I’ve done it wrong and I will fail.  So I put off work till the last minute and stress out majorly over a period of a few hours instead of days.
  • It took my ability to judge what I look like.  You know what I just realized this week?  A 36C bra is a normal size.  I am not disgustingly huge.  I might be overweight according to BMI standards for my height, but I’m not huge.  Yet the anxiety tells me that I’m shameful, disgusting, etc.  I’ve been living that message for more than a decade.  Even when I was in kick-ass shape, able to run a 7 min mile and fifteen pounds lighter than I am now, I thought I was disgusting and huge. 
  • It puts up walls in my friendships.  Because I’m constantly worried about what people are thinking about me, I can’t be myself.  And because I’m constantly worried about being judged, I’m constantly judging others according to the extremely weird and totally irrational rules the anxious part of my brain has pretty much made up about dress and behavior.  
  • It hurts my relationship with Kristi.  No one wants to have to constantly reassure her partner that she’s beautiful.  Kristi has to do that every day, and I know she’s tired of it, and I know I’m tired of needing to hear it.

2.  I’ve learned how much time goes into my social anxiety.  One of the hardest things when I was first learning to break the repetitive-obsessive thoughts was figuring out what to think about instead.  I would get up and get in the shower and before I was finished brushing my teeth I’d be fussing about something that had happened the day before.  There was just a lot of time going into this crap!

3.  I’ve learned that the sick girl is not my past - she’s my present too.  Going deeply into my experiences of anxiety meant dealing with the fact that I am, presently, anxious.  Until recently I’ve wanted to believe that the “sick girl” is in my past - that I’ve overcome my mental illness and it’s gone, forever.  There’s no doubt that I’m much, much healthier now than I was in high school, and I’m proud to own that, but it doesn’t mean that everything is perfectly fine.  I still have a lot of brain re-wiring to do, and that’s OK.  I have to be OK with not being OK.

4.  I’ve learned to reward myself for “ordinary” things.  I came home tonight and proudly told Kristi that I’d gone to the grocery store and used the regular checkout.  This is a big deal.  I don’t remember the last time I used the regular checkout.  I use self check-out because then I don’t have to talk to anyone.  If I use regular checkout, the cashier will judge me!  my purchases!  my jacket!  my credit card design!  So I was really proud of myself for doing somethingridiculously normal - and that’s OK.  I have to counter all the shame, the guilt, the embarrassment of my panic attacks with the small accomplishments of everyday social exchanges with cashiers and sales associates and the UPS guy and whoever else.

5.  I’ve learned I don’t feel the anxiety when I feel the presence of G-d or when I’m leading worship.  They’re just not compatible.  So that’s nice.

Later I’ll reflect on some places that I feel I’ve grown, some ways my brain has started to function more on the normal wavelengths than on the anxious ones.  But for now, bed, because one of the important things in all this is getting a good amount of sleep!

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