My Brain in Pictures

There’s a lot going on in here…


I have a lot going on right now, but don’t we all? With anxiety, though, “having a lot going on” is as much an internal thing as it is external. For every outside “thing” happening in my life—changes at work, an upcoming conference, adapting my schedule to go to the gym—there are at least two or three things happening in my head.

Overwhelmed and Overrun

There are a couple of nightmares I tend to have when I’m really stress out. In one, my home is infested with bugs: wriggly ones, skittering ones, flying ones, big and small. They’re everywhere and I can’t get away. The other is usually me facing some sort of enormous natural disaster: fire, hurricane, tornado, flood.

Giant Wave Tiny Boat.jpg
original here

I am cognizant of feeling a sense of dread sometimes, of that squeeze in my chest that tells me panic is trying to take over. I suppose my subconscious depicts panic as bugs and tsunamis.

Weight of the World

With the state of the world right now, my… hero complex? Sounds too grandiose. My “I have to fix everything” complex comes into play. I want to do more, be more of an activist, but I just can’t handle it right now. So then I feel personally guilty for not single-handedly fixing things for my fellow humans. The weight of that (unnecessary and frankly absurd) guilt presses down on me, as the anxious part of my brain screams at me to “DO SOMETHING!”

from Godzilla, 1998

I tell myself that just taking care of myself, doing my best in my work, and being as kind and compassionate to those around me as I can is enough right now. And sometimes I even believe it.

Frozen in Fear

There have been times when my depression and anxiety have paralyzed me. I can recall a time many years ago, when I sat on my sofa the entire day and stared at the TV. I’m not even sure it was on. I had a million important things to do and could not figure out where to start. The fear of failure left me unable to make a decision, any decision.

original here

I’m better about that now, but I still tend to procrastinate out of fear of making the wrong choice. That seems to be a common issue, so at least I’m not alone there.

Hanging by a Thread

Recently, when I was going through a particularly bad patch, I remember telling someone that I felt like an action movie, paused as the bomb has 1 second left on the clock. That sense of dread I mentioned earlier comes into play here. Sometimes, when things are really bad, I feel like a tightrope walker or a mountain climber: one wrong move, and I’m done for.

from Wikipedia, “Free Climbing

Aside from the fact that I’m not fond of heights (well, not so much the height, as the concept of plummeting from it), this image reminds me that sometimes just staying on the path of one’s life is a struggle. You can’t always just stroll along. Sometimes you have to cling to it with white-knuckled determination, just to keep from losing your way.

I feel like things may be looking up. But this past year has been a series of ups and downs, and I’m not sure whether I’m reaching the top of the cliff or just the crest of another wave.

Gratuitous Guilt and the Burden of not being a Burden

I think I apologized to a wall once…

A few weeks ago, I accidentally disposed of my recycling in the dumpster instead of the recycling bin. I felt so bad about it that I considered trying to go in and get it. I did the same thing earlier today, and actually used a bungee cord to fish the bag out of the (thankfully empty) dumpster so I could move it to the bin.

A couple of days ago, I turned down an outing with friends because I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie they were going to. I felt the need to apologize several times to the friend who invited me, even though I know she is a kind and generous person who wouldn’t be angry at me for that.

And just the other day, I learned that my ex seems lonely across the country in his new life. While at first I was sort of glad, later on I cried over it, feeling so guilty about it. Even though it was his decision and his decision alone to break up with me and move away.

When we were together, he told me I apologize too much. My first instinct was to apologize for that. I apologize for everything, even things that I have no control over. I think I apologized to a wall once.

If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, I’ll apologize for the typhoon it caused in Japan.

A corollary to my guilt over everything that happens ever is that I try to avoid that guilt by never bothering anyone ever. Apparently what I wanted to be when I grew up was “not a burden.” My motto is “I’m okay. I’m always okay.” I have worked to be self-sufficient so that I don’t have to burden anyone else with my foibles, my quirks, my crazy brain.

I know I was not a burden to the ex. And yet, based on our conversations around the breakup, I ended up feeling that way. That he left because I was too much trouble. My logical side can counter this with example after example of how I have managed to take care of myself over the years, and how I not only took care of myself, but also took care of him during our relationship. And I know that the times he took care of me were not infrequent, but also were totally normal in the context of a serious relationship.

And yet. I go to my friends for support and feel guilty for doing so. I have been asked how I would feel if the roles were reversed: if one of my friends needed me, would I think of them as a burden? “I would just want to help them,” I replied. “So why is it different for you?”

I have no clear answer for that, except to say that I have this deeply ingrained need to not bother anyone, as well as this guilt for the times in which I may have done so. I don’t know where it comes from. If one were to liken the human brain to a library (which, of course, I would do–see the name of the blog), mine contains a book that holds the answer to this and many other “why am I so weird and crazy?” questions. That book is large, with densely printed text and massive amounts of scribbled marginalia. But the book has been mis-shelved on a range of shelves with similar looking books. That range of books is in an old dusty room with a locked door whose key is missing. And the door is hidden behind a massive microfiche cabinet that no one has touched for years. And I don’t know the room exists anyway.

I’m tired of feeling guilty for being who I am. It’s a hard habit to break. I want to do what is expected of me, to make sure everyone around me is happy (or at least content) and that I am not causing anyone any trouble. But it’s exhausting. Sometimes I feel as if I’m standing at the edge of a massive storm, and the only thing holding it back is me doing everything right. This is a ridiculous thought. But I know that there are others out there who feel the same way.

Someday I hope to discover that secret room, to break down a wall and avoid that locked door entirely. Perhaps I will discover why I strive so hard to please others at the expense of my own peace of mind. Or, at least, I’ll make sure the books in the room are shelved correctly.