The story I’m making up

My sister and I went to see Sisters this weekend, and it was awesome. You should go.

There’s a moment where Maura (Amy Poehler) and James (Ike Barinholtz) are alone together and Maura suggests that they share their fears. The first time, they say superficial fears. Then they do it again, and they share what they’re really afraid of.

Watching this moment after having had a few days of intense anxiety was awesome. It was so great to hear people naming their deep-seated fears – those things that you’re so afraid to admit because even speaking them gives them a chance to come true. Naming your fears is difficult enough, but adding an anxiety disorder to that equation takes it off the charts. Because then it’s not the normal what if they think I’m stupid for being afraid of this or what if this fear is right? It’s that plus oh my god they’re going to think I’m stupid and they’re going to leave me because they deserve someone better and they probably think I’m crazy and I’m going to be alone forever.

The difference is how you frame things. Typically when we’re scared or nervous, we ask questions: what if this? what if that? For me, the anxiety skips this step completely and jumps straight to they think, they feel, they will. Anxiety wrestles the question to the ground and sits on its chest, asserting its dominance like a schoolyard bully. Anxiety makes the decision not only for you, but for the other people as well. It strips you of the open-ended what if. Anxiety assumes that the worst case is the only case, the only option, the only possibility. And then, it bases everything on those (usually) false assumptions.

One of the most useful things I’ve starting using to deal with this (and this is a huge struggle for me to remember to even do) is a tip from Brene Brown. She uses this technique in the context of relationships and being vulnerable with another person, and I’ve used it that way. But for me, it’s also a really helpful way to talk to and about my anxiety. All you say is “the story I’m making up is ___________” and then fill in the blank with your fear or assumption. This sounds really simple, but it’s actually amazing; when I use this with my anxiety, it’s actually my way of naming what the anxiety is making me think, and it helps me to identify what the actual problem is and what’s just my anxiety talking at me in overdrive. And it helps me to practice accepting it and living with it, as I’ve mentioned before.

This is super hard for me to remember to do, but it’s really effective. And, to be honest, most of the time when I forget to do this I’m then hard on myself afterwards for forgetting it. And that’s part of what I need to work on. I need to remind myself that it’s ok to forget techniques and tips, it’s ok to get lost on the feeling, because, well, I’m still learning. I tell my students all the time that I don’t expect them to get a concept or a skill right away, that it takes practice. And I should remind myself of that, too. Because the story I’m making up is that I have to get everything the first time. And you know what? That story is wrong.

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