To ruminate or not to ruminate; that is the question

Well, guys, I officially live in Brooklyn now and it. is. the. best. Seriously, let me just break this down for you. Our new place is a big step up in terms of niceness: the fixtures are gorgeous, there’s way more closet space, the design is really open, there’s a washer/dryer in the apartment, we’re up high enough that we barely hear street traffic, and we have an awesome view of Brooklyn. Not to mention the geography of it all, which entails a commute that’s been cut in half, about a bazillion more restaurants around us, a private dog run, and we’re a 5 minute walk from some of our best friends(seriously. I timed it). I’m not sure what I’ve been doing all this time, but I am so, so thankful to the dude for finding such an amazing space for us to live.

I was actually pretty chill on moving day, which surprised the hell out of me. I was sure I’d be up at 4:00 am nauseous with my heart pounding out of my chest. But I wasn’t really. I had a little tightness in my chest, but it was negligible. I’m still flabbergasted.

I’ve also had very little anxiety since the move, which was expected. I’m mentioning it because, as I said before, anxiety has changed. I’m only ruminating when the anxiety is already really bad, which is new for me. I feel like I’ve spent half of my life inside my own head, wrapped up in my thoughts. I actually don’t really know what to do; ruminating is one of the signals that I’m anxious about something, and it prompts me to start doing all of the stuff I know to do to help anxiety. But because that’s not happening, I’ve spent the last six weeks or so being like “I’m totally fine, this is great!” and then having two panic attacks in a 24-hour-period. So, no, I was not actually totally fine, but I didn’t know that because the scale I use to measure is no longer applicable.

Something that a lot of people don’t understand is that part of why anxiety – and rumination in particular – sucks so much is the intrusiveness. It’s the not being in control of what’s happening or what you’re thinking. The dude, my sister, and the bird are such great anxiety touch points for me because they check in, especially if I’ve said it’s a bad day or asked for help, but not overly so because they know that feels much the same as rumination. For the most part, they check in once or twice on bad days or if they know there’s something coming up that I’m anxious about, and then treat any day after that as normal, which is perfect. I know they care about me, but I’m not reminded of how anxious I am/was because they don’t keep asking about it. For example, this conversation happened yesterday:

Me: “I’m feeling kind of anxious about you being gone.”

The dude: “I’m sorry, dear.”

Me: “It’s ok. It’s not your fault. It’s just something that’s happening.”

And then we didn’t talk about it for the rest of the day. And he hasn’t asked me about it at all and you know what? I’m totally cool with that because it means I’m not forced to think about the thing that’s making me anxious every time he asks about it or checks in. I’m not saying I want him to totally ignore me when I express that I’m feeling anxious, just that I’m realizing that checking in all of the time feels kind of the same way rumination does, and that’s something I never realized before.

I’m noticing all of this because I’m not ruminating as much, so I notice it more when I am. And I’m here in this new mental space trying to figure out what this means for anxiety and for how I manage it. On the one hand, this is awesome. I’m not stuck in my own head? Are you kidding? This is freedom like I’ve never known. It’s so powerful, and I really credit therapy and meditation for that. On the other hand, I feel like now I have a blind spot. I’ve put so much work into figuring out how to deal with anxiety and now that it’s harder to tell when it’s creeping up, it’s like that work feels pointless. I know it’s not and I’ll work it out, but right now it’s really frustrating to know that I can help myself, I just don’t know when I need to and often I’m too late. Sigh.

I guess I see anxiety in two ways: there’s anxiety, which consists of small things like a little tightness in my chest or feeling a little more alert, and then there’s Anxiety, which is that and more: rapid breathing and nausea and having to go to the bathroom and all of the fun stuff that, if I’m not careful, leads to a panic attack. So here’s my problem: rumination, for me, was the signal that anxiety was becoming Anxiety, and that I needed to get my shit together. So I’m having to relearn the subtleties of anxiety, and, I’ll be honest guys, it’s not easy. Take yesterday morning, for instance: I woke up with some tightness in my chest, did my usual oh hey, I see you, let’s go back to what we were doing, and made coffee. It was still there. Then I was thinking about how the dude will be traveling for work this week and wondering what mornings will be like with the dog while he’s gone, and my chest got a little tighter. Ok. So now what? I know why I’m anxious, but it just doesn’t seem bad enough to take a dose of CBD, particularly because I find CBD to be a little hit or miss for low-level anxiety stuff. And it’s expensive, so I don’t want to take it unless I’m in a situation where I know it will help. So now what? I’m lucky that it was the weekend; I went for a walk, ate, did some yoga, and it was better. But what do I do when I’m at work and those things aren’t possible? I can’t even pee when I want to, let alone go take a walk.

I’m just kind of feeling stuck and unsure, and while conceptually that’s fine, in practice it’s making me kind of anxious. And knowing that the dude will be gone is adding to that, especially because last time was so rough. To be perfectly honest, there’s fear that I’m going to have another panic attack, which is annoying because I’m very conscious of the fact that fear begets fear. It’s not preoccupying me, but it’s there, and I know that fear of experiencing anxiety contributes to anxiety and then you end up in that stupid loop. I hate that loop. I’m really trying to be present, to take deep breaths, to practice noting. I’m not really ruminating, but there’s some background chatter happening and I know that if I engaged with it it’s all I would think about.

Oh my god. I just realized – I’m not ruminating as much because I’ve learned how to recognize it and how not to engage. Even though it makes things a bit tricky, it’s actually proof of the work I’ve been putting in and my brain’s neuroplasticity (shout out to my AP Psych kids, who absolutely love that concept). That is so. fucking. cool.

Ok. So maybe what I really need to do here is reframe. I’ve been looking at the absence of rumination as a bad thing. But DAMN guys, this is awesome! I’m not stuck in my head worrying and spending all of that mental energy and exhausting myself. I’m not creating more anxiety for myself(well, usually). I’m not engaging. Holy crap. In no way I’m I going to pretend that I’m in control of anxiety – because that’s folly – but I think I’ve just reached a whole new level of management.

I’m going to do my best to keep this is mind when I’m feeling anxious over the next few days – because I will be – and to remind myself that the worst case scenario is unlikely and that I have some control over whether it gets there or not. I can choose not to engage. I can choose how I deal with symptoms. I am not powerless. In fact, I got this.

One thought on “To ruminate or not to ruminate; that is the question

  1. Pingback: Sneaky ways that anxiety affects my relationships | it's only fear

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