Riding home from work one evening this week, something suddenly came to me. A moment of clarity, a rare thing these days! Triggers! What are they, and starts my anxious mind spinning.
Whilst having a late night Netflix binge at the start of the week, I got watching "Your Mind, Explained". A series of shorts I have to recommend, especially for anyone trying to get to grips with any mental health issues. One episode in particular resonated with me, surprise, surprise it was the one about Anxiety. In a couple of minutes, with a couple of simple diagrams, the process which causes anxiety to be an issue is explained brilliantly.
To recap, anxiety is a natural feeling, which is why everyone at some point refers to moments of anxiety. From remembering to doing things before leaving home, to triggers which help up make decisions in the blink of an eye (cross or don't cross the road etc), identifying danger, using our past experiences, or things we have learned growing up. Anxiety is a necessary process to keep us safe and functioning.
The problem arises when that process is used irrationally, albeit unintentionally. There is a time and place for genuine anxiety. Most will know the unwanted kind which tends to pop up when you are in a new environment, or in a situation which could change things for you, exams etc. This is usually a short lived thing, but it triggers all sorts of physical actions. Upset stomach, dry mouth, you know, all those things which you really don't need right there and then.
For others, these moments are all too frequent, and triggered by what most would deem the most insignificant of events. Getting on a crowded train or bus for example. For me, this can be complete hell, for most it is just an unwanted situation, but one you will get through with little more than a little reluctance.
As I was taught by Netflix, this is Social Anxiety, and quite simply, it is the feeling of being judged and watched by everyone around you. Fearing that you are not worthy, not wanted, or just don't fit in. Simple eye contact can turn into a fast spinning whirlwind of panic. Of course, eye contact is something 95% of people avoid in confined spaces anyway, which is demonstrated by our love of phones, games consoles, and newspapers when using public transport. Not to mention my two favourites, headphones and sunglasses.
Then there is the sort of anxiety I noticed on the ride home, and a far more common one for me. Situational anxiety. Have you ever had a confrontation with someone, and found yourself replaying it in your head? The confrontation lasted 30 seconds, a quick exchange of words, and it's over. But for you, in your mind, the next 20-30 mins are spent dwelling on it. Replaying it, rethinking what you could have, or should have said or done? I am guessing at that time period, as for me, it can last a few hours or a few days. I kid you not. Revisiting the situation, going through the whole thing from start to finish, examining what was said by the other party, exploring what could have been meant by every word. Wondering what that person is thinking or saying about you, how could you have handled it differently. Wondering if they are even bothered about it, or simply moved on.
An exchange on social media last week is a great example of that. And for the few words that were said, their meaning was chewed over for a couple of days at least. With the intentions towards me, of the person saying them mulled over too.
Anyway, back to the ride...
Riding along a quiet road, decent pace, I noticed a few young lads by the side of the road throwing conkers at each other. From about 50-100 metres away I could see what they were doing. Playful, laughing, no aggression. However as I got closer I started thinking they might throw something at me as I passed. A lone cyclist, quiet road, I mean, why not, that's what kids do, right.
Now I KNOW this isn't what all kids do, and I know it is completely irrational to assume something would happen, but that is how this mind works. So now I am getting tense. Remember this is all happening within 50-100 metres at about 20mph! Getting closer I can feel my grip on the bars increasing, shoulders tensing, waiting, preparing for something to be thrown my way.
Will it hit me, will something bounce on the ground near me, will it make me fall off or wobble. Just the one or multiple, if they do, should I stop, should I just shout, maybe just ride on. If I stop or shout, what do I say, do I swear and become immediately aggressive, laugh it off, turn around and confront them.
If I say something, what if they reply, would it turn physical, 3 onto 1, confronting is a bad idea, but why should they get away with it... And so on.
10 seconds later, I have passed them, stiff as a board, stressed as I can possibly be. Breathing out for the first time since seeing them.... NOTHING! They are still messing about, play fighting among each other, probably didn't even see me pass by. A few deep breaths, the cycle of anxiety broken this time around, and I carry on on my way home.
Within a minute of this happening, my mind is busy, writing this blog entry in my head. It's a breakthrough! Finally I have a perfect example of how the anxious mind works, and how quickly normality can become hell for some people. Similar cycles pop up repeatedly for the remainder of the ride home, and every ride which has any kind of interaction or even just potential interaction with people along the way.
Now imagine that thought process, almost ever present, ready to leap out at you and start spinning. Any situation is a potential trigger, it just takes the wrong word, look, or environment for it all to start spinning. Shopping, travelling, driving, the list is endless. And the list is very different for different people.
So finally after almost a week, here I am writing this, hoping that it once again strikes a chord with one or two people out there, and makes some sense of what they are feeling. Or in some cases, makes it easier for others to understand how some peoples minds works.
Anxiety and avoidance go hand in hand for this exact reason. It is not the fear of the activity or event, not the lack of will to participate. But instead the fear of the unknown, unplanned, unforseen. Being unprepared for a situation which might arise, and the subsequent spiral of thoughts it will induce.
Meeting a stranger for the first time. I can outwardly appear fine about it. My natural defences will help me fight through the situation with some dark humour, a little laughter and finding a way to speed my way through the encounter. Like a duck in water, on the surface, all seems calm, I am gliding along through the conversation or situation. But below the surface, all hell is breaking loose. Legs kicking like crazy, struggling to stay afloat and present.
While I may glide through a situation with apparent ease. By the end of it I am absolutely exhausted and drained. Needing some me time to recharge, regroup, before I can even contemplate being in a similar situation. The natural ability to fight through a situation can become a serious drain on the mind, and if put in a situation too many times, in too short a period of time, can lead to a complete shutdown.
This is something I try and avoid putting myself through. So if ever you see me being quiet, doing my own thing, not being too chatty or getting into big conversations, that is more than likely all that is going on with me. The same I would guess would apply to some others too.
To put it into context, when the average person has a physically exhausting day, it is nice to put your feet up in the evening. When the same person has a long week, it is nice for them to take the weekend to themselves to get their energy back. When you do that for too long without a good enough rest, you become weak, exhausted, and unable to function correctly..
Welcome to my mind.... It is exactly the same, you just can't see the soreness, or massage it away. It just takes time.
Phew, speaking of exhaustion... For once, it is physical for me, and that is a nice feeling. Doesn't mean I will sleep any better, but it is nice to physically feel recovery once in a while.
Speaking of sleeping, before I go... YOGA!
I blogged about relaxation the other day, with James and his reflexology being one way to recharge. At the moment yoga is my thing. Spending time with yourself, relaxing the mind while working the body hard, all in the privacy of my home, and not moving an inch. The best part being, with no risk of encountering anyone in the process. 30 minutes of a near state of meditation is an amazing thing, and something I am really benefiting from. So if you get a chance, relax, be at one with yourself, and take some time out to relax your mind.
A few deep breaths here, and I am done....