Patience and Perspective: Anxiety Feels Like a Nightmare

I’m really good at waiting. I can sit and pass time easily since I usually have a book or something on me at all times. I can even do it, though less easily, when I don’t have anything to do. I’ve got plenty to think about, can doze easily, and have no problem letting time traipse past when I need to. I never fret about being early because I don’t mind waiting and I feel more comfortable having to wait than having to rush.

The one catch is that I’m only good at waiting for things with set times. If I know how long I have to wait, I don’t mind waiting. If I don’t know and it is something important to me, then I will be a giant ball of anxiety counting seconds until whatever it is I’m waiting for comes to pass. A lot of the time, it comes up with stuff like waiting for important results or waiting to hear back from people. Job applications, medical procedures, the arrival of important packages, a return message from someone, a phone call that will make or break my plans. All of them will get me anxious, some more than others. I can distract myself, but not always and generally not for very long.

When it happens, I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can feel the tension in the air around me and it drives me crazy. I feel like something horrible is about to happen or I expect the worst and the seconds drag by because I can’t let my mind focus on anything else. I can feel the weight of it on the horizon and I can’t look away for fear of missing the chance to be ready for it.

Sometimes, when I am getting sick or have something preventing me from sleeping soundly, I have strange dreams. They’re almost always the same or incredibly similar dreams as well. My perspective is distorted, no matter what I do, like when you stare at a computer monitor for so long that it starts to take up your whole field of vision and the text or image you’re staring at seems like it is drifting further and further away as your brain attempts to reconcile the fact that what you’re looking at is actually very small with the fact that it uses a few tricks of the light to appear larger. In these dreams with the weird, elongated perspective, I have to roll up some tiny black and white grains into a ball. It requires “swooping” down to the floor for them because I can’t see them any other way thanks to the distorted perspective.

They make my brain hurt. If I have that dream, which sometimes includes a blanket made of the same black and white grains that keeps trying to cover me in what is supposed to be a comforting manner, it is a sure sign that I’m getting sick. There’s a similar one, with the same perspective and grains, but this time they’re arranged in straws or strings that are tangled in a knotty ball that I have to smooth out in order to continue traveling towards my destination. This one hurts my brain even more because the ball is decided non-euclidean and the normal ways I have of interacting with it and defining it as “smooth” don’t apply on account of its strange, irrational shapes.

A lot of the time, that is what waiting for a long but definitely unknown amount of time feels like. A brain twist that knots up my guts and leaves me feeling sick or nauseous. Distractions are like waking up. Sooner or later I’m going to go back to sleep and then I’ll be right back in the middle of it. There’s no escaping it until the night is over.

I’ll admit the comparison is a bit over the top, but waiting three hours past when I was supposed to get a phone call is just as exhausting and mind-bending as non-euclidean dreams fulled by anxiety and some inner part of myself that freaks out when I get sick. It fuels my anxiety like an energy drink fuels a small child. I try to set my expectations so that I am not left waiting for a long period of time. If I don’t expect to be called at a certain time, I cannot be disappointed when I do not get the call. If I don’t set an exact time, it can be easier to wait. Not always, but sometimes.

A lot of managing my anxieties is about setting expectations correctly. Managing my outlook so that I’m never in a position where I’m expecting something that is unlikely to happen or filling my head with all the horrible reasons that could explain why I’m still waiting on something. This is probably the easiest way to address my anxieties and something that every single therapist I’ve ever seen has recommended. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it.

I’ve been trying to practice it as a part of my meditation and reflection, but that makes it feel like it is making things more difficult rather than easier. I remember being able to handle all of my mental health issues easily as a result of meditation and reflection back when I was in college and so getting back into the habit now is unfortunately giving me unreasonable expectation of just being able to fix whatever is on my mind with a single evening’s work. As I’ve said previously, that’s not how progress works. That’s not how I’m going to grow and continue to make healthy improvements. Things take time and setting that expectation is the most important thing I do every day.

Still, there are times I find myself settling in to meditate and wishing that I could quickly fix my own problems and figure out what to do with whatever it is I’m feeling. Now, it takes time and I grow impatient. Worse yet, it takes an unknown amount of time and it is difficult to prevent those anxieties from building. My mind creates a silent mantra of “why haven’t I fixed this by now?” that is hard to ignore.

I’m really glad I’ve been writing things down. It makes it a lot easier to remind myself to go easy on myself when I can read my own personalized reminders. I feel like a jumbled mess, still, but I also feel more stable. A lot of my mental structures may be shakey and built on fault likes, but they’re more reinforced than they’ve ever been. I just need to keep working and wait for the progress to become more noticeable.

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