Anxious Mind Vs Rational Mind

Wow, it seems I connected with quite a few people with my last post about anxiety and my journey in getting more comfortable applying that label to myself.

So. I thought I’ll continue and post again on anxiety as I am just a tart for the attention… *cough* … hoping that through explaining how it is for me, it might help some other people either not feel so alone, or understand a loved one better.

I’m also procrastinating writing an essay for my PTLLS course and if I procrastinate by writing an anxiety post, well, that’s almost work isn’t it…. ūüėČ

Writing this is helping me clarify my own process as I try and turn it into coherent sentences. Which makes me feel better if no one reads this! The next thing I wanted to ponder and write about was the split I feel between the anxious and non-anxious me. But as irony would have it, I’ve been too anxious since the last post to write properly! Work is just a bit mad at the moment, I have far more responsibility and pressure than I signed up for and have been navigating my way through anxious waters. However, what I’m interested in writing about and exploring here is how I change when moving between rational and anxious mindsets.

There are two versions of me (at least!). This is something that was said many years ago, a friend’s experience of me in the late 1990’s was that I possessed two personalities – so much so that she actually wondered for a time whether I did have a multiple personality disorder! At the time I was at Drama School in London and suffering so badly with anxiety and paranoia that to this day I wonder how the hell I made it through.¬†Stubbornness¬†obviously has a lot to answer for!

And you know… she wasn’t actually far wrong in her assessment of me. While I don’t suffer from MPD or anything remotely close, there are two me’s where my anxiety is concerned and when I am in one state, it is very difficult for me to understand or be empathic toward the other state – or even accept that the other state exists! I wanted to experiment in this post and write from both states of mind. So far, (as far as I can tell!!) I’m writing from my rational state. However, whenever I tried to write from my anxious self… well, maybe I’ll expose that at some point, but not here. Each anxious word makes me cringe and second guess and I have to delete it.

There is the rational me, the me I like to be, the me I aspire to be as much as I can. Rational me isn’t unemotional or possessed of Spock-type logic, just able to understand and deal with the world better. Take things in my stride, not let setbacks put me on my arse, and generally keep on keeping on. This is what I tend to think of (these days at least) as the usual me, the normal me, the me I should be (as much as I detest the word ‘should’). It’s just occurred to me that the fact I see this as my usual and normal self speaks volumes about the journey I’ve been on. Five years ago, I’m not sure this was the case.

Then there is the anxious me, the me that worries, that sees the potential dangers in everything, that will find a ‘but’ to every helpful suggestion you make, the me that can’t cope that isn’t strong enough, the me I feel ashamed of, the me I have hated and despised for so many years, the me I failed to keep hidden and secret from the world no matter how much I tried, the me that made a mahoosive crisis out of the tiniest drop of spilt milk.

Blimey – even in writing that I can’t help but judge the anxious me… look at that… the anxious me, a drama queen, making a fuss, being a crybaby… that’s how it feels. That’s how my rational self judges my anxious self.

Even now, having just come out of an anxious state, I find it difficult to empathise with the emotions I felt while there. It’s been a tough week for me, and several times I came home from work drained and upset and in tears, my ever-supportive hubby there to be the sounding board for all my anxious thoughts and fears. I confided in him that I felt just rational enough to recognise that I wasn’t being rational at that point. I didn’t know which, if any, of my thoughts and reactions and emotions were a reasonable response to the situation and which were a product of my anxiety triggers curling round and piling up on themselves. A voice in my head wants to insist that maybe I was overtired, overreacting (a word I heard so often growing up), and I’m what… 48 hours out of that state? It’s really hard to maintain empathy for the anxious state – and I experience it! What must it be like for someone who doesn’t experience anxiety to maintain empathy for a loved one that does?

I know I struggle hugely to maintain empathy with myself (and others at times), the temptation to snap “will you just snap out of it and get a grip!” is unbearable at times!

My anxious state finds it impossible to believe that this will end. Even last week I was constantly having to remind myself that (as the saying goes) “this too will pass”. Even retaining rational thoughts through the anxiety, it was a struggle to keep my rational thoughts placed above the anxious ones, while still giving the anxiety the space it needed to be acknowledged, accepted and moved through – even if there’s not a rational basis, the anxiety is still there and trying to push it away will just cause it to push back harder.

The anxious thoughts were so much shinier! So much louder and brighter and easier to believe and give in to! I could give any amount of “evidence” to the anxiety. I was pretty much having to accept the rational thoughts on faith… It was almost an experiment…

Now of course… I clearly see the rational thoughts as absolutely true, they have been backed up by my colleagues and boss and proven by a number of means. The anxious thoughts now hide, ashamed, in my head. Did I really think that, feel that? Really? What… me? Good old organised control freak me?

And I need to remind myself that I did. I need to remember the struggle so that when this switch happens again, I can hang on to those rational thoughts again. This time, there will be evidence instead of pure faith. I will remember having done this, and being an experiential learner, next time will be easier.

It’s my hope that like muscles, this gets easier and stronger with practise. It’s only through practise that we get better. Sorry to any who wish this, but there is nothing that will *bing* make it all better forever without you having to do any more work.

It’s always a process, a continuum through which we move, hopefully mostly forward, but usually quite¬†erratically. Nature isn’t that keen on straight lines, and I try and remember that as my path curves and twists!

I guess then, maybe what I’m ultimately hoping for is a synthesis between my rational and anxious states? To have both exist at the same time rather than this light on/light off business. Or at least to maintain an awareness of both, instead of constantly having an argument in my head like an anxious/rational version of a believer/atheist. One knows it exists and sees no evidence for the other. I think, cautiously and optimistically, that I’m starting to get this now after 20 years.

I’ve pondered on this split state that I feel between my rational and anxious selves. It’s like… a light being turned on and off in a room. With the difference that you cannot conceive that the light could be any different, you cannot remember what the room looked like when lit – because to that state, it was never lit – when the light is off, well it was never on, it just pretended to be on to lie to you, to lead you to the middle of the room and then strand you there while darkness fell. When the light is on, well… what’s all the fuss about, you can see everything, you can see where the door is to leave… what on earth is there to be worried about?!

And never shall the two states meet.

It’s like a train. Rumbling down it’s tracks until somehow a switch gets thrown and the train shunts onto a different set of tracks… and the original ones vanish in the dust…. were they ever there?

I’m still not completely clear on what causes this switch. Sometimes, like my recent situation at work, it’s fairly obvious and clear. Sometimes, it’s sudden and unexpected and I flounder in the dark until my eyes get used to it. Sometimes I don’t realise that my state has changed and I try and carry on as normal until I realise I’m completely lost. Sometimes, it’s slow and sly and creeps up on me in tiny increments you can’t see until weeks later I look around and wonder how the hell I missed the signs that lead me here!

The anxious me feels like a much younger part of me, sometimes even down to a little toddler screaming the house down coz their mum just left the room to get their sandwich… It’s as strong, as earth shattering and as irrational as Separation Anxiety.

Actually, that’s a very good analogy. To a baby going through separation anxiety, all they know is their mum just walked away from them. They don’t know you’re back in a minute with a snack, they don’t know the other side of the door is just as it’s always been and not transformed into a pit of lava. The world is a strange place with confusing rules to a child, rules that sometimes change just as they think they’ve understood them. The world as we get older withdraws it’s treats from us more and more. Babies get (hopefully) everything they need – their tummy’s feel hurty, they cry, they get warm milk in their mouths. As we get older we are taught¬†patience, delayed gratification, to tolerate the world not giving us what we demand. We have to learn that we don’t get everything we want as soon as we want it. This is a vital lesson, but a very painful one.

Am I the only child who thought that if I just stared hard enough at the toy in the display cabinet, someone would see and buy it for me? I think for years I stared at a me without anxiety, but no one bought it for me.

I don’t know if everyone who feels anxiety experiences this split state thing? Is it common? Is it just me?

I didn’t even know I did this until my counselling training brought awareness to the process, helped by the observations of a trusted friend who pretty much saw my brain switch from one state to the next to back again over the course of 48 hours due to some situation or other that I using to bolster that “I’m really a crap excuse for a human being” belief.

As another trusted friend continues to tell me when I need it – your brain lies to you. And it does. The trick is remembering which brain you’re in at the time.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nicky Lawrence
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 11:49:24

    That’s just explained to me why I couldn’t find the words comment on your last post. Anxious me and Rational me wanted to say very different things. Anxious me empathises and wants to say how deeply your words touched me and resonated, while Rational me thinks Anxious me is a wuss who is just making a big fuss about nothing and shouldn’t presume to compare my non-existant problems with your real struggles. I think I flick between the two very quickly most of the time – but it’s like those optical illusion pictures – you can’t see both the candlesticks and the faces at the same time, even if you can move between the two almost at will, and intellectually understand that both are ‘real’.

    Reply

    • poppythistle
      Mar 17, 2012 @ 14:40:33

      Absolutely – I think for me the first step was just holding the thought that the candlesticks existed when the face was seen, and holding that thought on “faith” almost, when I couldn’t rationally accept it.
      My recent experience has been that it’s easier to accept rational thought when in anxious state, and to accept it will come back to me (sometimes all that’s needed is a good sleep!) even if my feeling state is a universe away.

      Reply

  2. wildjuju
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 11:52:15

    Absolutely! I have watched it in others for some time, but it was only last year when I personally experienced the full on ‘can’t see how it could ever be other than the frightening way it is now’ anxious mind. If I could take your lights on /lights off scenario a bit further, I might suggest someone plays with the dimmer switch! For me, there is a transition period between the two states, sometimes I can see it, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it is sudden, others it is gradual as things pile up. Outside perspectives are essential to challenge my own mind and test its reality against everyone else’s. I’m very grateful to the people who perform that role for me (so many, in so many scenarios, now that I am better at expressing my need for it)

    Reply

    • poppythistle
      Mar 17, 2012 @ 14:43:29

      I like the dimmer switch analogy! I’m just getting that now… for two decades it’s been black/white. Now I’m starting to get the shades of grey which make it easier to live with, although the lights of rationality can dim and vanish without me noticing still at times.
      I’m getting better at believing people now when I need to test the reality in my head against the rest of the world!

      Reply

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