Wednesday, April 18, 2012

follow yourself.

I'm learning to follow my instincts.

I can't tell you how tricky this is for me, because my instincts are tangled up in anxiety, and it's nearly impossible to extricate them from one another. I'm working really hard on differentiating between beneficial anxiety and detrimental, or false, anxiety. Beneficial anxiety? Well, yeah. Truth be told, a lot of my strengths and successes are actually rooted in anxiety. I'm hard-working and detail-oriented, and I think ahead. I have high expectations of those around me, but in the end, I'm always pushing myself the hardest. I can play devil's advocate better than almost anyone I know, and the insight and empathy that arise from examining all sides of a story are probably my biggest gifts as a social worker.

Analysis: it's how I roll. I actually got a perfect score on the analysis section of the GRE (and then spent 10 minutes analyzing whether the computer miscalculated my score, because certainly "800" was not my actual number). The trick is using my superpower of keen analysis for good, and not evil. Ay, there's the rub. Attention to detail flips over to perfectionism. Analysis slips into obsession. My Libra-esque internal scales eternally weigh options and opinions without ever making a firm decision. Not only that, but my mind makes magical, ridiculous leaps: It believes that thoughts control outcomes. Lots of times, this really is the case. For example, I turn a problem over in my head until a solution is revealed. I let a riddle marinate until the answer emerges. I can manage a dozen work programs at once, and successfully, because I think about them. I foresee issues and develop work-arounds; I balance the divergent needs of children, families, and staff.  (Hey, not always, but I try.) And, finally, I can ward off plane crashes by performing rituals.

Um. What?

Yeah. No, I know. I can look you in the eye and tell you that, logically, I know that's not how it works. Sure, some problems require careful thought, which will eventually lead to a solution. But most of the things I worry about can't be solved by analysis alone. Take, for example, my fear of flying. When I have an impending flight (ahem...day after tomorrow), I must tell everyone around me that it'll be my last, and please say nice things at my funeral. If I reveal to anyone that I believe I'm actually preventing my plane from crashing by performing this ritual, then the magic is broken, and I have to start over from square one. Yes, I know; pardon me while I adjust the waistband of my crazypants. But think about it: You can't tell me it hasn't worked. In fact, it's been proven effective dozens of times in the decade or so of my flying phobia. I know this because I haven't crashed yet. ...See how that works? Ah, magical thinking: for toddlers and Cathys alike.

I'm working really, really hard to extract myself from ropes of anxiety in regards to the magical thinking. It's really just an intense cognitive-behavioral process (until recently, performed under the close supervision of a professional) of recognizing when anxiety is tricking me - i.e., determining when anxiety is rightfully protective ("That man has a gun; I should duck") vs. false and detrimental ("If I don't worry the right amount about this presentation, then it'll be a flop"). The worry may lead to extreme preparation, which isn't such a bad thing in and of itself, but - and this is key - the preparation can still happen without the worry. And wouldn't it be nicer to have fun preparing instead of sweat my way through seven T-shirts whilst preparing? Most definitely.

And just because I'm feeling anxious does not mean that death and doom are imminent, as I'll often believe when I have to fly. I actually figured out earlier this year that most of my flying anxiety dissipates once I'm through airport security, and that (for the time being, at least) I should expect a certain level of anxiety, but that it's only anxiety - not some "Final Destination"-type instinct. (Damn that movie. DAMN THAT MOVIE!)

So, learning to follow my instincts, for me, is mostly about recognizing my instincts. Once I can hear them through the anxiety buzz, I'm usually all about them. It doesn't hurt that I've been reading another Martha Beck book, The Joy Diet, which is all about injecting joy into all your daily happenings. Last night, it translated into me falling asleep on the couch around seven, eating red velvet cake balls in a hot bath (and reading the latest issue of Family Handyman...dorkus), and going to bed after watching mindless TV. Joy, pure and simple.

source: www.bakerella.com

And here's hoping that the kitchen leads to joy soon enough. I think I've turned the corner. At the very least? The freakin' doors are up. (Not DONE...just UP. [MOSTLY.])

More on the kitchen soon. In the meantime? Following my joy tonight, via spinach-cheese enchiladas with a great friend, writing, and cuddling with mah main squeeze. (Meaning cake balls. J.J. might be there, too.)


  1. love this post. i recognize myself in...pretty much everything you said. and wadding through all the anxiety to get to the instinct is hard, but once you can regularly locate the channel your instinct is broadcasting from, you can much more easily block out (or at least rationalize away, a bit) the static from anxiety. i found, for me, that lots of my most worthless anxiety (the impeding kind, not the kind that helps me succeed in foresight and organization) was banished when i had a kid. NOT that this is a solution for everyone, but certainly it was a life catalyst that helped me put things in particular. and not a moment too soon, i could see myself ending like me dad. he is a loveable bear of a man, but he is SO chicken little. the sky is always falling and every possible calamity that COULD happen, cripples him from doing what SHOULD be done. its exhausting. annnnnnywho, i shall pause this rant and finish with "you are not alone. there are many of us anxious crazys about. we arent good candidates to be close friends because we would likely implode with the amount of chaos particles we attempt to displace by coming too close to one another. this is why we cant have AA-type meetings. but we recognize our fellow club members and salute them in their pursuit of happiness and balance in life". :)

  2. Cathy, I really just enjoy reading your well thought out posts and that you are honestly speaking your heart. I am only able to do that in little pieces on my blog, and there are so many other corners of my inner self that are all dark and cobwebby and unexamined (at least publicly). Anyway, I just wanted to nod to your courage for writing these posts, because I know they are just there to help yourself (follow yourself, whatev) but know that they are helpful to others reading them too, as we can shine that light into our own corners a little if we dare.



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