Anxiety: Opportunities Lost And What I Do About It
Apparentely, May is mental health awareness month. I didn’t know. In Norway, May is primarily just the month with lots of public holidays (but if you’re a student, that doesn’t matter as there are still exams).
So I thought I’d continue the trend started over at Bitches Get Riches and disclose even more about my brain-wiring. You already know about my autism, so here’s one that follows many autistic people as well: anxiety.
I certainly did not think I would be disclosing stuff like this when I started this blog half a year ago. But hey, radical honesty and all that, eh?
It’s All In Your Head – But That Doesn’t Help
To me, anxiety is finding it near impossible to open a closed door where I feel like I would disturb people, like a meeting or a class (solution – arrive 5-15 minutes early for EVERYTHING). Even leaving the classroom and returning mid-class was difficult for me in primary school, so I would leave things like bathroom breaks for recess.
It is also waking up from a flash-back nightmare and being unable to calm down again, to the point where I need to get out of bed and huddle into a ball of angst on the couch where, if I am lucky (I am often very lucky), Mr. E. noticed and comes down some time later to hug me tight as a vice.
I don’t know why this works, but I know many autistic people who finds that physical pressure, like a heavy blanket, helps them calm down. In my own mind, I just think of it as “Oh, I can’t move. No need to worry about moving then.”. With my options limited, it is easier to accept the one thing I can do: sit still and calm down.
Plus, hugs are really nice.
My anxiety around people and crowds also means that business presentations and stands at uni (and they happened often) were completely inaccessible to me. Even if I did force myself into the throng of people, my skittish behaviour or inability to focus due to the noise would mean I would give a less-than-stellar impression to any business looking for people to hire. Networking and potential job offers? Forget it.
It also means triple checking that your doors are locked before going to bed. Especially after drunk students tried to break in at 4 am on a Sunday. Boy oh boy, am I looking forward to going home to our nice, end-of-the-road flat in that regard.
So there you have some of the manifestations of one type of anxiety. Does it sound familiar? Or do you have friends or family who have described similar things? Here are some of the things that help me lead a somewhat less anxious life:
I don’t watch scary movies – ever.
My brain is a moron, and cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality. A “good” scary movie will send my brain into terror overdrive. As a teen, I thought I had to learn to not be afraid of scary movies to become an “adult”, and would force myself to watch them from time to time.
Surprise! This did not work!
It’s one thing to feel “meh” about a movie and accepting it so you won’t spend all night deciding, but it is quite another to feel guilted into saying yes when you know it will have negative consequences afterwards.
So if you don’t like scary movies, no matter the reason – no shame! And to hell with anyone who tries to “persuade” or belittle you for saying no on movie night.
Curate a close circle of friends who support and understand
Of course, everyone deserves a partner and/or friends who do not belittle their feelings. But anxiety, like many mental issues, is often heavily belittled and accused of not being a “real” problem. By family, colleagues, bosses and media. Having a safe space at home and a partner who doesn’t tell me to “just relax” makes a world of difference.
Again, as a teen, I found it near impossible to distance myself from relations who harmed my mental health. But you know what? Fuck them. This is your life, and you only have one. Don’t waste it on people who make you feel bad.
On that note – friendships are relationships too, and they can be just as abusive as intimate relationships.
The Blanket Burrito And Corner Combo
Blankets are awesome. Corners on couches? Likewise! No shame in shutting the world out, declining invitations and just bumming out on the couch for a night or more when you need it.
Do you have any hobbies, preferably repetitive ones, that you can turn to, even when anxious? I have found that anything I can do and just let my mind zone off is a great stress-reliever. Sewing, cooking, drawing, gaming, reading or listening to a book. Distractions are good! Even if I sometimes just rock back and forth in my blanket burrito in typical autist stimming fashion. No shame. We don’t have to be “productive” every minute of every waking hour.
I also sing. But only if I am alone in the house. Headphones and music to drown out my anxious brain used to be my favourite method. I still haven’t really found a way to incorporate this with Mr. E. in the house, but I’m working on it.
On a good day, one of the things that makes me feel really good (and calm) is gardening. There is something so rewarding about planting a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow. It even releases antidepressants, how cool is that.
Wear Clothes That Make You Feel Good And Safe
Obviously, this is going to be different for everyone. To me, that means dark, muted colours (hullo black and charcoal!), trousers, shoes I can run in and long-sleeved tops and blouses, no cleavage.
To you, that might mean splashing on colours and donning your battle armour like Penelope Garcia in Criminal Minds. It might mean dressing impeccably professionally or loose and relaxed, it might mean all makeup or no makeup. So long as you’re within dress-codes at work and don’t risk your job, dress however makes you feel good.
If you have to wear a uniform, try to find some way to bring a feeling of joy and safety with you. Like a charm or some socks that make you smile. In short, do what you can to make you feel good.
You might find that you’re able to do better work that way too, so everybody wins.
But What About Those Job Opportunities Lost?
Yeah, I mentioned the job faire issue way up there, didn’t I?
I haven’t really found a coping mechanism or hack for this. It does make it a lot harder to get a foot in the door and get a job. But that is something everyone outside what is considered “normal” has to deal with.
You simply have to get real marvellous at influencing the things you can, like writing smashing applications and formatting excellent CV’s. Being easy to work with is a real bonus too, if you get far enough in the application process to show that, or have previous bosses who can attest to it.
Much like my conclusion for being autistic though (I am the same person, after all), I find that my anxious brain simply doesn’t do well when it has to depend on others for my financial well-being. Something was broken during those three years between graduating and not being able to find a job in my field (or any permanent job for that matter).
I know this contract will end, and I don’t know what will happen after that. So I would rather try to spend some time now growing sidehustles and trying to create more than one income stream. Even if it is a very slow process.
This does run the risk of people accusing me of not being motivated or engaged enough to do the job I am hired to do. But if they wanted someone naively fearless, I suppose they should have hired someone with a cushy past, not an anxious working-class autist who spent three years trying and failing to get her first “real” job.
In short, anything that makes you feel better, if it isn’t harming you or other people – go for it! No shame if that looks odd or abnormal to other people. Find your happy place and defend it as best you can. You’ll get better at it if you practice, I promise.
You are strong, and #YouCanDoIt !