Spiraling

Last night, I cried myself to sleep. I don’t tell you this because I’m looking for your sympathy. It’s just a reality we all go through sometimes. There are days and nights that are just bad. Maybe if we talked about it there would be less bad days and nights.

The tricky part about last night is that my day was really good. Despite the gloomy fog that blanketed the city, I was feeling better than I had in recent weeks. My mind was focused and clear. I was energized and feeling excited for the day’s challenges at work. I left work feeling the same, but I was ready to be home as well. I moved not too long ago and there have been certain things nagging at me to just get done since I’ve become mostly settled. Like hanging up that poster. Trying to put up curtains in my room. Dusting off all the surfaces because the dirt from the 35W construction had coated the inside of my apartment (yuck). And I finally did it all. I finished reading a book I’ve been working on for awhile–another feat. And discovered an interesting blog.

It was a good day.

But then I met up with some friends and my night suddenly turned sour. Dinner was fine. They were fine. Our conversation was fine. But something about it (two things actually) rocked me off-kilter.

First, there was the fact that they are a couple and whenever it’s me + a couple, I tend to feel like a third-wheel. This amplifies my own insecurities and makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable–like I don’t belong. I reckon this is how third-wheeling feels for most people.

Then, I learned something (through the couple) about a supposed friend. This was the thing that set me off course the most–not because of what they had said, but because I felt hurt, disrespected, and confused by this person.

I kept myself together during dinner, participated in conversation, blah, blah, blah. But when dinner was over and I got to my car, the mind spiraling began.

Let me explain what that is.

Mind spiraling is when you can’t turn off the what-ifs. Your mind races in opposite directions, thinking through each future scenario, imagining what you should or shouldn’t do. You also think about all that has past, replaying the actions or words of one individual over and over, analyzing the tone of their voice, what they said, and what it could mean. You’re always looking for the unspoken meaning in everything. The two sides–the future and the past–collide making your chest constrict, your heart palpitate a little faster with worry, your thoughts more frenzied. You begin to wonder how future scenarios will play out, when you’ll see that person next and how that interaction could go. Mostly, in your mind, it’ll go poorly. The deeper into the spiral you get, the more negative your thoughts become. The threats you perceive feel real and visceral.

Sitting in the wake of your lowest point, you begin to feel a change. Perhaps it’s exhaustion, perhaps it’s frustration. No matter, with this change comes new armor. You feel emboldened with a new understanding that what you’re thinking is simply the anxiety about the uncertainty of the future. You tell yourself to shut off your mind, even though you know this is impossible. You try to rationalize that what you’re thinking is ridiculous, totally unrealistic, because you know the what-ifs are not conducive to positive thought. So you repeat to yourself, It will all be okay. Let it go. Maybe you even say those calming words out loud, since actually speaking them somehow makes it easier to internalize. But that pesky voice in your head, the one feeding the sadness and insecurity, is quick to reply: Easier said than done. On you go, over and over, through the loops. Spiraling until you can make it stop.

This is my version of a mind spiral. I’m sure other anxious folk have different takes on the same story.

On this particular night, I was mid mind spiral when I decided to go to bed. It was the only way I could think to get myself to calm down–by quite literally letting my mind escape into the unconscious. It took a little longer to fall asleep than usual because I was starting from such an active place, but I got there eventually.

Other times, the mind spiral happens when I’m with friends or family. In recent months, I was in the midst of a mind spiral while I was out with my friends at a club downtown. That was not a great time, for many reasons, but mostly because I was in a bad spot mentally but was acutely aware of the fact that I was bringing down the vibe for my friends. When I told them I was ordering an Uber and that I wanted to leave, they insisted on coming with me, even though they were so obviously enjoying themselves. This made me more anxious and irritable. I hated feeling like I was killing the good times. I got home and immediately went to bed, knowing the only way to get myself to settle down was sleep.

I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery for awhile now, and I’m beginning to see that I’ve struggled with anxiety for a lot of my life. I just never realized anxiety was the thing that was happening. I’d attribute my thoughts and behavior to stress or being too busy or just how I am. It’s only in the past few months–when it’s gotten worse–that I’ve begun to see it’s been there all along, lurking.

In a lot of ways, though, the anxiety is just how I am. It’s a part of who I am, and it’s presence will continue to be. There’s a lot that I still don’t fully understand, that I’m trying to unpack–its definition as an “illness” and how it manifests in my life, being two examples. But I’m increasingly finding myself in a place and mindset that is ready for the inevitable challenges that come with exploration. A big leap of progress from how I was feeling back in April.

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