One of the plethora of gifts the anxiety stork may bestow on the unsuspecting sufferer is the ability to make a mountain out of a mole-hill. Perhaps more aptly the tendency to make a heavily armoured death tank out of a pile of bunnies and some glue. A catastrophe can grow like an ugly creeper vine out of anything you care about or love and that is where the sicky poison resides.
As a child I would catastrophise in trends. Each month or so I would fear one of the following would DEFINITELY happen while I slept; our house would burn down/an earthquake would hit and I’d be trapped or my parent would die/we would be home invaded and I’d be forced to watch my parent get slaughtered while I wailed and cried for help. Yep I was that vivid as a child.
I fear kidnap daily and day-dreamed about walking all the way from where ever and running into my mothers arms.
I feared getting burgled the most. This one did actually happen and I was mortified but it ended with us being allowed to get a dog, as a guard you see though her bark was by far worse than her bite. She may have licked someone to death before biting them. This could have been an early example for my 10 year old self that everything happens for a reason but alas I didn’t realise at the time what my anxiety could do to me.
Before I venture into the very bowels of a rant some examples may assist you in understand what I mean by “catastrophising”. To help elucidate the extent of my personal angst here is a taster, a non exhaustive list of the catastrophising thoughts I experience pretty much every day;
- As I pull into my lovely leafy neighbourhood I will automatically scan the streets, berms and gutters expecting to see my cat dead in a pile of grey fur and bloody gore.
- Any time my phone rings I sincerely believe that someone in my family is dead or at least horribly injured, to the point that when my Mum or boyfriend call me they automatically say “everything is fine” at the start so I don’t freak the absolute fuck out. This one is based on a real life experience (I’m adding a little PTSD into the soup that is my mental health here) as my Dad and Brother died quite close together and my poor Mum had to call to tell me on both occasions. I became so paranoid about phone calls that I wasn’t able to give my Mum my work number for over a year because I got a stab of anxiety any time a phone in the work room rang. It was beyond emotional trauma, I had a physical reaction, my body just retched at the noise of a ringing phone and I was in straight up fight or flight and ready to run/vomit.
- I live approximately 3 hours drive away from my beloved Mum so if I don’t get a reply to a message within a short period of time I will automatically think she is dead. Part based on previous dead family dealy but also because between those two major loses my Mum fell over and ruptured her spleen and had to be rushed into surgery, nearly died and I quite validly freaked the fuck out. I worry about her daily even though usually the time between texts is due to her phone being in her bag or very often she is in a movie.
- From time to time if I leave work early or am heading home at a different time I will start to worry that I will catch my boyfriend in our house with another woman. This is one of the most unfounded fears as I have possibly the least cheaty/sleazy boyfriend I could ever hope for. Aside from the fact that he is well aware that I am a bit of a psycho and if he did cheat I would (and I’m not joking here) cut off his balls and force them down him throat until he choked, he is also a very honest, kind and thoughtful man. If he were to find someone he wanted to be with rather than me he would be the sort to sit down and tell me to my face rather than lie and cheat. This is where catastrophising can really harm other people in your life because I have NO reason to believe he would hurt me like this and it is a total insult to him as a person to think that he would be so nefarious. In this instance it is vital that I can keep my catastrophising under control on a daily basis. It is not only a requirement for my own sanity but also mandatory to not destroy my relationship with unfounded fears and suspicions. I have said frequently that I trust him but Bruce doesn’t trust a soul and tries to get me to agree with his bullshit lies when ever possible.
- Also every day I will worry that the people at my work hate me. This is a classic tried and true paranoia that many anxious people suffer from. Any time I say something I worry might be inflammatory, stupid or has come out wrong I worry that people in my office will remember and carry a hatred for me in the hearts forever, FOREVER. There is no mild dislike in a catastrophised thought, it’s all hate, all the time. I have a strong belief that no one will remember me for the good things I do but will always remember the bad, stupid, mean, nasty or questionable things. Being liked is a huge work related issue for me. Some good advice I was given my my kindly brain shrinker was to aim for people to Respect rather than like. In the work place this has been a God-send for calming my irrational thoughts. If I focus all my energy on doing my job well, getting through my projects and doing good work then people will see my out put rather than whether they think I am a terrible annoying or weird person.
- I will always look fat or inappropriate for the situation. It is very rare that I feel like I nailed a look for a specific situation. I always feel over-dressed or under-dressed or lumpy or just plain wrong. Even when I was a very slim girl (5-6 years ago I was a size 8-10) I always felt wrong shaped and blobby. This is a basic girl body image issues taken hold of by Bruce and run to the end of the out field.
- Any time I am in a car, train, bus (which is never now) meeting, on a streets etc I believe that I will need to pee, have instant projectile, unstoppable diarrhoea or will suddenly need to throw up. Even if there is no reason for it, I haven’t eaten any under cooked chicken, drank 6 pints of Guinness or brought food from a questionable food cart in the past month.
Catastrophising is bezzie mates with your worst fears, they hang out all day and will feed you little bits of those fears when you seem to be grasping at mental straws. Scared of loosing your Mum or your cat? Then your mind will make you think it will DEFINITELY happen. Your worst fear is being fired from your job? Every day you will feel you are just hanging on by the soft bits of your fingernails, even when in reality you might be doing a great job and are an important member of your team.
So how do I cope with catastrophising? Well I go for a fight fire with logic approach. If I can ask questions, make inquiries and do my research (the librarian coming out in me right there) I will feel better about the facts and know I can talk my mind off the ledge when it gets too close. If I have to voice my fears to my boyfriend once a month or more then I have explained to him that his calm reminder that people don’t hate me/hate my baking/he’s not cheating on me/giving me crabs it helps me to keep a level of calm going in my subconscious. It’s not that I don’t believe him, it isn’t that I don’t trust him it is that I need to fill up the bucket of bullets with which I use to shoot down my Bruce thoughts every day. I need all the ways possible to fill up my ammunition so I can and will use it when needed.
Planning is another way I get around the worst of it. In my car I have many things that I may never use but knowing they are there “just in case” gives me fodder for my bad thoughts. I have only ever once used the bucket in my car (Bad hangover + drive in a hot car = spew face) but knowing I have a bucket in my car gives me an answer to use against the questions my anxiety throws up when I panic. It’s putting up road blocks between you and total panic break down. I have a list of things I will do to count the time while I hope a panic attack wont escalate. If I’m not the driver, I will take off one shoe, then the other, undo my belt and top button maybe, then I will sit with my legs under my bum, curling up towards a foetal position, it’s all counting time until the ride of over and I can get out.
Planning can mean you know your route before you leave. For me I will plan out how many toilet stops I could use on the way to the place I’m going, just in case I need to get out and hide until the panic subsides. I will be able to count off those stops in my head knowing that I am doing really well each time I go past one of my planned bathrooms/safe places.
When it gets to the point when none of my other management techniques work I go for listing, it’s just basic distracting but it sometimes will work for me. I will list all the good outcomes of a possible situation, or even just the less catastrophic outcomes, the banal and boring outcomes rather than the extreme ones. If that doesn’t sit well I’ll go on to list even less interesting things; right now I’m trying to list all the American states when I get really caught up in my mind. The distraction makes me think of other things and gets me off my freaking train of thought for a few seconds respite.
What I am attempting to explain with this rant is that while catastrophising may be a part of my life and most likely always will be, as with most of my anxiety reactions I have found that knowing what it is, calling it out and shooting it in the fucking face helps when I’m trying to get through a hard day/week/month and really that’s what it is all about, getting past your anxiety to the fun bits of life because you can’t just sit there and hide behind your personal Bruce. Push past him and into the beer garden of your mind.