Anxiety at work: Not so random acts of kindness

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt keep on saying it but some days/weeks are just shit. There is often a good reason but it doesn’t change the fact that I have to wade through all that shit to get to the lovely island of “Evening” or “Weekend” that is my sofa, my PJ’s and binge-watching TV shows from our stacked-out media player.

Sometimes I feel so bad that the uric acid-esk build up in my brain gets so high I think I may have brain gout (not a real medical diagnosis).

My techniques for dealing with brain gout have had varying levels of success over the years. As a child I would move my room around, then cry because it was different and I didn’t like change. As a teenager I followed the Angelina Jolie school of emotional release and self harmed. As a 20-something I drank lots of wine and gin and ran around hugging people but as a actual real grown up woman none of these are really conducive to professionalism, not being an over dramatic ’emo’ young person wearing too much black or my ageing liver.

Just like other people I have movies, books and blogs I read to cheer me up but when I need to focus on the negative rubble winding about in there I know it needs to be something a bit less existential and more physical to help me get out of the over internalising, self doubt and second guessing that makes daily life challenging.

One technique I am currently using is undertaking a few random acts of kindness. This sounds like it will turn into a sycophantic inspiration post but hear me out. By doing something small and kind for another person I feel like I may be giving out a bit more niceness and thought than I am giving out negativity and cynicism. In doing this and not expecting anything other than a thank you in return, I feel like I have balanced my out-goings  to a more proportional level.

My mental turmoil can be appeased by reminding myself that I am not the biggest shit in the whole world so far today. In zen terms “it’s not about using the bucket, but about knowing the bucket is there should I need it”. I am pretty much Mr Miyagi today… “Wax on. Wax Off, grasshopper.”

Today I brought in home-made fudge for some people at work to take home and share with their families. An act selfless in the fact that I don’t require anything in return but selfish when you understand being good to other people makes you feel like a better person.

So I suggest you smile at the supermarket girl, even if you hate every second of shopping, thank your waitress or barrister, maybe leave them a small tip if you can afford it, let someone go before you on the road and know that you can tell yourself you are a good person (with examples!) when the self doubt starts to race in.

Be the anti-inflammatory to the gout of your own brain.

Monday morning anxiety

I spent my weekend filled with a wafting sense of dread. Not for any good reason, just because my anxiety wanted to prod me in the ribs until I found it hard to do normal weekend stuff such as live in the moment while vacuuming, take a reasonable amount of joy from usually enjoyable activities such as cooking or get the required amount of unbeleaguered rest .

Now it is Monday morning and as I sit at my desk trying to focus on work, I am struggling to dampen the internal monologue constantly informing me that I have done all the wrong things, said all the wrong things and made everyone within earshot hate the very sight of me.

So I craft mental analogies to explain to myself (and others if they ask, oh you didn’t ask? Tough shit kid. I’m the Dad who catches his son smoking and forces him to smoke the whole pack until he is buckled over vommiting on the floor – please don’t do this to your children – to teach him a lesson. You will learn about anxiety damn you or I will die trying. Maybe not die but I might spew a bit.)

My metaphor for today’s struggle is as ever movie related and a wee bit violent. I feel as thought I am hanging off the side of a cliff -like in the climactic scene of basically any and all action movies – clinging by one hang, screaming blue murder for anyone to help me.  The profuse sweating of my palm is making my fingers greasy and loosening my grip by the second. I’m yelling to all these people standing on the cliff to help me but they are all “You’re not even on a cliff Lucy you dumbass. Stop being a hypochondriacal c**t and lets go get some ice cream.”

How can they not see I’m facing impending doom? It feels so real, I’m sweating, heart racing, shaking like a scaredy leaf but everyone else is just laughing and joking and having some sort of breakfast picnic with bagels and coffee.

Stupid body making me feel like I’m on the verge of death and spiritual doom. Stupid brain, why can’t you understand there is no cliff?

 

Talking to people isn’t all bad.

You know you’re a super good writer when your work comes directly from the most recent conversation with your therapist. Yeah I’m the best at ideas making!


In spite of the tenuous birth of this post don’t judge it like an ugly baby just yet. It could grow into a perfectly average looking post of you let it mature and unmonkey (ever noticed that almost all newborns look like monkeys, turtles or really ugly old men?? Something to think about.)

Monkey babies aside, this post is about talking to people and how it can make you feel better and perhaps help maintain your sanity on a daily basis. Sounds like a cheesy ‘inspiration’ poster I know but hear me out.

Anxiety is a lonely place. It’s boring and it’s dull and it’s isolating. I have often felt like I’m the only weirdo taking so much time and effort to cope with what I believe to be normal life challenges; supermarkets, buses, meetings, awkward conversations with someone who is way higher on the work ladder than you and you just keep thinking ‘keep it breezy Lucy, don’t make a dick of yourself’ but instead you start telling them about a boil your Nan had and the last time you dressed up as Batman etc.

Over the many years I have invested in professional brain shrinking I’ve been told on numerous occasions that people often felt better once they had realised they were not alone in their mental illness. At the time I’d find myself thinking ‘I don’t need some thoroughly painful looking group therapy or support meeting. I’m a bad ass, a wide eyed loner who plays by her own rules. Your medical books can’t tell me what to do man!

I didn’t really get the need for the ‘you’re not alone’ line until I sat down and thought about how it might come up in my own life. I realised this seeming limp diatribe was in fact true but had just been worded very poorly. Perhaps a newer and better advertising campaign? With some hot girls in bikinis on fast red cars would help?

I agree that for some people the idea of talking about your experience of mental health may seem like the worst possible thing in the whole wide world. Worse in fact than Swept Away (the movie starting Madonna). When you suffer from anxiety and the stigma that comes with it, drawing more attention to your struggles may seem like a terrible idea but talking to another person may not turn out to be the worst thing that could happen to you.

Yep, just talking and making contact with someone can make you/me feel more like a human being and perhaps a little less like an alien with far apart eyes and glowing belly.

My anxiety will often mentally put people on a pedestal. They seem so strong, so together, so breezy but when you talk to them you might realise they feel just as so-so as you. Even if you’re not ready to talk about yourself, just listening to another person help you realise that they are just as messed up as you. They might be suffering from heart break or depression or grief or pet death or illness.

This all sounds a bit schadenfreude–esk but I’m not inspiring a round of ‘be happy that other people’s lives suck too’. I’m talking about understanding that we are not abnormal or cursed by the Gods. Everyone has issues and has to deal with those issues at work, at home and in public. Getting out and hearing about them, can make you feel closer to someone and them to you. It can be as good for my mental health to know I’ve supported and listened to their problems than having them listening to mine. Listening takes the imagined weight of burden off my shoulders when I feel that I am always taking.
I am very open about my anxiety and assorted disorders. That doesn’t bother me at all, I’m not afraid I will be judged for being anxious because I know I can’t help what disorders I have. What I can do is help other people to understand why I act the way I do.

I have a reason damn it! I deserve a badge!

I hope that if I tell my work mates, friends, pets that I suffer with anxiety/agoraphobia, if I make it a fact and not feel awkward about mentioning it in general conversation then they may eventually come to understand that it is an illness not a choice. By making it a causal part of my everyday life and talking about it, I’m taking the awkwardness, the shame and the sting out of it’s tail. I’m denying my anxiety of his power over me. At work I just want people to understand that I don’t need help or a special chair (but a special chair would be pretty sweet) but perhaps I could be afforded a little time and space to work out my emotions then react and on occasion have a professional business cry somewhere private.

Anxiety at work : Lifts

 

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When I thought about how I deal with anxiety at work I began by writing out a rant of notes listing all the areas in my professional life which require anxiety management. I wrote and I wrote and suddenly realised the document was 4 pages long and covered more individual topics than a 101 religions class. There was no way I could do justice to management of anxiety in a professional setting with just one bulbous blog post.

So rather than write a morbidly obese blog and hope to hell that someone somewhere bothered to get all the way to the end I have taken inspiration from some of my favourite blogs and gone for the series approach.

I could quite honestly write an encyclopaedia of anxiety management tools for when I have to be a professional in a professional setting doing professional things but really I feel like ripping all my clothes off, covering myself in camo paint and running through the trees until I have lots of leaves and bits of twig stuck in every crevice and hiding in a small bush shaking and crying and yelling for my mummy and/or some valium.

Believe me I’m not saying I always manage it, or even that I ever really convince people of my professional sanity. I frequently get those looks from the work grown-ups (managers etc) as to say “why did you say that?/make that odd noise?/clap/snort/chortle when no one else was?” I accept that I am an odd bunny and don’t really fit into the career librarian mould.

I am however working on it.

I know that to improve my career prospects and be offered better more influential roles I will need to take hold of my anxiety by his unfashionable oversized 1970’s collar and shake him until he gets all dizzy and sick and can’t bother me when I am in meetings/giving presentations/talking big kid talk to important people. This is my intention over the next few months; to find a way that I can be me while being an effective professional (i.e. not embarrassing myself and my institution on a daily basis) I don’t want to lose my own personality or to put up a wall between “work me” and “real me”. I can’t actor for shit and the idea of needing to play a part for 40+ hours a week makes me want to break out sobbing right here and now. I am incapable of being anything other than exactly who I am but, as I have been told recently by my lovely mental health professional, it is all about finding a way to communicate with the big kids without being false or phony.

Ergo; my first topic,

 

Lifts

(elevators/uppy downers)

I have no issue with them on the whole. I’m not claustrophobic so getting in them and waiting isn’t a big deal.

The issue I have is other people in the lift.

I don’t like travelling in the lifts when I am not alone, even less with a range of people but the worst is just me and one other person….

It’s not that I dislike my colleagues, not at all. They are kind and thoughtful and very friendly. What I fear is the approximate 27 seconds we have to fill with meaningful conversation rather than stand in silence. I am endlessly grateful for the people who I don’t talk. Those who just say “Hi” and leave it at that. I am so afraid that I will say something terrible in those 27 seconds (and when put on the spot it is very likely. I have blurted out some classic nonsense in these and similar work stressful situations) and not have the opportunity to redeem myself. I have often thought “Oh dear! Now I need to write them an email now explaining what the hell I was going on about!”

My extensive fear is that I have offered myself up to them in a poor light and the thought of that gives me daily tummy aches. Relief comes when it is someone I see and talk to a million times a day for example someone in my own team. They are less afraid making because I know they have formed an idea of me already and I hope it is based on my work, prolific baking and offers to help them when busy rather than that time I made a tourettes-esk noise which was supposed to come out as laughter or when I swore in a general sentence in the earshot of an important visitor or big boss man.

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I am guilty I have to admit of jumping in the lift and manically pushing the “doors closed” button even when I hear footsteps walking towards the elevator just to avoid riding with another person. Better they wait for 30 seconds for the next one than listen to my verbal diarrhoea and spend the next half an hour trying in vain to work out what the fuck I am on while making plans to never have to bump into me again lest I lose my shit and make a scene.