Procrastination and anxiety

If you’re wondering why I’ve been quiet, it’s this: I have an important exam coming up in a month. I am extremely¬†stressed out about this. So any spare minute that I’ve been calm enough to study, I’ve been studying, and when I haven’t been calm enough, I’ve been playing video games to try to calm down enough to study.

So I figured I’d post about procrastination. Because it’s relevant. And because something on Tumblr gave me an aha moment.

Procrastination is not and has never been a matter of laziness for me. I can and am willing to do the work. Usually, I like the work and find it fun. I have a strong work ethic. I have worked till 3 AM on experiments, then gotten up and arrived at work on time the next morning. Hard work is not alien to me.

It’s not a matter of being unwilling to do the work.

It’s a matter of anxiety.

I fear failure. Probably more than anything else in the world. I fear being a failure. I fear fucking up. I fear the consequences of fucking up. Even contemplating that I might fail the exam brings tears to my eyes and ties my stomach up in knots so tight there’s no room for my breakfast. Failure terrifies me.

Because, to me, failing a thing is being a failure. As a person. If I fail a thing, I am a failure, and therefore I am worth nothing.

I literally think that if I fail a thing, my life will fall apart and everyone will hate and abandon me. That’s a lot of pressure I put on myself. Because to me, it’s not just “I take a few make-up courses and try again next year,” if I fail, it’s my life is over because I will be a failure.

Do you understand?

I don’t think you do.

If you did, you wouldn’t tell me I shouldn’t stress. Maybe that I should be easier on myself, or that my assumptions about the consequences of things are wrong, but not that I shouldn’t stress. To my brain, success or failure is life and death. I can’t not be terrified about this.

And that is why I procrastinate. Because prepping for the test is dancing on the cliff’s edge, and sometimes I just can’t stare into the yawning chasm and think about how to avoid falling anymore.

I am not that oblivious.

One troublesome side effect to my difficulty with reading subtext, non-verbal cues, and hints, is a reputation I’ve acquired for being naive, foolish, and gullible. It is easier to pull the wool over my eyes the first few times because I don’t pick up on the falsehood cues as well as others do.

Some seem to think this makes me incapable of picking up what’s going on. I’m not. I might not be as good at it as you, but I can pick up the obvious.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: If you are snapping at people and heaving heavy sighs and making ominous hints that I can’t read, I might not be able to read what’s going on with you, but I sure as hell can tell that something is going on. You don’t have to tell me. I’m not entitled to know.

But don’t lie and tell me there’s nothing. Don’t insult me like that. You’re being so obvious about it that even I can tell that something’s up. Given a choice between something’s up and an obvious lie, I won’t believe your lie.

I am not that oblivious.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to come out and say it, don’t keep trying to tell without telling, through your hints and your sighs and your allusions. You know I can’t read them. I know I can’t read them. All that you do with that is set my brain into catastrophizing mode, as I have just enough information to know that something’s going on, but not enough to know what. And then my mood and productivity are shot for the rest of the day because rather than concentrating on working, I’m concentrating on getting my brain to stop playing Worst Case Scenario.

Tell me or don’t. If you choose option two, stop it with the ominous hints and the allusions to something bad followed by don’t-worry-your-head-about-it-dears. I’m not going to magically pick it up, and you obviously aren’t willing to say what it is outright, so just stop. Please. My adrenal glands will thank you for it.

Having a hard time

Due to school stuff that is out of my control (I am unable to discuss in full because identifying), I’m ridiculously stressed and anxious lately. It’s pretty much all I can do to keep it together at work, then I come home and spend the vast majority of the evening in silence (maybe asking, “Do you want food?” if I remember I’m supposed to eat), absorbed in a special interest to recharge. My partner is worried about me, I think.

Stress regarding the school situation has made my ordinary social anxiety stuff go haywire. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, as the school situation is unlikely to resolve in the near future.

If my posts are sparse, here’s why: I’m too anxious to do much of anything. Anything I consider doing has my brain going, “NO. IT’LL SUCK AND YOU’LL SAY SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE WILL HATE YOU SO YOU CAN’T DO IT.”

I can make it to work. And do work. And then I’m too exhausted to do even online social stuff because that also has my brain doing above. And I spent all fucking day yesterday trying not to run out of the building and home and hide in a blanket fort.

And even when I can get something written, I can’t necessarily work up the nerve to post it. Because see above re: everybody hating me in my brain. Even though I know it’s irrational.

This anxiety is immune to exercise and can only be muffled temporarily, not actually reduced or eliminated, with special interests, so I’ve just been in meltdown-avoidance mode for the past few days. Blanket forts likewise provide temporary muffling, plus they aren’t really that practical during the workday. I will see if I adjust to the school situation next week. If not, I might need to make use of the campus mental health services because I can’t function in meltdown-avoidance mode indefinitely.

Changing my outlook

… So, I’m kind of a permapessimist. It developed as a coping mechanism to try to help myself avoid meltdowns as a kid; see, if I expected and planned for everything that could go wrong to go wrong, when it didn’t I was pleasantly surprised and when it did, I didn’t freak out as badly and get myself into as much trouble with my parents.

The problem, though, is that permapessimism isn’t really a fun outlook to have. Annnnd when you’re prone to situational depression like me, it can feed into your depression. For me, the anatomy of situational depression is at least in part a positive-feedback loop: feel depressed -> opportunity arises to do something I usually enjoy -> start thinking about all the things that could go wrong -> get overwhelmed at the planning -> decide not to go since it’ll probably suck anyway -> don’t have relief -> get more depressed.

Meltdowns kinda-sorta also feed in through shame, so it’s a balancing act, buuuut I’m at the point now where I can recognize when one is coming and take steps to head it off. Usually it works.

So, inspired by this post and the talk of self-acceptance¬†vs shame in it, I’m going to do my best to be less pessimistic and less self-shaming, if for no other reason than to make myself less vulnerable to situational depressions. I don’t really want to go for optimistic, because bubble-bursting is a major meltdown initiator for me (and in part because optimistic hopey-changey stuff has always kind of felt like BS to me, but I’ve been dealing with situational depressions off and on pretty much since I started school so it’s kind of molded my outlook on life), but, I dunno. Realisitic would be a good thing to shoot for. Not necessarily thinking it’ll be the Best Thing Evar, but thinking that while stuff might go wrong, it’ll probably be okay and maybe even pretty good? That’s something I can aim for.

As for how I’m gonna do it, uh, not sure. Baby steps, I guess. But I have four major objectives.

1. Stop catastrophizing. Plans for what to do if I get lost or if my ride is late, fine. Being certain I will get lost and not be able to find my way and that nobody will help me because I’m a freak? Not so fine. Being certain that my ride will forget me because it’s just my luck and I don’t matter that much anyway and I’m going to be late and the people will wait on me and I’ll ruin everything? Also not so fine. And not very nice to my ride, who is actually a nice person.

2. Set realistic plans. A lot of the time, my catastrophizing is a self-fulfilling prophecy because I have this outrageously ambitious plan and then can’t fulfill it. Not sure if this is self-sabotage or just judging myself by the standards my parents used to set for me. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I need to set plans that are doable for me, rather than plans that I think should be doable for me.

3. Stop with the self-blame. If the bus is an hour late and that makes me late even though I planned a half hour of wiggle room, it’s not my fault for not planning an hour of wiggle room. It’s the bus driver’s fault or traffic’s fault for making the bus so damn late.

4. Stop with the self-depreciation. I can evaluate my strengths and weaknesses and a situation frankly to myself without putting myself down. Putting myself down is not helpful.

So, listing this out publicly in hopes that it’ll help me with some accountability. I hope it works.