Shut Up, Brain! Part 2

**Today’s post is a follow-up to this post from about 6 months ago.  It will make more sense if you read that one first:

When I was in second grade, maybe first, a magician came to perform at my school.  I remember sitting in the back row with my best friend trying to figure out how he did all of his tricks.  We couldn’t just sit back & enjoy the show like all the other kids.  No, we had to analyze every trick & try to figure out how this “magic” worked.  Weird, I know.

But that’s just the way my brain has always worked.

brainI rarely take anything at face value.  I’m always analyzing things & trying to figure out the WHY behind everything.  This includes both scientific & philosophical matters.  Even as a kid, as I’ve said, I was like this.  I guess that is why the “magic” of childhood has never been very nostalgic for me . . . because I never really experienced life that way.  I’ve always been logical, practical, & inquisitive.  I was the kid who figured out Santa Claus wasn’t real & probably told as many people as would listen.  I’m sure this made me a real pain in the ass at times . . . and probably still does on occasion.

Sometimes I wish I could just forget about all of the hard things I see in life.  Part of being analytical is feeling things very deeply, even things that don’t directly affect me.  I like to think this makes me a good, compassionate nurse (& friend, wife, etc), but it also means I go home & worry about my patients more than perhaps is healthy.  When I see people my own age who are really sick, I can’t just go home & drink some wine & forget about it.  Trust me, I wish I could.  But instead I find myself thinking about how unfair life is & running through all the philosophical ramifications behind the difficult scenarios I witness every day of my life.

I’ve talked to my therapist about these things & she says the key to managing my anxiety about all these things is in finding balance.  Finding that balance between caring for people & trying to makes sense of life but being able to let go.  But letting go isn’t easy for me.  When I see problems, I want to fix them.  When I see someone struggling, I want to comfort them.  I constantly feel the need to be useful & accomplish something with my life.  As you might imagine,  this makes relaxing very difficult.  Is it any wonder I have almost 200 hours of vacation time saved up?  (Don’t worry, I’m using quite a lot of that time for our vacation this Fall, & I’ve even requested a day off here & there for some concerts I’m attending over the next few months.)

Anxiety mental health symbol isolated on white. Mental disorder icon design

I have no idea why I’m writing all of this.  It feels very disjointed & illogical, frankly.  (Ironic, I know.)  It probably sounds pathetic & ridiculous & possibly even a little arrogant.  I just know that my mind is a flurry of activity right now, & it’s really hard not to compare myself to others who seem to be so much more at ease about life.  Between my own bouts with sickness over the past month (nothing serious but unpleasant & physically exhausting just the same), some difficult situations at work on top of  finishing up my clinical ladder project, & worrying about one of my best friends who has been fighting her own demons lately, it’s just been a rough month.  For the first time in at least six months, I really feel like my anxiety has gotten the better of me at times.  I guess it’s an accomplishment to have kept it controlled for so long.

But every time it raises its ugly head it’s just a reminder that this brain I’ve been given isn’t an easy one to calm.

And sometimes I just wish I didn’t think so damn much.

*Ok, this last cartoon is purely for laughs.  It made me smile because it’s so perfect for me.  social anxiety party

The Negative Emotion-Guilt Complex


Last week I had my monthly session with my therapist & I told her how that week I’d had my first real anxiety attack in at least a month or more.  It happened on Monday afternoon of last week when I was just feeling overwhelmed with my busy schedule, working overtime, lack of sleep, etc.  Thankfully with some encouragement from a dear friend of mine, diffusing & applying several essential oils, & some deep-breathing exercises I was able to quickly move past the anxiety attack & get on with my busy day.  It felt like such a big step for me to be able to tell my therapist that not only was that my first real anxiety attack in a long time but, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t allow the attack to ruin my entire day or week.  Instead of feeling defeated & discouraged & beating myself up over having a “bad day” I just rejoiced in the fact that I was able to recover so quickly & move on with my life.  You have to understand that ordinarily when I have high anxiety days or anxiety attacks for whatever reason (often there really is no reason) I not only have to cope with the anxiety itself but also with guilt over suffering from anxiety problems.  This guilt of course only serves to compound the problem.

I grew up with the idea that certain emotions in & of themselves are sinful.  I’m not sure exactly where I got this idea but it was just there.  Add that to the perfectionistic, high-anxiety personality I was somehow born with & you’ve got a pretty difficult situation.  For the first 18 or so years of my life, whether I wanted to or not, I believed that “negative” emotions such as anger, fear, hate, frustration, sadness, etc were sins.  Naturally this created a horrible cycle in which I felt guilty for experiencing these types of emotions & then the guilt just triggered more sadness, anger, whatever & the cycle continued.  What a mess!

The older I’ve gotten the more clear it’s become to me that no emotions are ever sins in & of themselves.  Feelings are feelings, nothing more, nothing less.  They are what make us ALIVE.  They are what make us human beings.  For example, it is only human nature to be angry at times, even to the point of wanting to hurt someone or something.  It is what we DO with our emotions that matters.  For example, when we strike out in anger at someone, whether verbally or physically, that is when we cross into sinful territory.  Allowing so-called negative emotions to overcome us to the point of being permanently bitter is also perhaps sinful.  But again it is not the feelings themselves that are the problem; it is the actions that spring out of them.  And I for one believe that, though fallible, we as humans have the power to control our emotions.  We might not be able to stop ourselves from feeling angry or frustrated over certain things.  Nor should that even be the goal.  But we DO have the power to stop those emotions from ruling us & causing us to act out in ways that hurt ourselves or other people.  To me that is the definition of sin (I hate that word but can’t think of anything better at the moment): something that hurts yourself or someone else.  I know that is kind of vague but the world is vague.  We only try to paint life in black & white because of how confusing it can be, to try to make sense of a world that is often unfair & cold.  But we do ourselves a disservice by trying to understand a very grey world in only two very extreme colors.  There is so much more to life than that.

I still struggle with anxiety.  But it’s not something that defines me anymore.  And I still struggle with not feeling guilty over having anxiety or experiencing other “negative” emotions.  But the greatest freedom I’ve found in life is when I let go of the guilt & just allow myself to feel whatever it is I’m feeling at that moment.  I have found that these so-called negative emotions leave a lot faster when I just admit what I’m feeling instead of trying to force myself to feel some other way out of guilt.  I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this or if it’s just me.  But I don’t think I’m that unique so I’m sure there are others out there fighting this battle too.  And I hope that if you’re one of those people & you’re reading this that you will be encouraged to move past the guilt & to learn to just enjoy being alive.  We all have our inner battles & we all have bad days because of them.  But as long as we don’t allow those days to define us we are winning. 

P.S. Whether you struggle with any particular mental illness or not, I strongly encourage everyone to consider seeing a counselor or therapist at least once in your life.  As a friend of mine once told me, we can all benefit from having someone to vent to who isn’t emotionally attached to us because no matter how “perfect” our lives may be, we all have issues we could benefit from discussing with an impartial mind.