Anxiety and Perceptions
In retrospect, of course, all of the signs were there.
The constant nervousness in the stomach before heading off to elementary school was an early signal.
In junior high, I designed and crafted a highly rudimentary “solar” project involving a cardboard box, tin foil, and some other basic household items. I knew it wasn’t good and I had a minor meltdown about it the night before I had to present it in class. Sort of a rage despair, first focused externally and then, rapidly, internally. Why isn’t this working? What is wrong with it? Why are my thoughts racing? Why am I freaking out like this? What is wrong with me?
The fact that the teacher pointed out, following my presentation, that it looked like something I “put together on the bus this morning” did not help.*
In high school, I would chart the day. I would sit, usually in the first period, and draw a line graph indicating how much stress I would likely experience in each class.
The line going up meant that I would – emotionally – likely be OK (most often a Social Studies or English course and/or if there was a girl I liked in the class). Going down, meant elevated stress (usually math or science or some other subject that didn’t capture my interest). I had other books to read and how dare they interfere with my plans.
But it wasn’t just typical stress. As it turns out, I was actually charting my anxiety levels.
Anxiety can cause you to buy into negative self-perceptions and misinterpret communications, and with its dancing partner, depression, well, the tango is on.
Let me give you one relatively low-stakes but still vividly remembered example:
In English class in the 7th grade, I was sitting at a table near I girl I had a crush on. She asked me a question, “Were you an accident?” (as in an unplanned-for child). Now, bearing in mind the parties responsible for my existence, the honest answer was “yeah, probably.” However, I didn’t get a good read on her tone of voice or facial expression, and the fact that she acknowledged that her lived experience was similar did nothing to assuage the psychic hit I took when posed that query. From her. I took it as a put-down, which reinforced my sense of self as someone who was a geek or nerd or dweebizoid or whatever expression we used in the early ‘80s.
Having the benefit of looking back from the context of a nearly 50-year-old, I realize I took the less-than-a-molehill and turned it into a mountain of angst which I promptly placed upon my head. My very own “empire of dirt.” And my anxiety loves to add to the pile.
So where am I going? Have I lost the plot?
I suppose if one reader says hey, I recognize this, it’s my daughter/my son/my father/my mother/my cousin/my friend/my coworker/me and then takes steps to help that person (even just talking and being there with them), then this article will have accomplished something.