Shrinking World

A few weeks back I relayed a comment a therapist made to me about anxiety making a person’s world grow smaller and smaller. I had not thought about anxiety in this context before, but it is the perfect description. For some this may not be a fresh revelation, but I have been living with anxiety for years and while I was aware that this was happening to me I had not found a way to clearly voice it. Somehow being able to articulate what is happening offers some respite from the feelings of loss that accompany the anxiety.

Credit: Deeper With Jesus In Rhode Island

Credit: Deeper With Jesus In Rhode Island

I had another experience with daytime anxiety today that brought another aspect of living with anxiety into focus. Forcing yourself to function in society day after day while suffering from anxiety is exhausting and painful. No kidding right? Of course I was aware of this, but somehow I felt empowered by admitting this to myself. Being able to say clearly “this shit is hard and it is wearing me out” brought relief. Despite all the medications and therapy sessions has there been a part of me that has wanted to deny I have a problem? Was today’s revelation the equivalent of an addict saying I have a substance problem and it is running my life? Was this the first step towards recovery? Somehow I doubt it, but it may be the first step in coming to terms with adding medications to help me get through it.

Three separate events today have really highlighted the impact this uptick in anxiety is having on my life. This morning I was waiting in a fairly long drive through line and I caught myself positioning my vehicle so that I could get out of the line if I had too. I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious about being in the line, but feeling trapped in social settings has been a growing problem and building in this ridiculous exit strategy is a symptom of that. It is troubling that I would build in an escape plan even though I didn’t feel the need for one. I wonder how often I do this. My suspicion is that it happens a lot, like multiple times a day. When I was talking to my therapist about using exposure therapies I asked him why these therapies would work when forcing myself to go about my daily existence has not. I couldn’t see the difference. He suggested that I had established strategies that allowed me to function, and I acknowledged this was in fact true. What is troubling about this morning is that I didn’t realize that these strategies were happening unconsciously. I have mindfully allowed myself the space to get out of drive through lines in the past so has it just become habit or is it something deeper?

This afternoon I saw a podiatrist about a stubborn ingrown toenail on my big toe. I have undergone partial and full nail removals from my primary care guy and it just grows back the same way. I get a little squeamish about these things, and while I was waiting for the doc it occurred to me that the fancy little chair I was in was going to make it difficult to avoid seeing them tear the nail off my foot. I didn’t worry all that much because I figured any actual procedure would be scheduled for a second appointment. The doc comes in moments after these thoughts raced through my head and after looking things over he told me we should remove the ingrown part of the nail and apply a chemical that would kill the cells that cause it to grow so the part he takes off won’t grow back. He launches into this description of soaking the foot multiple times a day, and how it will look and feel, and then the room started spinning. He wanted to do all this today, and I wasn’t going to be able to handle it. Having had the removal part of this procedure before I know that for a couple days it’s going to hurt like hell, and my job will make it hurt worse so I asked him if we could do it at the end of a week instead. He said sure and I rescheduled for next week and bolted. If it hadn’t been for the anxiety I would have let him do it just to get it over with. Tomorrow would have sucked at work, but it already hurts the way it is. It was just a convenient excuse to bail. Anxiety drove the decision.

The third event involved the potential for new employment. There is one real opportunity around here to work on the water and make a decent living, but the jobs are pretty hard to come by. There is an opening for a job that suits my skill set perfectly. I knew the job was opening up and have been watching for the posting for several weeks. When I got home this afternoon I discovered the job has finally been advertised. There are some extraneous issues that make the job less perfect than the job description indicates, but the work itself is ideal for me. My first reaction upon seeing the listing was to wonder if my various anxieties would really let me do the job.

My reaction to this professional opportunity really highlights what I was talking about at the beginning of this post. Applying for the job is harmless, but should I get it and take it I will be in a position that will require me to force myself forward with all the pain and exhaustion that entails. With time certain things will get easier, but unless I get a handle on this anxiety the job will always present me with situations I will have to drag myself through. On the other hand I could not apply and watch as my world gets ever smaller.


6 thoughts on “Shrinking World

  1. I think you are doing a lot of difficult psychological work.You might feel like your world is shrinking but it sounds like your awareness is broadening. This realization can produce anxiety but, in the end, it is actually progress. 🙂 It might not mean too much but I am proud of you!


    • It has been an interesting week. I see the med doc on Monday and while there is never any time to talk to him really I am pretty much decided to make a med change. What I am not sure, but leaning towards just upping the Wellbutrin. We’ll see what he thinks.

  2. Wow. You are indeed doing some deep work here as far as self-awareness, seeing your world and how you experience it, looking at entrenched coping skills which perhaps don’t serve you that well anymore but have, as you put it, caused your world to shrink. This is the groundbreaking work of the therapeutic process. I’m really proud of you, too, having followed you since Day 1. I know how hard this is, watching my children do the work of battling it out with their own anxieties and now watching my husband not to mention myself.

    I find it so interesting that you mentioned an ingrown toenail! My goodness…oh how I feel for you. I was a ballet dancer for years and it ruined my toes so I suffered with chronic ingrown toenails throughout my childhood and adolescence, and when I was traveling abroad at 16 a woman dropped a trunk on my feet while I was waiting in line at customs. On BOTH my toes! I had to see an English chiropodist (podiatrist) in London and sit in his office for 4 hours while he performed the very surgical procedure of which you wrote! Acid was used to kill the growth cells under the toenail so that part of the nail would never grow back thus preventing future ingrown nails on both toes. I bawled like a baby but endured the procedure–twice. The doctor and I ended up being pen pals for years and I left with a huge crush on him as he was rather dashing and skilled with a hypodermic. All this is to say, exposure therapy does seem to have a place. I HATE needles and doctors, but I made it through as a foreigner. What I have discovered about anxiety is that it robs us of our innate sense of our own resiliency. Once we manage to make it through something AFTER the panic subsides, we look back and say, “Well, I guess it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I made it…again. I didn’t vomit.” Or (as is my case) when I do vomit: “Vomiting isn’t as bad as I think. I’m okay.” That one little realization has the potential to broaden our experience of our own abilities because we learn that we are resilient. The trick, I think, is to remember that BEFORE the panic sets in. That is the trick for me anyway…

    You have made it this far. I know you will go further because you are resilient.

    • Some days I don’t feel all that resilient though when I am honest with myself i know it is true. If I was not I wouldn’t be able to function and anxiety would have won by now. I am going to make a change to the meds, I am just not certain what it will be yet. I still feel like i am losing ground very slowly and that needs to stop. I know the meds are the quickest way to do that. The toe thing is awful. I am too squeamish and it will be another source of anxiety for me to get through it, but it must be done. The nail goes a little deeper every day and it is starting to become painful again. Not too bad yet, but it is going to keep getting worse.

      • You can do it! I am a big baby when it comes to medical procedures, and doctors are so nonplussed by women who’ve had babies. They think that if you’ve pushed out a baby you can tolerate anything. So NOT true! I cry when I get shots. I really don’t represent well…You really will get through it. It doesn’t feel true, but it is. (like I’m an authority on you…) But, I can be your cheerleader, right? We all need one or two..

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