Anxiety can really twist our brains around. It skews our perspective. It keeps us looking over our shoulder, watching for an invisible fear.
This was my experience on an anxious day during the summer with my wife’s family. I like her family, I’ve always gotten along with them well, but you might not know that from my tone in this story.
Poolside watching the kids swim at the family picnic, I could hear them talking about me. My wife talking to her parents and aunt about why I had quit my job.
“Wonder what they think about me now. I really don’t want to hear this.”
Got up and walked around to the other side of the pool.
“Wishing she would’ve married someone else about now, aren’t they? My mom was always worried about what would happen if I had problems when we had a family. She said that to me once and I’ve always remembered it. She said it in a get-your-act-together kind of voice. She’s always doubted me.”
From across the pool,“…wants to be happy…” drifted my way.
“That’s a pipe dream.” The initial freedom I had felt after quitting was melting away, leaving more questions and doubt than anything. Even though I was outside, I felt the world closing in around me. The trees behind the fence grew taller and closer. The house behind me got bigger and my wife’s family seemed to be creeping toward me.
“How am I going to be happy now? I don’t know what I’m going to do. I wonder what they think about me. Well, they bailed her brother out of a custody battle, maybe they’ll have to bail us out of this mess. Supposed to feel good about this. Never was supposed to feel bad – this was going to open doors for me. Give me my life back.”
Skin just crawled. Like it was going to detach itself and peel away from my body.
“Failure. Mom was right. Look at what’s happening to me.”
Threw a ball back to the kids in the pool. “I can’t provide for them. I can’t take care of myself. I can’t control myself. Should just get some money in order for them and then kill myself. Then I can’t screw anything else up for them. They’re all right – I’ll never escape this. What can I do?”
Throws the beach ball back. Absentmindedly rubs his left arm with his right hand. Crawling.
“It always comes back to this. I can’t do anything right, plain and simple. Is she going to end up living with them again? And the kids? In that small house? Such a loser.”
Smell of smoke from the grill.
“Supposed to be happy about this. Supposed to be a lot things and I’m none of them. Look at this, they’re all sitting over there talking about me and I’m over here all by myself, freaking out. Thanks for making me feel welcome, family. Congratulations, your daughter made a big mistake. Always knew I was a mistake, didn’t you?”
“Mom knew this was coming. Oh, they told me I could be anything I wanted. Way to set me up guys. I’m not worth it. Forty-one years old and nothing to show for it. No job, no idea where I’m going to get one. Nobody here is even making an attempt to talk to me. Slacker over here folks, why don’t you pretend to be interested and ask me what I do for a living? Do you even remember my name?”
Ball back into the pool again.
“Yeah I’m her husband. We’re from out of town. Unemployed. How are you doing? Yeah, say something about the weather, we can stand around awkwardly with nothing to say for a minute or so and then you can walk away. What do you care?”
I just sat quietly, waiting until it was time to leave.
I remember this day well, so uncomfortable in my own skin. I isolated myself from the entire party, not wanting to engage with anyone. Anxiety makes us hyper-sensitive and defensive, feeling like we need to protect ourselves from the world.
Anxiety also makes us project our fears onto the world around us. Did you notice how I was projecting my own negative thoughts about myself onto everyone around me? I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, but I tried to make it their fault in my mind.
We were surrounded at this party by my wife’s family, a group of people with whom I’ve always gotten along well. You wouldn’t necessarily know that by the angry tone I take on this day. Again I’m projecting my feelings about myself onto those around me. I’m trying to protect myself from what I really feel.
This can be a common experience with anxiety. I’ve done the same thing with my own family, with my wife and with my children. In our efforts to try to protect ourselves, we project our feelings onto those around us. We can really cause problems for ourselves if we start vocalizing these feelings, which can often be hurtful. It’s the anxiety talking, but that doesn’t make it all right.
We need to be mindful when we’re suffering from anxiety. Our own pain is bad enough, we don’t need to hurt those around us as well. If we can be mindful, we can also start to reduce our own anxieties by being aware of what thoughts and circumstances normally bring them about. By being mindful, we can look for the lies that fuel our anxieties and expose them. Exposing the lies in our anxieties can bring us some well-needed peace.
Author Bio – Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He is a regular writer over at www.DailyZen.co.uk and can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf