Category : anxiety

Behind the Mask

Depression and anxiety lie. Jenny Lawson has said it many times. So has Wil Wheaton. I’ve said it to many people, friends and strangers. I tell it to myself.

The sad thing is, even when you know it rationally, you can still fall for their lies. The saddest thing? The lies aren’t even all that good.

A couple of days ago, I had a very, very good day. That morning, two of my best friends told me I seemed more confident lately. When it came to digging at the roots of my anxiety and depression, “You’re making more progress than you think you are.” They both told me they were proud of me. I was beaming. Later that day, I got to hang out with one of them and chat on the phone with the other. With both friends, we made each other laugh so hard, I had trouble breathing. It was a very, very good day.

Sadly, the next day was terrible.

For the most part, I like my ADHD brain. Honestly, I don’t really mind being easily distracted, having little sense of time or space, going nonlinear, being creative and imaginative, being emotional and sensitive. Except…the sensitivity and high emotions also come with Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria, which I only recently read about but which resonated strongly with me and explained a lot of bad interactions I’ve had with friends and romantic partners throughout my life.

Saturday was an RSD day. All it took was me sending out a few “Good morning! How’s it going?” messages to friends and not getting any replies for…oh, an hour or two, and I suddenly flipped into “I’ve been rejected!” mode. My brain started spinning all kinds of lies, one on top of the other, spinning out into a thrilling combination of spiraling-up anxiety and spiraling-down depression. “Your friends don’t really love you. Nobody loves you. You’re needy and insecure, a burden on everyone! If you withdraw, nobody will come for you! If you reach out for reassurance, you’ll push everyone away! Even when you explain what’s going on in your head and they tell you they understand and it’s okay, they’ll still ditch you as soon as they can to get away from your craziness! They’re probably all talking about you behind your back right now, asking each other how long they can stand it before they have to cut you loose!” I kept telling myself these thoughts weren’t true, they weren’t helpful, they weren’t good for me. I did my best to keep my breathing deep and regular. I talked to myself internally as if I were talking to my best friend instead of myself, because if your best friend came to you and said “I’m having these difficult feelings,” you wouldn’t tell them they were a crazy burden, no, you’d comfort them and tell them they’re loved and accepted for who they are. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from the feeling that I was driving everyone away with my poorly-controlled emotions.

This went all day and into the night. And then just as suddenly as it had come on, I saw through it all. The monster that was yelling all these things in my head was revealed to be the cheesiest, hammiest actor in a cheap, rubber suit. Everything it was saying was nonsense. Yes, I’ve had people tell me I was weird and annoying, but they weren’t friends of mine. Yes, I’ve had romantic partners break up with me for reasons that probably had to do in some way with my ADHD, depression, and anxiety, but for the most part, it was because we weren’t a good match romantically, and that’s nobody’s fault, that’s just life. How many close friends have I lost because they couldn’t deal with my depression, anxiety, my emotional sensitivity? I can’t think of any. How many close friends have told me they love me, stuck with me during the difficult times, accepted me for who I am? Pretty much all of them. Sure, some friends drift away, the closeness fades. That’s nobody’s fault, that’s just life.

Sure, I’ve had friends tease me and hurt my feelings, but only unintentionally, and when I told them, they apologized. And the friendships continued. Sure, I’ve gotten embarrassed and felt uncomfortable when my emotions amped up around friends, but my friends have always assured me they still like me. And the friendships continued. Sure, my sensitivity and insecurities have gotten the better of me, causing me to react badly, but I apologized. And the friendships continued.

Depression and anxiety feed off of and into the emotional sensitivity that comes with ADHD, but they lie. They fucking lie. They tell you over and over again that you’re broken, unlovable, on the verge of being rejected and abandoned. But the reality is this: the people who truly love you, the ones you would stick with if they were acting this way, will stick with you when you’re acting this way. And the horrible monster telling you what a terrible loser you are is just a shitty, cheap special effect delivering badly written dialogue.

Cogito Ergo Cogito

There’s this fun thing you do when you have anxiety: overthinking. Yes, lots of people overthink things. Most probably do at some time or another. With anxiety, it’s a whole ‘nother level of overthinking. Catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, paranoia, hypochondria. Your fight-or-flight button, blinking like a sputtering neon sign, spins your thoughts all over the place, and trying to calm yourself down, picking the irrational thoughts away from the rational, when you can’t really tell which thoughts are rational or irrational, can get you paralyzed in a state of overanalyzing everything.

“Josh, you overthink things,” a friend in college told me once while I was fretting over something.

“Really?” I said. “Do you think so? I dunno…maybe I do, but–”

“You’re literally doing it right now,” she said.

Anxious overthinking is tremendously unfun. When it’s happening, you really wish you could shut your thinking off (or at least, as Sarah Fader says, put your brain on airplane mode).


There’s another kind of thinking I do that may appear to people who aren’t me as overthinking. It isn’t.

I think a lot about how I live my life, how I do the things I do, how I don’t do the things I don’t do, how I dress, what food I eat and how I eat it, what I’m reading, what I want to read next, what TV shows I’m watching, what TV shows I want to watch next, what I write about and how I’m going to write it…it never ends. And it’s never going to end.

Maybe it’s an ENFP thing. I’m a┬ácontemplative, intuitive extrovert with energetic, introverted feelings. I’m always going to be thinking of an Ideal Josh living an Ideal Life…and I’m never going to be that person living that life. I’m never going to be satisfied with The Way Things Are Right Now. I’m never going to stop wanting to tweak things. Rearrange, recolor, start, stop, reverse, play back, add reverb. I’m always going to bouncing from cloud to cloud in my head. And because I generate ideas out loud, you’ll often see me posting online, or hear me in personal conversations, pondering my writing and how I approach it, or my job and how I perform it, or, to get really meta, how I think about thinking. And from the outside, it can look like I’m overthinking things, especially when you’re used to me stuck in anxious thought patterns. But I’m not overthinking things, I’m thinking things just right…for me.

When I verbalize these trains of thought, I invariably get someone telling me, “Stop overthinking it! Just do what you want to do.” Which isn’t bad advice, per se.

But what I want to do is…think this stuff out. And rethink it again later. I want to try living my life one way, then try living it another, then another and another. The universe is a laboratory, and my life in an experiment. My natural state is motion and change, thinking out loud as I go. I’m not a noun, I’m a verb.

So if it seems like I’m contemplating my life a little too much and I should just relax and do what comes naturally…that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m just…joshing.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly what this post is.

Self-Diagnostic 5

I think it’s time for another self-assessment check-in on how my brain is doing. This is gonna be fun! Let’s go! (more…)

After the Revels

Insomnia is a monster that stalks the night.

I take Xanax nightly to help me fall asleep and sleep through the night. It works better than anything else I’ve ever fought insomnia with. I don’t take it every night, though. If I don’t have to work the next day, I’ll sometimes let myself stay up as long as I want to, which is usually until somewhere between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. And some days I’m so tired, my weariness is stronger than my insomnia and I don’t need any help with sleep.

Last Friday, I woke up sleepy and couldn’t really shake that sleepiness all day. I drank as much coffee as I usually do (2-3 cups) and realized that I’d hit a wall where drinking more coffee wouldn’t help me with my tired sluggishness, it would just crank up my anxiety, so after lunch, I switched to drinking water for the rest of the day, like I usually do.

That afternoon, I wrote in an email to my girlfriend, “I’m so tired, I could easily fall asleep as soon as I eat some dinner. Then again, I might also get a second wind and stay up until well after midnight.” Surprise, surprise, I caught that second wind and did some writing until around 1 a.m. I didn’t have to work the next day, so I was happy to stay up and write. Then I switched to reading on the sofa, and a short while later, I was starting to nod off. “Well,” I mumbled to my cat, “off to bed I go.” I brushed my teeth, shuffled to my bedroom, and climbed under the covers with a sleepy smile on my face.

And that’s when the anxiety kicked in. Thanks a lot, Sandman!

When people talk about their insomnia, they usually talk about dwelling on bad memories, spiraling thoughts of mistakes and regrets, or internal monologues about their worthlessness and hopelessness. I was spared all of that, Yay! What I got instead was just a growing unease and edginess. Feh! The bed felt too cold. My bedroom was too dark. The light coming from the bathroom was too bright. The bed felt too warm. I couldn’t stop fidgeting.

After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, I gave up and went for the Xanax. I took a double dose because that generally knocks me out as if I’d gotten into the ring with Muhammad Ali. (Rest in power, champ.) But not that night. It was still at least half an hour, curled up in front of the TV, watching comfort shows, before my brain finally went dark. I slept well through the rest of the night and yet I still woke up besieged by anxiety that lasted all morning.

Insomnia is a monster that stalks the night. Sometimes you get the monster, but sometimes, the monster gets you.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Some Random Thoughts About Anxiety

Sometimes I’m not sure if my anxiety is getting worse as I get older, or if I’m just more conscious of when my anxiety hits. What if I’ve forgotten or blocked out past times when my anxiety was bad?

A couple of years ago, I reduced the amount of caffeine I was consuming in an effort to help lower my anxiety and not be bothered by insomnia as much. It didn’t help at all.

Taking deep breaths can help bring me down when I’m having a panic attack. When I’m having high anxiety? Not necessarily. It’s like my dial is cranked up from “normal” but not high enough to be “panic”, so if I start to take deep breaths and I don’t begin to feel better, “I’m not feeling better” becomes a source of anxiety.

Sometimes I can identify what triggered an anxiety attack. Sometimes I can’t. This is what makes Generalized Anxiety Disorder generalized. And disordered.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I can get hit by an anxiety attack, which can then blow up into a panic attack, in a place or situation that I usually consider safe, comfortable, fun. Anxiety’s an asshole like that.

Despite the wonky chemistry going on in my head, I really do love my brain. It’s where a lot of my best dreams and ideas come from.