CN: anxiety and all the symptoms entailed, including ideation of death. Below the fold.
In light of “Autism Awareness Month” and all the bullshit that underprivileged neuroatypical folks go through when the focus is on “awareness” instead of acceptance, I’m going to explain why I give a damn about disability despite being seemingly in possession of the full royal flush of privileges, including appearing to be neurotypical. It turns out, I’ve been using my invisibility on one axis as a crutch for a very long time. So, I’m going to proverbially bleed on the page a little, if you’ll indulge me.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a brain that goes a mile a minute, projecting possible outcomes and giving probabilities for these outcomes constantly. Any time I’ve mentioned this to people, they treat me differently, so I have learned to not tell people about the inner workings of my mind. The extent of these possible outcomes, prior to my learning how probable or improbable certain events were, have included full, graphic ideation of the worst possible cases.
When I was a very small child of probably about four years old, I am told that I asked my father what might happen if a volcano opened under us, what would happen if the moon fell to Earth, what would happen if a tornado opened above our house and destroyed it and only it. I am told that I was honestly scared of these things. I am told that I was freaked. Knowing how my brain works now, I have no doubt I imagined the full scenario of the moon actually crashing, and every one of us — me included — being vaporized by the wave of fire that would sweep across the planet. I have no doubt that this image played in my mind on a loop while I tried to go about my business of playing with dinky cars or LEGO or whatever. I hadn’t yet developed coping mechanisms for this ideation. I was told to not worry about these things because they wouldn’t happen. I am sure I assigned “very low probability” to them and tried to stop imagining them, probably unsuccessfully.
Growing up, my parents tried to encourage me to participate in sports, because I was a timid and introverted child. I was in soccer for a while, but it wasn’t really all that organized a thing, and I don’t remember why it stopped. My father wanted to “toughen me up” and got me to join boxing, which I actually enjoyed up until it came time to engage in my first practice match against another kid. I won. The other kid had a bloody lip. That image seared into my mind, I immediately quit, with ideation of being on the receiving end of a pummelling a hundred times worse than I just doled out. Every time I had to put my dukes up thereafter in self defense, I remembered what I did to that other kid once, and I’ve always pulled my punches. Not that I think I’m some sort of superhero in a world of cardboard — I simply hate causing pain because I empathize with it when I see it, far too viscerally. And I assign a high probability to getting injured in any fight as a result, so I am extremely pacifist.
I had a paper route around that time. I was saving up for a Super Nintendo. One day, in the rain, I was almost sideswiped by a taxi that took a corner too fast and hydroplaned a little on a small amount of rain accumulation. This was a mere block from my house. I remembered this every time I saw that intersection; every time I see rain; every time I’m unprotected and a car is moving a little too near to me. Every time I remembered it, I was turned into a smear, instead of a near-miss. I quit my paper route because the ideation simply got too bad. I eventually worked through that fear, but I still shied from moving cars through until at least university, where I had to painfully admit this story to my friends to explain why I kept being so jumpy walking with them anywhere off-campus.
These days, when things get bad, I’m imagining the bus that I’m in jumping the guardrail on the I-94 and plummetting into the Mississippi, or imagining a catastrophic rollover on the highway, or imagining a car plowing through our living room wall and smearing us when I hear screeching tires outside. And not only physical harm: I’m imagining saying one wrong thing and alienating people I love and care about forever, losing my job over trifling errors, losing my wife over inattention or accidental mistreatment. If a loved one is out for an expected period of time and they take longer than I think they will, I get anxious and begin imagining the worst possible scenarios for their life. A sound outside at night makes me think the home’s being invaded, even if the dog isn’t alerting us to a problem as a result.
For the most part, though, these issues are entirely invisible. I don’t outwardly react to these things. I might be a little more acutely aware of my surroundings in public situations, but otherwise, I’m mostly okay. It has gotten such that unless I’m under a lot of stress, these ideations give me nothing worse than a moment’s pause. They might be playing through my head constantly — they don’t always, only when it gets bad — but even when they do, they don’t generally cause me to lose my focus or shut down.
As an adult, I’ve developed more issues that fit with the classic generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. I get headaches. I have frequent gastrointestinal issues. I have recently had long and terrible bouts of insomnia. I try to play 3D Chess on every problem I have, triangulating on the best possible outcomes for the largest number of people, even when I have to sacrifice my own safety and mental health. This last, I think, is because I have found that if I have a superpower through all this, it’s that I actually have surprisingly immense reserves to draw on. I can keep going where others might not, and can take punches that others cannot. I do have to recharge those reserves frequently, but I have ways of coping.
Even when these bouts of anxiety-brain happen, I have learned that I can quiet my brain and stop my fixations by distracting myself. My coping mechanisms as an adult for these issues include consuming media constantly. I feel a need to watch videos, play games, read books, read articles, any time my brain starts playing What If with anything that’s going on in my life. I also take long baths. If it weren’t for those baths, my shoulder pain (which I assume is another symptom of being anxious or stressed) would be significantly greater. Though I am very careful not to overdo it, having a drink actually does help slow my brain down to a reasonable speed as well — I am acutely aware that my father is an alcoholic and I suspect that I have to be careful about one drink turning into three.
My invisibility has been a crutch for a very long time. I hate it when people treat me differently when I admit any of these things, as that change in treatment tends to set my stress levels on edge and I tend to imagine losing friends over this, so, until now, I have been very careful who I tell about these issues. But I realized that there’s nothing people can do short of scuttling our friendship that can actively increase my stress and increase my ideation, so it’s not like malefactors intending to do me harm can actually intentionally push my buttons — and anyone who would scuttle our friendship over how I react to stress wasn’t really my friend to begin with.
So, that’s me. A fretful basketcase who wants to do right by as many people as possible, who feels it viscerally when it doesn’t work out that way, especially when I’m pushed into situations where someone’s going to get hurt regardless.
I’ve never been diagnosed with GAD because I’ve been very careful to not mention any of the anxiety symptoms to people who might stigmatize me, including backward and provincial doctors in Nova Scotia. I have pursued the headaches, the insomnia and the gastrointestinal issues separately, and have come to no real conclusion on them as separate issues, so it’s fairly obvious to me that these are symptoms of the greater problem. If I’m right about what I have, then I’ve probably been diagnosable for my entire life. Not just my entire adult life — my entire life.
That’s why I care about mental illness — because I’m pretty sure that I am mentally ill myself. But I don’t identify as such, because I’m not ENTIRELY sure, and because I am perhaps not the best voice to speak for those who are. I dread going to the doctor and talking to her about this because it might make it real, but I feel like setting this all to digital paper is making it more real in a way.