One of the most aggravating parts of anxiety is knowing you have anxiety. I spend an excruciating amount of time internally debating whether or not my fears and intrusive thoughts have merit, knowing that 99.9% of the time, they do not. I do this because I am aware of my anxiety. Were I ignorant to it, I would probably just react to all of my fears, believing them to be rational and viable. That certainly wouldn’t be better, since I’d basically be a doomsday prepper. Still, knowing that you are anxious, and yet unable to stop being anxious, is exhausting.
I struggle, profoundly, with the magical thinking aspect of anxiety. For those of you unfamiliar, this basically boils down to the sneaking suspicion that my fears are somehow premonitory. Before you judge me, I know that my fears are not divine knowledge. However, my anxious brain isn’t fully convinced that I am not some kind of wizard, and so when I experience an irrational fear or intrusive thought, as I do often (every day, many times a day) I always have a flicker where it feels like I know that my fear will come to pass. Again, I do not believe myself to be the next Miss Cleo or Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. This is just one of the many tricks anxiety likes to play on your brain, and it’s rather common, from what I understand.
What ends up happening is that I get stuck in a fear circle, like the one depicted above.
However, something great happened earlier this week, something that breaks the fear circle. My therapist said something that resonated so well with me that I’m surprised a choir didn’t burst into song the moment she finished her thought. It’s going to sound overly simple, but if it helps one more person struggling with a similar problem, then it’s worth all the judgement this post might be earning me. I will try to explain it as best as I can…
Your brain is always looking for patterns. Always. That’s why, when you buy a new red car, you start seeing so many red cars. There aren’t actually any more red cars on the road than there were before, your brain is just noticing them now. Why is it noticing them more? Because it is looking for them, because you are looking for them, and you don’t even realize it. Your brain is just quietly working in the background, doing what it’s programmed to do. Similarly, your brain categorizes your thoughts as you think them. Things I need to remember to do, things I need to be wary for, things I wish to happen, etc. You get the idea. As you are thinking, your brain is sorting. For some anxious people, your brain gets hung up on intrusive thoughts. The scary, often detailed, freakishly specific thoughts that pop into your head uninvited as you go about your day confuse your brain. It doesn’t know where to file them. They are fears, sure, but it isn’t one that came with warning, basis or foundation, so your brain isn’t quite sure what to do with it. So, for some people (me included) your brain files this thought into a file marked “Um, Maybe You Can See The Future?”. You know that you can’t, in fact, see the future, but your brain keeps trying to cram files into this ridiculous category, nonetheless. My therapist said something along these lines earlier this week and I must have looked like a deer in headlights. I was so shocked by how much this resonated with me that I had to repeat it a few times, just to let it sink in. I totally get this and knowing this about my brain and how it organizes or gets hung up on thoughts makes me so much less afraid of my random intrusive thoughts or lingering irrational fears. I now understand that the odd feeling I get is simply because my brain does not know where to file the thought, and not because I am somehow privy to what will happen in the future. It breaks the fear circle, so that it ends up looking more like this:
Irrational Fear/Intrusive Thought —>
Is this logical/probable/controllable? —->
Well, I have anxiety, so probably not… —>
But, maybe? I mean, why else would something so specific pop into my head?—>
Because you have anxiety, intrusive thoughts are normal for anxious people, and it feels premonitory because your pattern-obsessed mind doesn’t know what to do with such an out-there thought, so it’s trying to convince you that you must know something. You don’t though, so you don’t need to worry about it.—>
Oh, okay, cool! Moving on!
So, to anyone else out there struggling with anxiety, intrusive thoughts and magical thinking in particular, you are not alone. And you are most certainly not a future-seeing wizard.
P.S.A. – I am not, in any way, qualified to offer help or advice in matters of mental illness. This post was simply intended to share something that helped me, in hopes that it may resonate with others. If you believe that you are suffering from a mental illness, I urge you to seek the help of a qualified professional. Talk to your regular doctor for a referral, obtain a list from your insurance provider, or simply search online. If you are a mom, and suspect that you may have a postpartum mood disorder, I also strongly urge you to seek help. You can speak with your regular doctor, seek a list from your insurance provider, or start where I did- Postpartum Progress. Therapy has given me my life back. It can help you, too.