This is the time of the year where I start to feel a daily sense of anxiety and then I get anxious about my anxiety, i.e. “everyone sees this and I must look so childish. You are childish. Stop being childish. Everyone can see. Stop it. Stop being childish.”
If I’ve learned anything at all in therapy, it’s that this feedback loop is very dangerous. It’s a process shrouded in shame and guilt. It’s a process that is harmful and destructive to one’s understanding of their self-worth and value. It’s a learned process. It’s one that I’ve relied on for most of my life, always wanting to please others and be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend. I feel the anxiety but resist it. I resist the feeling of being uncomfortable. Of being scared. I learned to be uncomfortable for the sake of other’s comfort. I resisted it. I did not yet know why you put your mask on first in emergency situations before helping the child. I did not yet know that resisting these feelings would be so harmful.
I’m still learning. I’m still learning to love myself. I’m still learning that self-love does not look like shame. I’ve learned about the emergency mask, I can learn about my brain. In reflection, I see “self-love” and “control of the self” conflated. I did not yet know the difference. I’m still learning. I’ve learned to write through the feedback loop of the brain. I’ve learned that thoughts cannot be controlled. I’ve learned that meditation teaches patience. I’ve learned that one can accept anxious feelings without controlling it. I’ve learned the difference. In quiet moments, I can see the feedback loop, I watch it cycle and expand. I’ve learned to breathe. Watch the loop. Do not go in. Watch. Watch. Breathe. There it is, shrinking.
Today has been especially difficult: it’s cold and the sky’s a type of overcast that I call “white sky”–an endless, thick, gray-white cloud cover that blocks the sun all day. It casts the world into a purgatorial gloom, like the lighting in the first appearance of a comic villain. On days like today, the feedback loop seems to surface, unannounced, to remind me of failures or things I hate or things that are just generally upsetting (like my father telling me I must live “a very cold life” because I loathe men’s compliments, ugh).
I feel off. So terribly off. Earlier today I briefly fantasized about my dog running away. A wishing away in order to hide from my anxiety. It’s a wishing away that I usually reserve for my brother, family, and sometimes myself. But, today, it was my dog that I wished would disappear.
You see, my dog has two personalities: sweet and cruel. He possibly (re: probably) suffered some trauma as a pup—he’s fearful of men and sometimes ducks away when you go to pet him, among other stress/anxious behaviors. It’s been a slow process getting him to warm up. And, even still, he has difficult days where he doesn’t want to be touched but he’ll guard me from my fiancé, C.
His relationship with my fiancé is one of sugar and salt. They go on runs, they play fetch and tug-o-war, and he’s fed every morning by C. But, there is still this intense fear in the pup. When Sunny is guarding the room, he’ll lunge and bite at C’s knees and ankles. When he’s feeling especially upset, he’ll jump up and bite at his hands. It’s scary and upsetting for both myself and C.
Today, I didn’t want it to happen anymore. I wanted it to be over with. And so, I thought “run away, please, disappear.” Darker still, “I want to give him away.” I briefly imagined him in a new home and the relief at his absence. And, then, urgently, I was filled with dread. Who was I? How could I think these things? How could I think these things about my precious pup who stays by my side when I’m sad? Who flattens his ears and runs laps when I come home? We are already his second home. I was in tears. How could I? What’s wrong with me? Who was I, this terrible woman?
The feedback loop is suffocating. It expands until the situation is an impossible ticker of self-hate and anger. It’s a trap that grows more powerful the more you lean in. From this moment of anger that was directed at my anxiety, the loop became more powerful in shaming myself for thinking such things. But, I’m learning.
I’m learning that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Thoughts can be scary. Thoughts can be terrible. Thoughts can be racy and they can be funny. Thoughts can be cruel. Thoughts can be so many things and, yet, they cannot be controlled. They can, however, be acknowledged and examined. They can be learned from. They can help you grow. In moments of anxiety, wishing away a stressor is a very normal thing. It’s a flight response. It’s a way to quickly get you out of a situation. Still, I’m learning.
I’m learning to unlearn this shaming behavior. To watch the loop without going in. Which is not to say that I know how to stop the loop. I do not. But, today, when I felt myself self-shaming, I decided to take a bath. I told my fiancé my thought and he reminded me that this feeling would not last. He was right.
I’m learning, still. I know that my pup needs a better daily routine and more scheduled training sessions with C. I know that there are ways to improve his behaviors. I know that raising a puppy is hard, especially when it’s a Shiba Inu. I know that there will be frustrations and that those are opportunities to improve.
I know that when I feel overwhelmed, it’s okay be vulnerable. It’s okay to watch the loop. I can watch it. I know that next time, I will try to remember to breathe. To watch. Watch. And Breathe.