Anxiety for the Tillerman.

I had my second counsellor appointment today. It began as frustrating as the last one had. Last time he’d highlighted a few issues that he thought were the most likely culprits in my neuroticisms and anxieties: I don’t sleep enough and drink too much. This time I prefaced the session explaining that I’d been trying to sleep more with some small amount of success (baby steps) and I’d finally got in touch with a medical clinic who would take me on as a patient. This meant I could get the all important physical check up he wanted me to get. I realised that a lot of the initial steps would be going through a virtual checklist, trying all the usual subjects for potential issues. He asked me about my drinking and I admitted to the embarrassing exhibition at my birthday and having had a few drinks here and there since.

For the next 30 minutes he kept asking me about my habits. Working out exactly how many drinks I’d had each session and seeking to ascribe those as the central reason behind these feelings of inadequacy that’ve made themselves known time and time and again. I said I respected where he was coming from and that while I understood that excess alcohol consumption was unhealthy, I thought there were possibly other reasons afoot. Furthermore the fact that it’d been half an hour and we hadn’t even begun to bring up any mental or emotional responses underlying certain neuroses was borderline frustrating. He asked if I still used marijuana recreationally. I explained that yes, like I said last time, I probably had a puff or two of a joint 3-5 times a year at max, which I didn’t consider heavy usage. I said I didn’t see this as a massive concern or influence on my behaviour, considering I would have no problem never touching it again. He explained that even one time using it as a substance could have long lasting psychological effects. I sighed and said he may well have been right (truthfully not holding much weight in his “analysis”), but was it possible to try looking at something that had been bothering me?

“It’s your time” he exclaimed, “but you can’t discount these as having effects on your mood.”

“Right.” I said. “So I’ve got a crippling fear of failure that prevents me from challenging myself. Most of the time if I consider trying an activity I think about the people who are already far more adept than I will ever be, then refuse to try as if I’ve already failed. If I do start to show a modicum of talent in something, I’ll once again realise that people are already far more proficient and I’ll drop it. If I never try, I can never fail. While I realise the catch-22 of the statement, my fear prevents me from challenging it out of a fatalistic lack of confidence.”

He was listening.

I’d written in my introductory statement that I was looking for a mental or emotional toolkit to be able to help me unpack and deal with my anxieties. He decided to try one.

In the middle of a whiteboard he drew a circle with my fear of failure. He explained that within any issue, our concerns or worries will often fall under 5 categories:

  • Family.
  • Supports (friends and influential people).
  • School/Work.
  • Physical Environment.
  • Self.

He wanted at least one from each category, so we went around and started listing things.

I said that family would be difficult. I come from a supportive family who love me unconditionally. I’m not afraid of disappointing them because ultimately I realise they just want me to be happy in whatever form that takes. They’ve given me a strong support net and many great foundations with which to navigate society. He suggested that distance could be an issue for me, but I countered that due to our hyper-connected society at worst they were only a few hours away because of time zones. Otherwise they could be at the other end of a Skype call in an instant.

He put down my lack of familial fear as an issue.

Supports: I said that I guessed a large part of my fear of failure was due to a fear of disappointing my friends. I saw so many of my friends as talented, clever, hardworking people who accomplish inspiring things. I so often compare myself to them and feel insignificant in their shadow. In some ways an issue is social proofing, feeling that if I tried and failed I’d be lowered in their eyes, causing them to lessen association between us. I explained that I draw energy from social interaction, like all of us I just want deep down to be loved and wanted. On the flip side of that I fear being alone and worry that if I fail to do something to draw people around me, people will leave and I’ll be alone forever. I stipulated that there was a conflict between my fear of failure and some core belief that if I didn’t excel I wouldn’t be desired as a friend. Because of this if I don’t have people around me for a while, regardless of context, I start to innately believe it’s because they don’t want to be around me. In that event I start to withdraw from social contact, as if rejecting their “rejection” as some way of owning it, like it was my idea all along. I fester in downwards spirals of negative thoughts and reject offers of contact for a few weeks. After processing and re-processing black moods I snap out of it and crave human connection and the cycle continues.

The board got kind of cramped at this point. Time also ran out. If only he could’ve spent 5 minutes telling me to drink less instead of 30 I might have gotten further. As it stands, I’ve got some homework. I need to fill out the rest of the circle with as much as I can think of before our next session on Friday the 13th.

I’m paraphrasing here, but in essence he left me with “Spoiler: You may be too hard on yourself.”

If this ain’t your thing, maybe stay away for the next week or so. If you’re an emotional voyeur, you’ve got a front seat to the slaughter.

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