I saw my Doctor yesterday. A routine appointment to get the results of blood tests I had a few weeks ago. It turned out quite positive, in that my prostate, aside from being a little enlarged, was showing no indicators of cancer, and my LDL cholesterol had dropped to 1.6. All in all pretty good news then, and I felt the anxiety I’d had on my way there just lift off my shoulders.
I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety lately, as I’ve been feeling quite a lot of it it seems. So I speculate about where it might come from and why it’s there at all. It’s curious, but I even feel anxious as I’m writing about anxiety, or any writing at all for that matter.
As a client, in my counseling sessions, I’m sufficiently long in the tooth to know that any negative feelings I may have, more than likely are rooted in my past somewhere. Mostly they just sit in the background until something in the present triggers them, and if I’m not mindful of the difference between past and present then all hell can let loose. Those are the moments when some time after the event has passed, or even five minutes later, I drop my face into my hands and exclaim, what the hell did I do/say that for? The answer being, because I allowed the past to take over the present.
As a counselor however, I’ve learned to be more mindful of the current situation in the life of the person in front of me. I’m not overfond of the self help memes that crop up on social media. Many are just simple truths repackaged as great wisdom. Some at best may be mildly comforting, (and that’s OK), while at worst some just come over as glib or even patronizing.
I’ve learned that unless someone has specifically requested that I remind them of what they were working on, that I simply need to pay attention to where they are right now. Sometimes the current reality of someone’s life can have so much going on in it, that they are unlikely to be able to spend the time exploring anything deeper. Even if that’s where the greatest gains in personal growth might be made.
So a young single mum of two, juggling childcare while trying to hold down two minimally paid jobs and attempting to stay clear of an ex who is stalking her, is not going to appreciate me encouraging her to explore her early relationship with her mum and dad. She would have every right to tell me to fuck off.
Some have; I once had someone let fly at me for attempting to counsel them, which I had assumed was what I was supposed to be doing. I had probably used one of those glib pithy phrases. I realised that I had allowed my anxiety about what was going on for them to hijack my thinking. In a sense, effectively there were two clients in that room, which was never going to be workable.
Getting back to my anxiety about writing. I realised that it goes back a long way. Right back to my school days. In my secondary school years, a teacher called Mr, Brick took us for English language classes. He didn’t know it but he didn’t do a lot for my confidence. He was incredibly critical of my handwriting, amongst other things, so as a result it just got worse. So bad that other teachers began to pile on the negative comments. For many years after leaving school, apart from filling in forms or signing my name, I simply avoided writing anything. I also didn’t get the hang of punctuation and grammar. The whole world of commas, full stops, colons, semi colons, verbs, adverbs, nouns, adjectives, was all so much gibberish to me; still is if I’m honest.
What freed me of at least some of the stress of writing was the word processor. Ok, it’s a cheat of sorts, as I still do very little handwriting. So the problem hasn’t gone away, I’ve just found a way around it. I also still struggle with all the other aforementioned issues around writing.
There is an enduring myth that I probably picked up from a self help book many years ago. It’s one of those pithy little phrases I referred to earlier. It goes something like, “Face a fear and the death of that fear is certain.” They lie dear reader, they lie. Since I started journaling and blogging some years ago, I must have written several hundred thousand words. However, whenever I sit down to write, the same painful feelings surface. Also, whatever reassurances I get from others, “you write really well!” “It’s really good!” “It draws me in!” seems to make no difference at all to the way i feel about it.
So what is the bit of this puzzle that is missing for me? I think fear of criticism is part of it. Or worse, fear of attack in some form. Laying my work out and open to public scrutiny seems to mean a high degree of vulnerability for me. So I’m recognising that this fear/anxiety I have probably goes back much earlier in my life. Certainly pre school and maybe back to my cot. I’m speculating that I was left alone a lot, even when I was crying. There did seem to be a general attitude around back then, that if you picked babies up too much it just spoiled them. So there were probably quite a few of us who were left to just cry ourselves to sleep.