reverie v. reality

rule breaker

It's come to my attention that I spend an awful amount of time concerned about breaking rules.

I wish I could explain exactly what rules I'm worried about breaking, but the answer is...all of them. The amount of times I have asked someone in my life, "Is [insert very specific thing] allowed?" only to have them stare at me blankly for a full fifteen seconds and then answer, "I don't even think anyone else in the world has ever even thought about that, so it's probably fine," is definitely a number greater than one. (And, well - I also very much doubt that's true. There's so many people in the world. Someone else must have considered it. So, there's probably a rule about it...right?)

My brain is constantly convinced that there is something happening that I am the only one out of the loop on, and I'm constantly waiting for the backlash of when I fuck that thing up. This can make me incredibly fucking annoying to be around, because it winds that anxiety-wire inside of me just the slightest bit tighter in any situation where I'm unsure if I'm doing something that's going to get me In Trouble.1

But, fuck! Half of the rules I'm worried about don't even have actual, tangible consequences. Another fourth of the rules I'm worried about - well, even if the consequences come about, they're literally fine. Maybe a bit uncomfortable, but ultimately fine!!!

Oh, but I'm still scared! I'm so scared, I have to laugh about it, because otherwise it's just really, really embarrassing.

And I've got to be honest: this way of living is incredibly exhausting. There's a persistent feeling of being in the wrong, all the time. It follows me throughout every area of my life - work, home, online. There's a pit in my stomach, and I'm constantly picking my way carefully across every situation as if waiting for some kind of erroneous step to trigger a trapdoor that I'll fall through cartoon-style, down into one of a thousand terrible outcomes. What outcomes? I don't know, but my brain is pretty sure they'll be completely apocalyptic in nature. The trapdoor is just in front of me, or just behind me, or around the next corner, and so I am boxed in on all sides and frozen in terror.

I try to circumvent the trapdoor. I try to prepare for it. I replay conversations over in my head, looking for ways I might have messed up so I can improve next time. I read e-mails fifteen times before sending them, in case some wording might somehow be wrong - and then, once I send it, I read it again with a pit in my stomach, wondering if there was something I failed to catch. The problem is, of course, that 90% of the time, there isn't anything to catch and so I'm just wasting my time, draining my energy, and wringing my emotional state into a frazzled mess.

Once a month, I think, I should really get back into therapy. Clearly, there's some new material that I need to talk about. Usually, I decide to put it off, because I generally follow that thought with, It's not anything super pressing. We have other stuff to worry about. But I'm starting to recognize that these fears are actually incredibly prevalent to the way that I'm struggling in more wide-spread aspects of my life. I mean, it's no wonder I won't go make new friends anymore. I'm so freaked out that I'll screw it up that I feel like I can never branch out from the people who have already seen all of my messy, uncomfortable pieces and stuck around.

My previous therapist once told me, "The word I hear you use more than any other is "worry" - you worry about things that have happened, that are going to happen, or that may never happen at all." I know she's right. I am a chronic worrier. I've worried as many as six impossible things before breakfast.2 But the possibilities torment me! Maybe that's why I'm such a hardass about making concrete plans. I just feel like if I don't have a plan, and a plan with some wiggle room, and also a backup plan, then things will fall apart in the worst possible way.

Maybe I should get back into therapy, but...sometimes I fear that this is just how I am. I've been in therapy - more than once, even - and it's like I slowly lose all of the tools I learned over time. I do try to tell myself that this line of thinking is just the crueler piece of my internal narrative taking a swing at me. I've seen myself get better. I just have to take the time to remember how to get back to that place.

Sometimes I think that I can solve this on my own. What would that take? How would I make myself overcome this feeling? The best bet seems like it would be to not give the possibility of messing up - the possibility of a consequence - so much power over me. I would need to come to terms with the fact that, even if the worst outcome happens, things will still be fine. I would have to set off some traps, just to prove that what's waiting for me at the bottom of it isn't so terrible after all.

Easier said than done, of course.

Good luck out there,

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  1. In Trouble!!!!! That's how it feels! Like I'm some kid who's been grounded, instead of someone rapidly approaching her thirties. Why am I like this? Sometimes I think about that Peanuts comic where Charlie Brown is so sure the library is going to arrest him for a lost library book. Maybe a little bit of an exaggeration, but frankly those kinds of unprompted, ungrounded fears are not that far off from what I actually DO worry about.

  2. "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." || Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking Glass. William Collins, 2010.

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