I Spent 5 Hours at My Desk, Frozen by Anxiety — Oh, You Too? How Do You Deal?

This was my day. This is a lot of my days. I know you've been there too.
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Louise Hung
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This was my day. This is a lot of my days. I know you've been there too.

Today was hard. 

Part of me knew it was going to be hard, thus possibly creating some sort of frustrating, self-fulfilling prophecy of anxiety. Which is the nature of the beast anyway, right? 

I've been sitting at my desk for some time now — all right, five hours — unable to undo the frayed, gnarled knots in my head. All I want to do is write the things I set out to write today, but I feel like an Etch A Sketch that someone has shaken and erased. The ideas, the plan of attack, the creativity was there, but now I'm left examining my thoughts from odd angles, trying to read the shadows, the faint traces of clarity left behind. 

There is some shame to this admission. Sharing that I've been sitting blankly at my desk for so long embarrasses me. As a person who writes words for a living, aren't I supposed to have "tricks" or "hacks" to fall back on when I have "writer's block"? As a professional, aren't I supposed to be beyond this? 

Of course not. But the kindness I would pay to others fails me when I'm considering myself. What is it about anxiety and depression that turns otherwise forgiving people into tyrants when confronted with their own well-being?

I look to other articles for inspiration. But I find myself reading every article and assigning a length of time to each one: She wrote this in 30 minutes, he wrote this in two hours, she wrote this magnificent piece in five hours — the same amount of time you have been sitting here pleading for the fog to burn off.

I loathe comparison in personal and professional matters, but in my weakest moments it's my favorite weapon of self-harm.  

kowloon at dusk

The view out my window from my desk. What I stared at all afternoon. 

The sun is starting to set right now, Hong Kong is turning pink — it's my favorite and least favorite time of day. I love the lull the city seems to fall into just before the throb of night traffic begins, but the dimming, rosy light also sends me into a tizzy. 

The day is ending; what have you to show for it? What have you accomplished? Everyone else gets to relax now, but not you. No, you haven't earned it yet. 

All weekend long I'd been fighting off little bouts of panic. A few moments of terror at what lay in store for me this week (work stuff, meetings, doctor stuff, apartment repair stuff, EEEEEEEEEK!), a jolt of despair here and there, heart-racing moments of "watch for that other shoe to fall, Lou." 

When my alarm went off this morning, I dutifully got up and started my day. I made my coffee, I got dressed, I read my emails, I forced myself to eat breakfast (unless it's the weekend, breakfast holds little appeal for me). All the while willing my heart to slow down. 

Breathe, breathe, breathe, Lou. You got this. Find reasons to look forward to today. 

I left my apartment and went to my appointments. I spent more money than I wanted to, on things that I had to do, and kept ticking down my mental checklist of things that had to get done this week. 

Doctor, air-conditioning repair, maybe doctor again... One day at a time, one day at a time... I kept reminding myself. But my mind kept racing ahead, filling in worst-case scenarios. 

While my schedule makes me feel like a child with my neck craned back, staring upward at the vertical side of a skyscraper I'm supposed to scale, it also makes me feel like there's some method to the madness of the week. I need deadlines and order amid the chaos that is very often my brain — I like it. That skyscraper is both the source of, and salve for, my anxiety. 

By the time I sat down at my desk today, I felt mentally paralyzed, afraid. When I'd dig into my thoughts, looking for a way into what I had planned to tackle, all I'd find were fragments bobbing around in the muck. Every time I'd reach for an idea, it dissolved or got lost. 

Remember that scene from Disney's Alice in Wonderland? When Alice is so excited to find the way home, but then the Broom Dog sweeps her path away? I think about that all the time. It's how my brain tricks me. (Watch the clip below from 3:10 onward for the Broom Dog part.)

My urge is to apologize for the navel-gazing. To apologize for writing about my anxiety YET AGAIN. To apologize for writing "The Worst Thing Ever." I keep thinking, "There are bigger problems out there, Louise. Worse than your privileged problems." But I write this for two main reasons:

1. Shared experiences soothe me, and I think they soothe others. When I am feeling like "I MUST BE THE ONLY PERSON WHO'S EVER FELT X, Y, Z..." I almost always try to find someone, anyone, who has felt the same way. While it's always my hope that readers can connect with my experiences on some level, I hope that reading this rather "unhinged," lonely version of Louise helps someone out there feel less unhinged and lonely. 

2. This quote from a reader that I copied and pasted into a document I keep on my desktop called "xo Ideas and Other THOTS":

I hate when someone minimizes someone else's...struggles, grr! Just because it wouldn't be a problem for them, that doesn't mean it's not a problem. Life isn't the Suffering Olympics, and you don't get credit for having "worse" problems than someone else. If it's a problem for you, then it's a problem...

There's more to the quote, and I apologize that I didn't save who the commenter was, but it's an idea I try to remember when doling out compassion for myself and others. Whoever wrote this, thank you, thank you.

So how do you handle your own crushing anxiety and depression in the face of HAVING TO FUNCTION IN SOCIETY, AND WORK, AND EARN MONEY, AND TALK TO HUMANS like a grown-up? What do you do? 

How do you find a way to participate in the world when the world feels like too much? 

How do you get your work done in spite of your brain trying to sabotage you? 

And if nothing else, have you ever felt so lost in your own head that you, too, stared into space for hours wondering if you'd ever be productive again? 

You're not alone.