Life With Brian

Photo by John Keedy, from the series 'It's Hardly Noticeable'
Since February 2015 (I'm writing this in July 2015), every post I have written on Queen's English has involved or been about Panic Disorder and the anxiety I've been trying to conquer over the past year. This blog has become less and less about immigration and acculturation, and more of an online record of what phase of panic or OCD thinking I am in at any given point of writing.

As I said in the last post I wrote, over the past two months, I had been feeling noticeably stronger. I also hadn't wanted to write until I felt like I'd turned a significant corner, into the bracket of "I'm better now!" rather than that of "Still kinda crazy but I'm trying!". I'm sad and frustrated to have to say that I am still fluctuating hugely in terms of how well I cope, with periods of incapacitating worry and an inability to pull myself out of an ever-tightening spiral of confused, catastrophizing thoughts and feelings.

I am writing a separate page for this part of me for two reasons: one is that I want to get back to writing about expat adventures and North Carolina shenanigans, and being a Brit abroad for the long-haul. I've forgotten how to actively process what's different and what's changing, and I'd love to start approaching my experiences with a cognizant, aware mind rather than just making out as though I'm fully adjusted to life in a foreign country. There are definitely still plenty of things to experience and share! Therefore, and this links into the second reason, I need a separate but still connected space in which to deal with my brain drama (or Brian problems, as Jess and I have come to semi-affectionately term the personified version of our mental health issues).

The second reason is simply that this is a part of me. It is an extension of who I am, and while there are times I am frightened, frustrated, incapacitated, and embarrassed by how I'm feeling and thinking, acceptance and kindness are the two best ways to calm and reduce the symptoms of panic and distress. It may not be how I have always been, but I will not deny the reality of the struggle I sometimes face, even though it may seem small, unimportant, indulgent, or even crazy. There will be times when I am inconsolable, where I may isolate myself (emotionally or more literally), when I am utterly exhausted because real rest just isn't happening and it's all I can do to keep my head above water, where I may be so lost and trapped in my own unjustifiably terrified mind that I am not able to be as good of a friend, partner, person as I so try to and want to be. I may not be having an attack per se, but I may be unable to react well to situations that send Brian into overdrive, or make me worry that Brian is going to come out and make things difficult. I may meta-worry that, given that I know my anxieties are unrealistic, just having these concerns when there is nothing actually wrong will eventually annoy people so much - especially with my frequent inability to articulate what the matter is, because it becomes everything and I drown in a million "unsolvable" things, one after another - that even though nothing is the matter, I will have created a or become the problem by being unable to free myself from the idea that there might be one, hiding somewhere. The fear of the self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. The fear that you are the problem is making you the problem.

The video below was shared with me by my wonderful therapist when I described the sometimes paralyzing fear I have associated with social situations (for those of you that know me, I am sure this may actually sound very inaccurate as I love to be around, connect, and generally share the world with people), and around ongoing relationships with people for whom I care deeply. The fact that the "problem" character happens to be called Brian just makes it extra brilliant for me, but the metaphor (an ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy - idea) essentially shows that you cannot spend your life waiting by the door, fearing a thing that may never come - and if it does, it may not be that bad anyway.


This is not "I'm all better". This is not "I'm all broken". Me and Brian have some work to do and, whether he's the Messiah or a very naughty boy, I am trying hard to practice acceptance and see the whole journey, the shades of grey, and to know that I am enough, even on bad days. And on the good days, we'll go swimming.

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