Of Cues, Signs, and Blocks

I have a confession – I have anxiety about writing.

Well, that’s not really a confession, I have anxiety about everything, which is just par for the course when you have an anxiety disorder. When I don’t feel anxious about something I worry (which of course is what anxiety is all about), which is to say I’m anxious about not being anxious. It’s a vicious cycle. But I’m getting off track here. The point is that sometimes I’m lucky and when the idea strikes the words flow without much effort. Usually the idea pops and I have to play around a bit to get to where I wanted to go, and sometimes places I didn’t know I needed to be. Every once in awhile I have this idea – it takes hold and won’t let go – but the words don’t come. They hum and haw and dance around the subject, but nothing sounds cohesive or flows. I feel stuck. And then I start to have panic about needing to find the words for something and not being able to.

This is where I have been for the last 2 weeks. This is the 5th attempt I am making at writing about these topics. I have 4 drafts in various stages currently saved … some with lengthy rambling paragraphs, some with just a few key words typed out so I would remember them. I have been struggling to put thoughts and feelings into words that don’t sound contrite or self-serving. These things I have been trying to talk about are huge to me – literally life-altering. But to actually say them, to try to talk about them … I keep getting to a “yeah, but?” point. So these things happened … and? I stop in my tracks and struggle to find the words to move forward. To explain the gravity of these realities in a way that others not in my shoes would understand, or that those walking a similar path can relate. To pause over the keyboard because I’m trying to celebrate things that happen to so many other people so often, or things that are so obvious, that it seems trivial to even waste my time writing it, and your time reading it.

This is the thought process of a people pleaser. I have known for a long time this is what I am, and while I have pledged many times to work through it and stop doing it I have not been able to. It is something so ingrained in my identity and idea of self that I could not tell you when it started, I could not tell you the triggers that pushed it into overdrive … but I can tell you it’s the reason I stayed at jobs that didn’t serve me, relationships that were long over before it was said, friendships I should have stood up for myself and walked away from.

Let’s step back and talk about this, since a lot of people have an idea of what they think a people pleaser is … and not any clue how it actually manifests on the other side. Do you know a people pleaser? This is the person you can count on for anything. You can’t remember the last time they told you no – if they ever have. They are willing to lend a hand no matter what, and will wave off anything as a “it’s no big deal, I’m happy to help”. They go out of their way to be there for you in any way you need, and tell you they expect nothing in return. And yes, before you pipe in with your “but Jenn … !” I am fully aware that these are all admirable things and does not a people pleaser make. But there is another side to it, and you might have to pay a bit more attention to see it. It’s the shifty eyes they make when you ask for a favour and they’re trying to find the right words. It’s the small sigh they hope they’re hiding after agreeing to help. It’s the obvious distress they’re showing but they are unable to ask for help themselves. It’s the disappointment on their face when they’ve gone above and beyond for you and they feel like their effort wasn’t enough. These traits are all in their head – a pleaser has an impossible time with saying no, for multiple reasons – did someone admonish them when they last tried? did they get bullied or talked down to for not being “enough”? were they so desperate for any type of positive attention that being helpful became like a drug to them? At least … those are the reasons I know it developed for me.

I wanted to talk about this because this is a place I have spent a lot of time in the last few months – unable to say no, crippling anxiety leading up to things, insane guilt over the times I did speak up. What little things I have done to attempt some semblance of self-care have been difficult. I’ve been navigating many new waters – a lot of them simultaneously – and there have been numerous times I’ve slipped. So what few personal victories I’ve had I want to shout from the rooftops … but I can’t find the right words without it seeming, well, silly. And the people pleaser shows.

At the end of the day I’m not writing this blog for anyone but myself. I’ve changed my focus entirely so I can practice my writing style and voice to finally work up the nerve/courage/discipline to write all the books rattling around in my head. The whole point is to write, writewrite (picture me saying this like Gina Linetti).

dance dance dance.gif

And so, I present to you two very important things I have learned in the last few weeks: I have distinct, noticeable, visible anxiety ticks … and I have legitimate, tangible hunger signals. Now yes – I’ve always had these, both the the things I thought I did when I was anxious, and that rumbly tummy feeling. But to have someone point out my anxiety ticks (which went a little something like “It’s okay, I know you’re anxious” … “Of course I’m anxious! How could you possibly tell? [/sarcasm]” … “well, for one thing you’re doing that arm touching thing”). The next few times I felt the anxiety (remember that low-level anxiety doesn’t register for me because it’s constant) I started paying attention to things I did. I’ve always been a fidgeter (pens, rings, shuffling papers), but during high bouts of anxiety I touch myself more – cross my arms and stroke them, touch my hair, rub my hands together … all things I find comforting. My body is unconscious doing things to calm myself down, because it knows that bringing my anxiety down, even a smidge, could be the difference between semi-rational thinking and full-blown panic. I’ve been doing these simple self-care actions for who knows how long and I had no idea. It was an eye-opening moment.

And hunger cues – real, undeniable hunger cues. My body actually being used to being fed at a certain times and signalling that yes, it is expecting to be fed right now, Blows. My. Mind. I haven’t had real believable hunger signals since I was a kid, at least. My stomach would rumble after binges and I would ignore it … one, because I just ate a large amount of food and two, because my stomach was likely more upset with the food than necessarily wanting more. And yes, I’m aware of what is actually happening when you get the stomach rumbles, and if I eat more often and eat better I wouldn’t have these feelings. But after years of an unknown eating disorder, after the painfully but rewarding journey of recovery … for my body to send a signal that yes, we need to eat, and yes, we want to eat … it’s incredible. It legit blows my mind and fuels me to keep going – keep working in recovery, keep picking myself up after stumbles, keep fighting for myself, and keep eating because, you know what, it’s pretty awesome!

I still feel a huge writing block despite ideas bubbling in my head all day. Hopefully finally spitting this out will do me some good.
Dance, dance, dance. 

~ J

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