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On Intrusive Thoughts

#HonestyAlert: I have these things called intrusive thoughts. My mind will hit upon a worry and then bring it up over and over and over and over again, whether I’m cool with that or not. The negativity piles up and piles up until wham, panic attack.

When I experienced this for the first time last year, I had no idea what has happening. It was total paralysis.

But the internet is awesome, and I found a counselor who works with this particular sort of obsessive anxiety.¹ From her I learned that the conscious mind prefers to panic over things that it perceives as within its control rather than deal with the muddy stuff below the surface—the stuff that really hurts.

Panic is an indication that it’s time to get quiet and investigate on a deeper level. Easier said than done—we avoid stuff for a reason—but when I accepted the idea that my anxious thoughts weren’t 100% true and started looking underneath at what was really causing the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, things got really interesting. They also got much, much better.

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My left hamstring’s been feeling a little funny for the last two weeks, and a few days ago my anxiety latched onto it hard, panicking over the chance that it might get worse and render me useless for farm work. I did due diligence in ruling out injury, and then I realized just how relentless and negative the thoughts had been.

Oh, right.

It’s way easier to obsess over physical symptoms than drop down into the big groundlessness that comes with leaving home.

Seeing the chiropractor did help. But so did a big dose of self compassion. Taking some photographs. Talking to Mark. Cooking up a vat of sausage-tomato soup with my cousin at the shop. Sitting on the porch this morning, listening—being here, rather than camping out in an imaginary future. The hammy feels great today.

This won’t be the last anxious thought of the trip, and that’s a good thing. When we stop being so scared of it, anxiety becomes a pretty awesome teacher.


¹ If you are any combination of anxious, sensitive, and creative and have ever experienced intrusive thoughts, do yourself a favor and visit Sheryl Paul.