I like to blame my anxiety on hormones and shit, and hormones and shit do play a factor due to my age (forty-seven). But I’ve begun to realize I was raised to be in crisis-management mode from a very early age and because of that, it’s a default setting in my mind. So the questions I’ve asked myself about this are:
1) Where did this crisis-management mode setting come from?
2) How the hell do I change my way of thinking and feeling to where this isn’t a default setting for me?
The answer to the first question lies in my early childhood being the child of a parent with untreated mental health issues, namely my father. My father boasted for as long as I could remember that he had been diagnosed as manic-depressive, now referred to as bi-polar but had refused all treatment for it. As a child I had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t have the guts to ask what that was. But looking back on my life with him and what I’ve learned about bi-polar behavior since then, I realize my father fit that diagnosis quite well.
Because as a child, I remember feeling like I had to be responsible from a very early age. I had to learn how to take care of myself, and at the same time, anticipate my dad’s moods and the emotional turmoil of living with them. I learned pretty early on how to tune out my parents’ raging arguments and icy détentes that followed. But what took me a very long time to learn was that the foul-tempered and downright ugly side of my father wasn’t how he really was. I’ve had to tell myself time and time again that part of him was fucked-up brain chemistry. But that’s a wound that takes a lot of work to clean and stitch up, and a lot of time for the pain to ease. Because on one hand my father could be the most supportive, loving, and encouraging person who spouted some of the best damn advice I’ve ever gotten. And on the other hand he could rip me to shreds using what he knew about me, and what I had confided in him.
Dealing with this kind of behavior turned me into a crisis-manager without any training or knowledge. It also made me feel like my own life was just a crisis waiting to happen to derail whatever ambitions or dreams I had for myself. Time and again things came up to knock me off whatever path I’d started on. This happened so much that in the last few years when I haven’t had to take care of anyone other than myself, I feel like any knock against me is enough to knock me off the path I want to be on.
That’s not the case and I know I don’t have to let that happen anymore. I’ve got a lot of stuff to sort through because of all the unboxing I’ve done. And I know I can’t let anything get in the way of that. My mind wants to get away from the sorting out and writing so it’s got a handy thing to fall back on, this crisis-management mode way of thinking.
I honestly believe you can change the way you think and feel, and respond to things in life. I’ve proven that to myself as I’ve overcome fears of asking for help when I have needed it, fears of doing something despite thinking that someone would stomp the shit out of me for doing it (more on that in the following pieces here in this series). I’ve learned to diffuse my own anger, pain, and rage by asking myself or the thoughtless and cruel echoes in my head why they think and feel the way they do.
I know over time I won’t think like this as much as I do now. Over time my life will change though I don’t know how and neither does anyone else. Nothing is set in stone because even stone erodes over time due to wind and other environmental factors. But stone doesn’t just erode away into dust. It becomes a part of the landscape in a different way over time. And it’s nothing to be afraid of, and I don’t feel fear as I write these words and think like this.
So my advice here is this: don’t feel like you have to live in perpetual crisis-management mode, and don’t let anyone keep you in that mode all the time either. Flip the damn switch when you have to, and set boundaries and make them clear to all parties concerned. Because perpetual crisis-management mode will fuck you up big-time and it takes a lot of work to repair the worst of the damage. But those repairs can be made and you can do better with your life.