This is your brain on… Anxiety?!?

One of my favorite “getting-to-know-you” questions to ask is, “How would you describe the way you imagine your brain works?” For years, I have described mine as follows:

Imagine CNN…

…Constantly running dialogue, layered over background music, and under the visuals of a talking head or news-reel related to some major event (or non-event). Also present is a possibly related still image, identifying information for the talking head, possibly a crew of people working at other computer screens and mixers visible in the background, a scrolling line of text relating other unrelated headlines and concerns, another scroll revealing stocks and market conditions, and one additional scroll for good measure that has live weather updates, school closures, or some such other important information. There, you have my brain as I see it… but with less news, and more memories, to-do-lists, grocery lists, and relational concerns. Some days, it’s like the news hub channel that shows mini-shots of four major news networks all simultaneously on one large screen. I have rarely critiqued this experience of my brain, often thinking others must experience similar, or the same things.

I’ve never thought I had ADD or ADHD, except for that time shortly after I became a big sister and got concerned that there was a deficit of attention being paid to me. But that was years ago. I’m over it. And I don’t struggle to attend to all of these things at any given time. Unless I’m sleep deprived. Then all bets are off.

This week my therapist asked me, “Is this level of anxiety pretty constant for you?” shortly after I provided a similar description of my mental process. The suggestion that my every-day experience was one full of anxiety took me aback. I am not an anxious person. Or am I? No, I’m not. I am not prone to worry. I do not feel overwhelmed or alarmed that there are lots of aspects of life that I am just not in control of. In fact, anxious people often annoy me. As a therapist myself, I know I am not supposed to think that, or be annoyed by a common malady that my clients may face… but it’s true. But wait. Perhaps my clients’ anxiety is triggering for me a countertransference response precisely because I am prone to anxiety. That kind of thing often happens for therapists. Perhaps holding openly my own possible experience of anxiety could help me become a better therapist for my anxious clients. Perhaps I will learn that while many others may have similar internal experiences, some may find it disturbing or bothersome. Especially if they are from a family culture that moves somewhat more slowly or casually through life. Then they’re the odd-(wo)man-out.

Hmm… I am still unsure whether I would call my daily experience an anxious one. If I am anxious, I fall decidedly into the “minor concern” end of the anxiety continuum.

I recently had a conversation with another women, who identified a belief that men and women are different in that women just multitask more both internally and externally. I found this conversation to be engaging and enlightening… even helpful for the purpose of talking with my decidedly-less-multitasking-partner about said differences. But internally, I struggle with the generalizations and assumptions the claim makes. Is this really a gender-issue? I don’t know.

Why do I share this? I am not sure. I felt compelled to… so I did it. But as I write, I am aware of an e-mail I sent some time ago to a friend who struggles courageously and exhaustingly with her own anxiety. At the time, I had concerns about the role anxiety played in her and her family’s life. It’s funny(?) how our judgments so often come back to us. Today, S, if you are reading this. Please forgive my criticism and my judgement. You are a courageous, lovely, and strong woman. You love well, and deserve to be loved and held better than I could offer you at the time.

I’d be happy to engage any of you, my readers, on any of the questions covered here.

With love,

– me –