My Anxiety Metaphor

Creative commons image of window by Gary McNair on flickr

Image is of a window, looking out onto countryside.

I can’t remember if I’ve actually spelled out this particular metaphor I use for my anxiety before, but I thought I’d give a post to it. Now, anxiety can be described in a lot of different ways. This metaphor is not designed to cover ALL of it, but is a way for me to conceptualize what it’s like to try to do a thing that is triggering anxiety.

Basically, it’s like I have a wall in front of me, with a window in it. The window has some transparent material in it, but I have no idea what that material is. Nor do I have any way to find out, outside of just running straight at it and flinging myself at it. This is, of course, a risky activity, but for the most part it is the only method I have for doing things which make me nervous.

What happens next can generally be categorized in three different ways.

  1. I find out the window was made of shatter glass. When I fling myself at it I go straight through, with no more than a few little scratches. I can keep on running and do what I wanted to do. YAY! This is a victory! The obstacle was not a big deal, and I was able to run right through it!
  2. The window turns out to be made of regular glass. I still get through it, but I get very damaged in the process. Cuts, lacerations, bleeding, pain, overall badness. In this scenario, I can generally still suck it up at least for a little while to do whatever it was I was going to do, but I require a lot of recovery time and self-care afterwards.
  3. It’s plexiglass. Or transparent aluminum. Or something along those lines. Instead of getting through, I bounce off and get a concussion or broken bones in the process. Lots of damage, lots of care required after to recover, and no ability to keep going. In literal terms, this means I got a panic attack or had a meltdown.

The hard part is that the lead-up to all three of these outcomes feels the same, which is why I cannot predict which outcome I will get. At least, not from the lead-up. Deciding whether or not to fling myself at the window is a matter of weighing possibilities and risks. If I’ve done a thing several times before and it’s window has been consistent, I’ll be able to figure that the window will probably (though not definitely) be the same again. So, for instance, a window in front of me when I’m horseback riding is probably shatter glass and I can just go right through it. A window when I’m about to enter in some form of group socialization has a high probability of being plexiglass.

A lot of times, though, I really don’t know. I have to decide if it’s worth the risk to fling myself at it, and if I decide that it is, go for it. It’s also worth noting – waiting for the wall to go away so that I have an obstacle-free path ahead of me is not an option. The wall will never, ever go away. Choosing to wait until I “feel better” is just the same as choosing to not do the thing. As such, I do not have that particular option – I can either try to do the thing, or not do it at all (and if it is an option for you, then you are very fortunate).

My anxiety meds have changed the game, but not necessarily in the way I thought they would. I had thought that I wouldn’t get those walls anymore, but I guess my meds can’t fix me THAT much. I still get them. I still have to leap through windows, hoping they won’t hurt me. The major difference is that now, there is an extremely high probability that the window is made of shatter glass. And the more I leap through windows and find myself ok, the easier it is for me to keep leaping through windows. My chest still squeezes, my heart still thumps, my breath still speeds up, but then I’m ok.

Of course, I still hit plexiglass once in a while. I don’t think anything will take that out of my life completely. But for those instances, I have yet another med – a more hardcore anti-anxiety that is only to be used situationally, if I need it. The tricky part is that I gather I should take it before I actually hit the plexiglass, but it is very difficult for me to tell ahead of time what it’s going to be. But there are still some situations (hello, group socializing!) that are likely to have the worst of the obstacles in their way, so I try to remember to use it for that.

And that, dear readers, is what anxiety is like for me.

Do you use a metaphor for your anxiety? Or depression or other thing that impacts your life? I’d love to read about it if you do, please comment and share if you are comfortable doing so!


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2 responses to “My Anxiety Metaphor

  1. I’ve used a wave metaphor to try to better understand my anxiety. Sometimes it laps my feet. Other times it tries to pull me under. I imagine myself sitting in the sand sometimes letting it wash over me (just being with it).

    Being mindful of my anxious feelings and engaging in task even though it’s scary (the kind I’d rather avoid entirely) –> embracing the raptor

  2. Miss Kitty

    I guess I’m lucky in that although I have Asperger’s, I have never suffered from serious, disabling anxiety. I don’t know whether this is because I am wired this way or because of how I have taught myself to cope. If there’s something coming up that I know I won’t enjoy (hello group activities where I don’t know anyone!) I tune my mind right away from it. If it’s something that has to be done, for example for work, then I have a motto ‘Just Do It’. It’s not an elegant motto but it sums up most of my life! And when I am actually in the situation, I remind myself exactly how long it will be until it is over and I can go do something I enjoy. Obviously this wouldn’t work for everyone, but it is how I cope with difficult situations.