a lost zillennial

Performance anxiety so bad you can't get started

It's that time again. The time I get an email telling me my monthly Bear Blog payment was successful. And remembering I haven't posted in too long. Woof.

I honestly have been feeling kind of uninspired lately. I have some big life things coming up, and that's been taking up most of my spoons and brain real estate. Writing for fun isn't easy when you write for a paycheck. But the best way to get back writing is... to just make myself write.

Looking for some ideas, I headed to the Discover page and came across Sreekar Scribbles's post "Squashing the Perfection Bug," and I was reminded of something a nurse told me once. Gather round ladies, gentlemen, and gentlethems, it's story time!

In 2020, I was coming to terms with the fact that the way I was living was not sustainable. It was the end of my freshman year of college, and I was spit out into pandemic turmoil for the summer. So already, like many of you, I wasn't doing too hot. During the last two semesters, though, I had experienced stress at levels I had never felt before.

High school was rough. I was a perfectionist — I still am, to a certain degree — and it was always treated as an endearing or positive quality of mine. I was taught that being a perfectionist was a good thing.

My parents always told me growing up to just "try the hardest you can." Later in life, my dad told me he thinks they inadvertently cursed me with that. What they meant was that they didn't expect A+ report cards or winning 1st place in the talent show. What I took away is that I physically and mentally need to put my all into everything I do.

Of course, we all know that's not a great way to live. I was proud of myself when I knew I did something good — wrote a paper that got a 100, had a teacher tell me they were impressed with a presentation, received awards for working hard in my extra curricular activities — but the imposter syndrome was often crippling.

I frequently describe my feelings by saying I have two sides of my brain: the reasonable one and the mean one. The mean side is the voice of anxiety, doubt, and insecurity. It's the side telling me I'm not good enough, I'm going to fail, nobody likes me. It's also the side that perpetuates irrational fears — what if the spider in my house is going to jump and bite me, what if my plane goes down, what if I accidentally send a picture to someone of that weird bump on my back that I needed a better view of.

The reasonable side, though, is the one that usually exists in exact contrast to the mean side. I might think I'm not good at my job, but my boss hired me for a reason. I'm not going to fail because I've put in the work. People like me, and I know that because most people don't pretend to be friends with someone just to be nice. The spider is more scared of me than I am of it. My plane will not go down because there are measures in place to prevent that. The picture of the weird bump... I guess I just have to be careful with that one, lol.

At this point in my life, the mean side was much louder than the reasonable side. I'd stay up into the early hours of the morning finishing homework or studying for tests. When I turned in essays, I was convinced they were absolute gibberish, and the teacher would finally realize I was faking being a good writer. I wouldn't get enough sleep, so I'd be stressed, which fueled a never-ending cycle of anxiety and depression.

But when I started college, it's almost like I didn't have a reasonable side at all anymore. I pulled my first all nighters, cried while doing homework, and basically starved myself over stress and body insecurities. At one point, I went temporarily blind — I had the first and only ocular migraine of my life, which was terrifying. It was likely due to overexertion from rushing to class on about 2 hours of sleep and a close-to-empty stomach.

Covid, as it tended to do, made things much worse. I think it's a bit asinine that college students were still expected to go to virtual class and turn in assignments. Luckily, a lot of it was removed from the syllabus, but it wasn't enough for me.

The issue that's persisted from high school through college and even a bit today is that I just can't get started on things. I procrastinate like there's infinite tomorrows and no deadline in sight. Some Googling showed that this was likely because of ADHD, so I got my parents to set up an appointment at an ADHD clinic.

The dumb computer game I played somehow indicated to the nurse that I have not a trace of ADHD (I still doubt that, and tomorrow, I will actually learn the results of a more comprehensive set of tests that will help determine what's going on in the ol' noggin).

But what she told me resonated, and it's what led to beginning treatment for anxiety and depression that's changed my life for the better:

I think you have performance anxiety so severe that it prevents you from actually performing tasks, even simple ones.

She put a feeling into words like I'd never been able to before. I was so scared of failing that I just wouldn't do things I needed to until I absolutely had to.

I'm still guilty of procrastinating, but I've significantly improved since that diagnosis in 2020. The reasonable side of my brain has gained some volume and is able to be louder than the mean side most of the time. I still hear the mean side, but it's a lot easier to see how silly it can be. The mean side is not very smart.

Treatment for mental health issues is ongoing. I continue to tinker with medication and therapy practices. I'm still not sure what works best to calm my mind down or how to get out of a particularly nasty rut of imposter syndrome. If I sit in silence too long, I start thinking about all the embarrassing things I did in middle school or said on dates.

Knowing the language for what I experience, however, was important for me. Now, when I'm feeling stuck on a task, I can think to myself, "This doesn't need to be perfect. And regardless of how good this needs to be, you'll do fine."



Shoot me a comment or start a conversation with me by emailing davstri4077@gmail.com.