Can Can Can

[Somewhat more rambly post, still frantically packing and finishing finals]

I’ve noticed something recently, about this phrase:

Can you do something for me?

There are two ways this phrase can go.

Can you do something for me…[by never doing this thing that I hate that you've been doing?]

and

Can you do something for me? [because I bet you had no idea this could be helpful, and I wanted to let you know, but also, you can say no to doing it!]

The first is unintentionally passive-aggressive: masquerading as the innocuous request that the second one actually is.

And I’m completely guilty of this. “Can you do something for me?” is how I trained myself to start asserting boundaries. It was the nice way to retroactively tell someone that their behavior had hurt me. I was being polite! I was leveraging my way into telling someone I wanted them to change their behavior! “Can you do something for me?” was a way to start the conversation that still gave me an out–I could chicken out and ask them to pass the potatoes, you know. I wasn’t really starting a Scary Conversation That Might Make Them Mad, I was just making it slightly more possible.

Can you do something for me?

Yeah, sure!

Can you not say that thing near me? It’s a huuuuge trigger, and I end up really distraught.

And I learned to start making boundary requests! But at the same time, I learned to have the gut-punch of fear any time an innocuous conversation opened this way. I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends started to feel this way too.

And this is the opposite of my goal! I want to have easy and clear communication, not shift the fear!anxiety to phrases that I also use to make normal requests. I’m not sure how to prevent myself from doing this in the future: this process was a step up from not saying anything at all, and the next step is not using a misleading opening. I’m not sure I could have leaped from Step One to Step Three.

‘Just do it’ is a successful strategy for some, and might have worked for me. I’m hesitant to advocate it though; the thing about Just Do It is that people who can’t Just Do It will nod and then carry on there merry way not doing it.

The Cockroach of Motivation

[Draft-clearing again. Quite old, somewhat updated for clarity.]

Today, as I have several times this year, I told someone that I had gone on a date with that I would prefer not to see them again. Then I gave a presentation I thought could have gone better and proceeded to be horribly unproductive all day.

The first two are things that give me shivery-panic, and that I have to deliberately talk myself into doing, the third will can leave me feeling hopelessly behind (I was) and awful for days. But I mostly muddle along with Pollyanna cheer and Doing The Thing(s). And I do it with cockroaches.

Explanation via Pervocracy:

The Worst Thing In The World is a yawning chasm of failure, constantly open beneath you, and there is no describing the horror at the bottom.  You just go around with the knowledge that if you make a mistake big enough, you can fall in.  If a relationship fails, if you get fired, if you get rejected… you’ll fall into TWTITW, so you put everything you’ve goddamn got into that relationship.  You’ll try anything to keep the relationship. Because it’s literally unthinkable what will happen if it ends.

That unthinkability is how it traps you.  Because it’s like Stephen King says in Danse Macabre–knowing that there’s something horrible behind a door is terrifying.  Once you open the door, it’s ruined.  Even if it’s a really terrible thing behind that door, even if it’s a six-foot cockroach, any horror you feel is going to be mixed with relief.  “Oh, thank God, it’s just a six-foot cockroach. It could’ve been a sixty-foot cockroach.”

It resonated with me, I think because I have spent most of my adult and teenage life knowing like what many of the logical close-to-ends of my fears were, and quietly calming myself with them. Scared of doing that interview? Nah, remember that time you gave your first speech and a whole class and teacher laughed at you to your face? You survived that. Nervous about turning that guy down? Remember the one who followed you around the cafe, calling you ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ because you said you couldn’t talk now, you had homework? You were shaky but you walked all the way home and made lunch.

And I think this is perhaps not the story I want. I want to have been strong, to have set boundaries, to have faced down the mundane scary things like bad performance reviews and the-one-who-never-called not because I was certain that worse things have happened to me, but because they were important to do. I am wary of a framing that is only about Things Could Be Worse. I want to delight in things because of how they are–not because they are better than the sixty-foot cockroach.

I am concerned that I might be training myself to spend too much time looking for the worst possible option. Is this it? What would be even worse than this? Is there a six-hundred foot cockroach I’ve forgotten about? How much of my time am I spending looking for awful eventualities?

Not only that, but I want to give myself permission to mope. I am an extraordinarily happy person by nature, but my habit of not reflecting on when things were sad or bad or disappointing means that it can take a series of badbrains days before I realize “OH, there have been a lot of horrible and distressing things in my life, perhaps I should consider those caused this.” Framing everything as “not the worst possible option!” means I don’t leave myself for space for sitting with exactly how bad the option I got was.

Using Self-Help Anxiety (SAM) App: Initial Thoughts

I downloaded the Self-Help Anxiety Management (henceforth, SAM) app to my phone several weeks back with the intention of giving it a trial run. Today I got quite anxious and after knitting part of a scarf, walking three miles, trying to meditate, and taking a nap, all with zero success in stress-reduction, I remembered it. This is Day 1 of the test–I’ll write more well-rounded analysis in 7-10 days, when I’ve used it over time.  If you’re interested in testing alongside, this is the iOS link and here’s one for Android. 

Before: Yes, hi, this is anxious.

Before: Welp, even more anxious than I realized.

Thought 1: Wow, Kate, you are anxious a lot.

Thought 2: Wait, this seems to actually be helping quite a bit.

Cursory Look at the Best SAM Stuff:

-An anxiety tracker (data entry part pictured on left). I paired this with Annoyster (Apple/Android alternative), to pester me to chart anxiety at random intervals throughout the day. Goal: Getting a better picture than either charting when I’m calm enough to remember or charting when I’m anxious enough to open the app.

-The relaxation techniques appear to be gamified: though I haven’t levelled up yet, it appears that after using a relaxation techinque over time, you can “level up” to unlock tougher tools (Perhaps meditating or doing breathing exercises for longer periods of time? Will check back in next writeup.)

-Anxiety Toolbox: when you find activities in the app that are particularly helpful, you move them in here. I’m excited about this part for two reasons
-It indicates that the designers recognize that coping techniques vary widely. What works for me may leave you bored and still anxious.
-When the toolbox fills up, I won’t have to sift through all the activities on the main page to find what I want. Also, if I can make going from anxious to trying coping mechanisms quickly, it increases the likelihood that I’ll do that instead of getting wrapped up in a loop of self-defeating thoughts.

After: Anxious, but manageably so.

After: Anxious, but manageably so. Time invested to get to this point: 10 minutes.

-A little thing that just made me happy: in one of the calming techniques, guided breathing, you can adjust the inhale/exhale times. Attention to detail like this matters. I breathe quite shallowly, and likely wouldn’t have found the exercise practical without customization. Of course, if the app didn’t allow for this, I could have just done focused breathing exercises on my own….and been much less likely to make it a habit.

The Downsides:

-It’s not very intuitive. I had to read the directions and fiddle around with buttons for each screen. I strongly recommend playing with the app during a non-anxious time before putting it to use.

-There’s some sort of social network aspect where you can set up an account. I have no idea what the value of this is.

-All of the references, numbers to call, and resources are for the UK. (The app was developed by a university in Wales.

-I’m not sure how all the pieces of the menu fit together. Sure, it’s great that there’s a place for me to list things that make me anxious, and I like having coping techniques, but how can I use them most effectively? Not a lot of advice is offered. If this was the first app I’d tried or the first attempt I’d made to manage anxiety, I think I might be less enthused.

First thoughts: I like this! It’s the first app I’ve recommended to friends, and the first that I’ve seen immediate results from. It’s free, it’s made by people in the field, and worst case, I’ll have more data about my mood over time that I can use.

Links for downloading it yourself: Android, iOS

Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. Definitely consult yours, and SAM and my advice aren’t alternatives to medical care.