Thursday, April 1, 2010

Uncertainty of the Future and Fear

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought you heard a person breaking into your house? Your heart pounds as you strain to hear what woke you up but you hear nothing. If you are like me, this has happened many times when nothing is actually wrong.

Worse, I used to do this nightly and then spend an hour or more feeling like I was suffocating. I started thinking that our heater was malfunctioning and I was being poisoned by carbon monoxide. I'd have to check every room of the house and then open a window and breathe the cool air for awhile and try to calm down.

I slept poorly. Every noise made me tense. A clock ticking or a fan clicking could keep me from sleeping.

What was causing this? Stress, Anxiety, Panic Attacks--whatever you want to call this, I didn't know what was causing it or how to stop it.

When we moved to our new house, the night time terrors eased but new anxieties struck me. I was working from home and "protecting my house" during the day became my new obsession. The enemy? Anyone I could see from my front window and whom I could hear making noise. I was obsessed with tracking who was near our house.

Luckily, this too has eased with time. I've worked hard to calm down over the years. It helps that I stopped working from home (more on that in a minute).

Each of my fears listed above were irrational. I knew they weren't really something to fear yet knowing and having my stomach believe me were two different things.

I could get horrible stomach aches and intestinal distress from teenagers skateboarding on our block for a few minutes and shouting a bit. Were those teenagers likely to harm our house? No, I knew that was unlikely, but I would still fearfully peer out, feel my stomach turn, and possibly end up with multiple trips to the bathroom. Fear and Logic are not partners. My head could say one thing but my stomach seldom listened.

I think I feared uncertainty more than anything. I made plans to hedge off uncertainty. I am a huge fan of lists and calendars. I like spontaneity, I say, but my husband knows that this means what I call "planned spontaneity" where we set aside a designated time to do something fun. He can't just say, "Hey, let's go out to a movie this afternoon. Forget the plans you made for making dinner. Let's go out." The idea of doing something different from my plans can be very stressful.

The problem is--you can't stop uncertainty. There is no way to know what the future holds. For instance, I was just laid off from my job the other day. I wish I could say this was an April Fool's Day gag, but it isn't.

I had been unhappy there for awhile (I was laid off two days before my one year anniversary there). Some of my coworkers were not very kind people. Also, they did not have enough work (government contracts weren't coming in at their normal rate and that's how they do business) and I hadn't been as busy lately. My position was really a bonus--sort of like having an assistant to do work which you could do on your own but figure that the assistant can do it better (more specialized knowledge with graphics and design) and you have more time to do other things. I knew this could happen, but I guess I didn't really believe it WOULD happen.

I had been planning to write this post about anxiety even before I was called into my boss' office. One of the prime examples of anxiety I was going to use was that I had been waking up with terrible stomach aches and nausea for weeks, because of anxiety over my job. I simply didn't like going in to work. Once I got there, my stomach would settle, but it was the unknown of what the day was going to be like that would eat at me.

Now I have a new anxiety. My husband has been out of work since November. Now we are both unemployed. It just goes to show that you can never know what is going to happen. I had been applying to jobs for the entire year that I have been in this position and have had no interviews. Now I really need a new job. My husband has had many interviews since November, including two this week, but no job offers.

Life is uncertainty. I wanted to spend the year leading to my 42nd birthday figuring out how to make my life the one I really want. Strangely enough, the first thing that happened wasn't even something I was planning to do. I lost the job I hated before I found a new and better one.

Things don't always go as we plan, but I'm trying to figure out ways where I can live with that--and where panic attacks, stomach aches, and other signs of stress become a much more minor part of my day. I'm making a point to not let the teenagers outside bother me. They aren't going to hurt my house; I just need to learn to let go a little. Uncertainty and Fear may always be around, but I don't have to live my life running scared.

Photo from Stuant63's photostream

* Have any advice for someone who has difficulty dealing with fear? Have you suffered from similar problems and how did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments.

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