Mike Catello

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Image from High Anxiety

Each of us gets nervous. It makes sense because there are a lot crazy stimuli around us. Each of us struggles with uncomfortable circumstances: dating, job interviews, public speaking. Each of us gets down on ourselves: poor test results, a lousy date, an underperforming month of sales. Anxiety comes and goes for many of you, and overall, you feel Ok. For many of us, though, unsettling thoughts and uneasy feelings persist and often overwhelm our lives. We can’t actually get through a job interview, so we don’t work. Some of us can’t leave our homes. Some of us hate ourselves. These are just some of the demarcations between the natural human feeling of “nervousness” and the psychiatric condition of “anxiety.”

Here’s an example. Karen and Sophia both go on a first date with a different man. Each woman is 23 years old and lives in Pocatello, Idaho. Each date consists of a dinner, movie, and a coffee to close the night. Each woman gets dropped off at their respective apartment by their date. An objective observer would conclude that each woman is treated respectfully by the man throughout the night. Here’s how each woman deals with the rest of the evening:

Karen

Sophia

“Man, that date sucked.” “Man, that date sucked.”
“He’s not worth seeing again anyway.” “What a loser I must be. Could my disgusting hands have been clammier?”
“I can’t seem to find the right guy. I’m going to lay low and not date for a while.” “Every guy in the world thinks I’m ugly. I’m not only not going on a date again. I’m not leaving my house again.”
“Is there something wrong with me?” “Everyone thinks I’m ugly and an idiot. Joey, my five-year old neighbor, was right when he told me I had too many freckles when we were kids.”
“I know that I don’t keep up on current events, but I’m still interesting.” “I hate myself. I want everyone to hate me and tell me I’m such a loser.”
“Gotta go to bed so I can get up for work tomorrow.” “I’m going to sleep and never wake up. They think I’m such a failure at work anyway.”

Karen and Sophia both acknowledge the failure of their dates. Both women consider they might be responsible for the failure. Karen deals with her situation logically and resumes her life. Sophia crawls into an emotional hole. She talks badly about herself. She makes illogical connections, causing her past, present, and future to converge into one giant mental and emotional mess.

Until my 30s, anxiety vacillated somewhere between Karen’s and Sophia’s for me. It wasn’t until my mid-30s or so that I became Sophia (so to speak, of course). I hated myself and distrusted others. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, including my wife. I couldn’t endure social situations, even anonymous ones like restaurants. I predicted that I’d be in a sanatorium by the age of 44. (I’m 44 now.) I used to lament the day that my children would find out that their father was a loser. I considered myself and my life a failure.

My marriage was breaking down and I was about to lose control of my life. I went through two years of therapy and learned that four significant events led to my battle with General and Social Anxiety. First, I had a job where I was bullied. Second, an important relationship with a family member crumbled. Third, I had a job where the company was run by lunatics. Finally, I had financial problems and had to sell my house. All of these things happened in 10 years. Some of you may have managed through these successfully. Some of you may not have been able to survive at all. I wasn’t surviving and only did because I sought treatment.

In this four-part series, Four Proven Ways to Contract Anxiety, I want to share with you each of these experiences so you can understand my story and how I came to have General and Social Anxiety. Read Part I – Get Bullied – As an Adult. Parts II – IV will be released weekly over the next couple of months.