Maaike Verwijs // New York Times

I Can Barely Communicate Anymore, and That’s Okay

Most people don’t have to think before they open their mouths. Words flow like a glorious, uninterrupted stream of piss, one after another, seemingly coalescing into pools of liquid gold.

When I was a young’n, I was frequently the subject of unwavering, entirely justified rebukes from annoyed teachers for my non-stop chattering.

A decade later — in college — I was a columnist for my school newspaper, The Michigan Daily. Like a particularly political pigeon, I would shit out libertarian screeds based off Ron Paul talking points with remarkable ease; fusing words together, it all seemed effortlessly natural.

At some point, that all changed. In coming to understand the roots of my depression and anxiety, I have become conscious of my perfectionist tendencies, of my limiting core beliefs, of the cognitive distortions that inhabit my brain and cause me to interpret the world the way that I do.

In many ways, that acquired wisdom has been a blessing. The daily battle in my brain is more acute, more persistent, but no longer an all-consuming blanket weighing me down at every turn. I have tools at my disposal in the form of deep breaths and exercise and a “remote control” to “change the channel” whenever I find myself ruminating.

I have a newfound awareness that allows me to challenge the soul-sucking jerk in my head who is constantly telling me that I’m not good enough. And believe me, the triggers are everywhere.

Yet, when it comes to expressing myself, I feel like I’ve taken two steps backwards. Maybe my frustrations in communicating stem from stopping the stream of anxiolytics coursing through my veins, or perhaps I’ve always felt this way and I’ve just now come to realize it.

Like some monster hiding under the bed, now that I can finally call the nagging perfectionism and comparisons-to-others and self-sabotaging behavior by their names, they’ve suddenly developed that much more power over me.

Writing has become a chore. Some days, I will type sentences out ten, twelve times, only to hit the backspace button in disgust when all is said and done. My thoughts are scattered, and I find myself hopping from paragraph to paragraph like a coked-out bunny, in search of some abstract satisfaction. It rarely comes.

Words are hard to find. English is a foreign language.

This feeling of creative paralysis bleeds into conversation. I overthink the most minute of details, tortured by the specter of saying something inappropriate or not matching up to the wry, clever contributions of my peers.

I have a difficult time articulating my thoughts and at times, it feels like some devastating, degenerative disorder is taking over my brain.

I am simultaneously addicted-to and revolted by my phone. I re-read texts, dwell on the proper wording of Facebook stati, obsess over the perfect instagram caption.

I would be quick to attribute my lament to the nature of social media and digital technology in 2015, except for the fact that my frustrations extend to IRL.

The most mundane of work interactions with Manager Mike, Pretty-Girl Penny, or Cool-Guy Cal can send my mind into a tailspin, as my eyes dart in search of an escape route. I try to reciprocate their sparkling smiles and occasionally a half-baked grimace or nod-of-the-noggin’ is all I can muster.

“Everything’s okay. And you’re cool. And people like you. And that girl over there thinks you’re cute. Don’t get so down on yourself,” I tell myself while refusing to believe a single word.

Of course, I never tell anyone at work that I’m a complete and utter wreck inside. My anxious heart bleeds out around some more than others. I’ve gotten pretty good at maintaining eye contact. I speak slower and sometimes work up a swagger that will fool my tables into thinking their server is actually a confident, funny, put-together human.

Things are never as bad as they seem in my head.

Although I’m aware of how illogical my incessant worrying is, I sometimes feel powerless to change it. The irony is that I crave comfort above all else, and yet, a state of constant worry is the most intoxicating and familiar of them all. Anything else feels foreign (and therefore, anxiety-inducing).

I have tried to not be so tough on myself and to embrace my imperfections, learning to stare at my fears square in the eyes and chuckle at them along the way. I have tried to view failures and frustrations as life achievements to unlock and opportunities for growth as opposed to earth-shattering catastrophes to wallow in.

But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sometimes feel like I’m being followed by my very own personal Cinco(R) storm-cloud, ready to flood any proverbial parade route with as much self-doubt and physiological anguish as possible; a stomach pang here, a heart flutter there.

Anxiety is a mighty-morphin motherfucker, a shape-shifting pro. And every time you cut off one of its heads, it sprouts two more. But, like a skinny Hercules, I will continue to fight the good fight. Or at least until I have to piss.