Facing My Worst Fears

How the attempt to hide and diminish my thoughts has pushed me to a breaking point.

Stephanie Juall
Dec 4, 2020 · 5 min read

Ever since I was young, I remember being afraid of my thoughts. I can recall as far back as when I was just eight years old. I had watched a horror film, and by the end of it I was screaming and crying to my mom because I had a thought that I might kill someone like the character in the film. These thoughts felt intrusive, like the more I thought about them, the less control I had over myself. I felt the impulsive need to get rid of them.

Growing up, I had found ways of managing these obsessive thoughts mostly through avoidance. Certain sounds bothered me so much that I would just leave a room or situation. I really never spoke about it either. My issue pretty much never got better or worse as I was able to manage through avoidance and distraction. In a way, my impulsive need to stay distracted propelled me into phases of intense productivity. I became an absolute perfectionist with my work. I tried to learn everything I possibly could. I frequently stayed up 24 hours working on a project. I made great progress in my career. I never noticed that I rarely gave myself credit for any of my achievements. I also never really thought of it all as a distraction, I thought I was just extremely motivated. But in reality without having something to do or work on, I felt alone with my thoughts.

As someone who’s found so much pride in the personality I’d developed through staying busy, always connecting with others, and pursuing intensive passion projects, it’s been a really difficult year staying level headed in solitude. With all of my distractions stripped away, I’ve had to face the very thing I’ve been running from my whole life. And this time, the intrusive thoughts have been obsessions over my very existence, with repetitive thoughts like- who am I really? Am I changing? I don’t want to change. Why do I feel different today? Is something wrong? Am I losing my mind? Why don’t I feel like working on my projects? Am I a bad person now? If thoughts are just thoughts, why do I keep coming back to them? Am I missing something?

I’ve always found solace in social interaction. I love people, I love telling stories, and I love hearing about others. I based a lot of who I am on the fact that I’m extremely outgoing and capable of making everyone feel comfortable around me. But over the past few years, I’ve noticed general anxiety building up before a social event. This anxiety may be totally normal for most people, but for someone like me, who can’t let a thought just be a thought, I would question this anxiety so much to the point where I felt paralyzed. Why am I so anxious right now? I love meeting new people, I love socializing, why am I physically nervous and sweating at the thought of doing something I love? What does this all mean? Am I a fraud? Is something wrong with me now?

To compound on my obsessive thoughts, I grew up around a parent who’s suffered from debilitating paranoid schizophrenia. I watched his entire life crumble at his feet. I’ve first hand witnessed the most bizarre, heart breaking, gut wrenching, and surreal experiences because of my parent’s illness. As I’ve gotten older, my subconscious fear of “losing my mind” like him, has crawled to the forefront of my consciousness. In ways, this fear has driven me further into my productive pursuits- I’ve worked out religiously as a way to maintain my mental health, I’ve avoided drugs, including basic over the counter pain medications, I’ve taken up meditation, I limited my alcohol consumption, and more. It’s been both a curse and a blessing to be so fueled by my fears.

But being motivated by fear is not sustainable. There is inevitable burn out. And the burnout is bad. It causes its own influx of even more terrible intrusive thoughts like, “Am I giving up? Am I weak? Am I playing the victim to something I have the control to fix? Why am I tired? This isn’t who I am. Or is it?”.

My worst fear of losing control over my own mind, has literally brought me to the brink of losing my mind. It’s ironic how your fears can become the very catalyst of making them reality. I don’t believe in manifestation in the modernized sense, but the fact that our thoughts directly impact our feelings, indeed contributes to a form of “manifestation”. But what happens when we can’t control our thoughts? When we can’t even sit with them?

I think the popular mentality of manifesting what you want has been pretty toxic to people like me. People who beat ourselves up for having bad thoughts at all. People who maybe really don’t have control over what they choose to think about. When I look around, it seems like everyone preaches this positive manifestation and organic healing shit and it makes me feel incapable. Incapable of dealing with my problems naturally without the help of therapists and doctors. If everyone else can do it, why can’t I? Why is it that the very people who claim to support mental health now make others feel as if asking for serious clinical help is so abnormal?

I have fallen victim to this new facade that organic living is an antidote for all mental illnesses. As mentioned before, I did everything I could to maintain my mental health, why isn’t it working? I myself preached exercise and healthy living as way to cure mental struggles. But that clearly hasn’t been a permanent solution. I want to be like everyone else online talking about how all their problems melted away after eating the newest CBD packed chocolate bar. Why doesn’t it work for me?

Admitting to not having control is possibly my worst nightmare. But in a weird way, the very action of accepting that maybe there is something out of my control- possibly a disorder, a chemical imbalance, PTSD, anxiety- might be the only control I have in overcoming it. Maybe relinquishing the desire to feel fully whole, completely in control, is the antidote I need. I’m afraid to admit that all the new wave herbal medicines and newest fad workouts aren’t enough for me. I’m afraid that maybe my genetics are fucked up. I’m afraid to ask for a mental health day. I’m afraid of admitting this all publicly at the risk of being treated differently. I’m afraid of being afraid when no one else seems to be. But here I am, facing my worst fears as a way to be free of them. I can’t let my fears prevent me from getting the help I might actually need. Don’t be afraid to be out of control. We all are in one way or another completely out of control. Maybe the only control any of us really have is accepting that. And maybe once we realize that, we can enjoy the unknowns of life and be excited rather than letting the unknown fill us with fear.

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Stephanie Juall

Written by

Product Designer prone to overthinking everything. Writing about mental health, self truth, and tech.

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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