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One last question about my crisis
July 21, 2014 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I’m still having panic attacks. I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts together because I’m so stressed -- and they’re kind of circular on top of that -- so forgive me if this post is tough to understand.

So, recap. A while ago I started to worry about whether I had the innate intelligence capable of becoming a “great” composer/writer/mathematician/whatever. After about a year, I felt like I had mostly gotten over it, though only because I had convinced myself that I did have the innate ability and that it was not too late, rather than because it didn’t matter or because I had to do things that actually held my interest.

When this summer started I set out several goals for myself -- most importantly, I wanted to compose some pieces by the end of the summer. My thinking was as follows: I have been listening to atonal music for several years and I really enjoy it. I would like to create, not just consume, and it does not matter to me whether these creations are any good or whether they are recognized in the future. But as soon as I actually started trying to compose, I hated it. Nothing that came out was any good. I could barely work for an hour before I felt anxious and bored and didn’t want to do or think about anything at all. When I allow myself a few days’ to wind down after one of these episodes, the interest seeps back in, and I become really enthusiastic again about my original line of thought which I outlined above.

Another example of this is reading, say, the news. I’ve always been really interested in politics and other countries, so after reading the news for an hour or so I feel motivated and ready to tackle whatever project I’ve decided to work on today. But, again, as soon as I actually start to work, my interest vanishes -- in the project, the news, and everything else.

So I’m just stuck in this endless cycle of being really unhappy and anxious, feeling a bit better, trying to actually do something and getting really unhappy and anxious again. On top of this, the possibility of finding out that I'm not honestly interested in any of the things I thought I was -- that I just made up a convincing but false interest to satisfy my need for achievement/recognition -- terrifies me. I tried just focusing on a few things that I've pretty much always read about, liked, had periodic obsessions with, etc. but the doubts remain.

This is the second summer that this has ruined for me. I need this feeling to stop. Nothing that I do seems to work. Is there something I’m overlooking?

I really want to do this without therapy because I don’t want to explain this to my parents and they definitely aren’t going to be able to afford it. However, if this doesn't fix it, then I will resort to therapy; I've asked several questions about this, and lots of people have given really helpful responses, but ultimately nothing has worked.
posted by myitkyina to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you tried mindfulness? You can practise it alone, for free, (resources are online and in the public library) or you can see about taking a Yoga Class (usually cheap and can be spun to your parents as a fitness class if necessary). Also, improving your diet can be a huge help, agains something that can be done cheaply without attracting your parents attention. Can you see your regular doctor for free (or schedule an appointment for something else as well). There may be free therapeutic resources in your community that you can excuse to your parents as you studying at the library at that time.
posted by saucysault at 12:13 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


If you felt anxious or bored or uninterested after an hour, that doesn't mean you're not really interested in what you're doing, or you can't be good at it; it just means that it takes a lot of focus and concentration, or it brings up a lot of feelings, and you can't do that for long, sustained periods of time.

This is because creative work genuinely requires more focus and intensity than a lot of other kinds of work; and also because you may need to get into the habit of doing this kind of work, and find out what works for you when it comes to work habits, and so on. You may also need to think about what feelings this sort of work brings up for you (fear of failure, fear of success, stuff like that).

Instead of making up some fantasy summer for yourself where you work all day and get a lot done, try to set modest goals for small chunks of time. Recharge before you feel bored and anxious.
posted by Jeanne at 12:20 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


I have issues with anxiety and being easily distracted or easily bored. For me, it usually happens around work that requires concentration, like coding or writing documentation. For me, I've found that if I tie it to something Pavlovian, it helps. So for me, if I'm having a hard time settling down, I have a Pandora station I listen to when it's "time to work". I'll notice I'm antsy or bored or distracted or reading the Internet AGAIN when I mean to be working, and I'll turn on my Pandora station. This in turn seems to trigger my brain into, "Oh, it's WORK time, got it" and I find I can settle down and work for a good chunk of time (a few hours) before I need a break.

I unintentionally stumbled on this solution. I had a project about 3 years ago that required a ton of coding time, and I listened to the Pandora station as a way to tune out coworker noise, and somehow my brain made this connection. I expect if you establish a ritual (for me it was sort of forced, but I bet you could do it intentionally) it might help you get your brain to settle down into a work mode.
posted by RogueTech at 12:21 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Well, this:

I’ve always been really interested in politics and other countries, so after reading the news for an hour or so I feel motivated and ready to tackle whatever project I’ve decided to work on today. But, again, as soon as I actually start to work, my interest vanishes -- in the project, the news, and everything else.

Is kind of the human condition. The reason only a small percentage of the population gets famous for doing stuff is because motivation, and motivation all the way to the finish, is fleeting.

But you've ruined your summer over not composing, and you're having a lot of stress and anxiety...there's aspects of what you are describing that have a whiff of intrusive thoughts or compulsions. That could be one of many things from ADD to something more serious, but you will require outside assistance in diagnosing and treating anything of that nature. Though probably not therapy to begin with; these disorders are neurochemical(ish) in nature and generally the first line of defense is to ratchet the thoughts down to a manageable roar first with medication (or, if the issue is medical like thyroid or vitamin deficiency or something detectable by bloodwork, identifying and treating that issue) and then learn techniques for managing/coping/redirecting that will probably involve a therapist.

Do you have a GP that you already have a relationship with? It's always easier if you do, but I don't think people really necessarily get to see the same doctor regularly anymore. You could certainly just tell your parents that you're feeling off and want a physical, and hopefully you have enough health care coverage to make that an affordable situation.

You might also try logging these anxiety events and just doing a couple of daily journals about your state of mind, just to get a feel for (and later be able to discuss) what kind of patterns are identifiable in these symptoms.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:22 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


I think Ira Glass's famous quote about "the gap" is a useful response to the kind of creative paralysis you're describing:

http://writerunderground.com/2011/04/28/ira-glass-on-creativity-or-the-gap-between-our-taste-and-our-work/
posted by missrachael at 12:38 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


You may also need to think about what feelings this sort of work brings up for you (fear of failure, fear of success, stuff like that).

I think I might be dealing with a fear of failure... my problem is that I know not to have that fear, but I can't convince myself (I guess that's the point). Or maybe it isn't so much a fear of failure as it is a fear of mediocrity, since I'm not starting of my own accord (offhandedly, earlier in my childhood) but consciously and in a planned fashion. And I don't have any comforting explanation to get over this one. (Sorry to threadsit.)
posted by myitkyina at 12:39 PM on July 21


Don't feel like you have to get over the fear. I always feel anxious when I write. And there's really nothing more that I can do about it than catch myself when I'm feeling anxious, and say to myself, "Oh, I'm procrastinating because I feel anxious about writing. It's okay that I feel anxious, and it's okay that I'm coping with it by procrastinating, but now I'm going to set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and write."
posted by Jeanne at 12:49 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


To me it sounds like your main issue is that you've confused the value of whatever you produce artistically or creatively with your value. This is a really tough thing for creative people, because it's very easy to get caught up in evaluating and assessing "how good" your creations are - and mistake that assessment for an evaluation of your worth.

You need to understand that your mind (ego) is afraid of failure -- but YOU cannot *be* a failure. No matter how "good" or bad your compositions are and no matter what kind of career you have or do not have, you will never be, on an existential level, a "failure".

One thing that might help you re-frame this is to think about what a successful life is for you, setting aside the outcome of your career. You need to build up a value system and a sense fo your own self worth that is not dependent on what happens or does not happen with your intellectual and creative production.

You are identifying too closely with your work. Your work does not define you.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:54 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Forgive me if I'm misreading your last questions, but are you still in high school?

You've been asking questions just like this one for a year. Anxiety and panic attacks can be debilitating, and I think it's time you talked to your parents about this and started seeking treatment. You are assuming that they can't afford therapy, but there are a lot of affordable treatment options, and therapy is usually covered under health insurance (if you are in the US).

It sounds like you are putting such pressure on yourself to achieve that it's preventing you from actually doing anything. So maybe you want to write music--does it matter that your first attempts weren't any good? What matters is not that your first attempt sucked, what matters is that you keep going.

Or not. It's okay to quit something you don't like. It's okay to love something, to try to do it, and give it up. That doesn't make you a failure.

I think you also might want to look into joining clubs or meetups with other people who are interested in the same things you are. Sometimes the support and collaboration with other creative people can be very motivating.
posted by inertia at 1:15 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


On top of this, the possibility of finding out that I'm not honestly interested in any of the things I thought I was -- that I just made up a convincing but false interest to satisfy my need for achievement/recognition -- terrifies me.

There's a lot of good advice here already, but please know that being "interested" in something doesn't mean you feel motivated to do it 100% of the time. No one is like that. In Haruki Murakamai's book "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," he asks an Olympic champion runner if she ever doesn't feel like getting out of bed in the morning to practice. Her reply is something like, "Of course! Every day!"

The only way anyone becomes great at something is by doing it regularly, whether they feel like it or not at that particular moment.

But then this is true also:

It's okay to quit something you don't like. It's okay to love something, to try to do it, and give it up. That doesn't make you a failure.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:21 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Oh honeybee your questions break my heart. I will let others speak to the pressure you are putting on yourself to be a certain kind of creative or, more specifically, a certain veneer of what you think a creative life entails and then beating yourself up when the depths don’t match the surface (they never do).

I will just say that I hope you won’t let the potential cost of therapy as a burden to your parents prevent you from getting any therapeutic help you need. You must at least try and ask them, and have faith that people who have raised you to be such a passionate, thoughtful, feeling being truly love you. They may not be able to afford therapy. They may not understand therapy. They may not even have the vocabulary or language to talk about what you’re going through. But you have to at least tell them what’s going on with you, because I am sure that if they knew how much you were struggling and hurting and deeply sad, they would do anything they could to help you, whether or not they understood or could afford the treatment. And you know, maybe not all parents will understand or be able to help or even want to. But you have to ask and let them maybe surprise you. If that doesn't work, well then that's next week's question that we'll help you try and answer.

I’ve personally never been to therapy and while theoretically I'm totally for it, I am not sure I truly understand it or how it works or why it costs so much or why people have to keep going so many times. But you better believe that if my precious child were having panic and anxiety attacks, we’d absolutely try therapy, or whatever else it was that in a few years I’ll be too much of an old fogey to understand, if there was a chance it would ease his sorrow and pain. If he needed a kidney I’d give him mine. If he needed some kind of expensive treatment - for ANYTHING, physical or mental - I would find a way. That’s MY JOB.

Your parents love you. Ask them for help.
posted by sestaaak at 4:17 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Hey, I've answered at least one of your questions before. New advice: put down your other books/blogs and tackle a new challenge: learning about how to get therapy. Not the anxiety what-ifs of how it might go - just the mechanics of how you get from where you're sitting right now to in someone's office, reading them this question. You may be right that your parents can't afford or won't pay for therapy, but we don't know their situation here, and you're having panic attacks and may be thinking it more dire than it really is (or you may just not have a full grasp of their finances - I sure didn't at your age). So before you rule that out, it would really behoove you to talk to your folks about this to see what the actual financial constraints are, and to look into the insurance side of things.

I don't remember if you're in the U.S., but assuming you are: both the U.S. mental health system and health insurance are actually pretty complex and arcane systems to make sense of, and that goes double where they intersect. A university setting can make things a lot easier/cheaper to access mental health care, but it sounds like you're a few years out from that, and the level of distress you're describing doesn't sound like something you can tackle entirely on your own.

If I could write you a prescription: total news diet until you've looked into whether you have mental health coverage through some kind of insurance , researched the resources/professionals available to you locally, called a couple of them to ask about the process of becoming a new patient, and ideally, floated the idea with your parents.

If you get stuck on that, come back and ask Metafilter. Or MeMail me if you want some more instruction on how to get from "so, my insurance is [United Healthcare]" to "okay, I've found my summary of benefits, so now I know my insurance has mental health coverage, I get 40 visits a year, in-network therapists will only cost a $30 copay per visit."

I had friend with mental crises in high school who would've really been helped by therapy whose parents weren't supportive (or were directly opposed) to them seeking mental health resources. It's easier if you have supportive parents, so I really think you ought to explore that first. If you run up against complete resistance at home, there are probably other ways for you to access mental health resources - but please check out the easy way first.

Again, a few questions ago I would've said it might be great for you to take 30 minutes a day and start composing. But now, I recommend you take that time and start figuring out what ways are available to you to access mental health care, now, before you yourself feel like it's even more urgent. I strongly encourage you to use your own (clearly considerable) smarts, whatever family support you have (be it financial, emotional, or both), and however many Ask MeFi questions you need to figure out how to access therapy and use it to get yourself to a better place - one where you can be more at ease with yourself, and better able to resolve the disconnects between your desired future and your current experience of reality.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:58 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


So, recap. A while ago I started to worry about whether I had the innate intelligence capable of becoming a “great” composer/writer/mathematician/whatever. After about a year, I felt like I had mostly gotten over it, though only because I had convinced myself that I did have the innate ability and that it was not too late, rather than because it didn’t matter or because I had to do things that actually held my interest.

Why do you want to be a great mathematician or composer? Realize that there's a difference between wanting to compose, wanting to explore and understand mathematics, wanting to write stories, and wanting to be a great something. Why is it important for you to be a great something or other?
posted by clockzero at 6:27 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Why is it important for you to be a great something or other?

I don't know. I don't even want it to be important to me; I want to not care about it... I feel that way rationally, but I can't get my emotions to follow.

Thank you everyone for your answers... I will take a closer look at the logistics of therapy and get back next week if I still have questions. This really helped.
posted by myitkyina at 7:06 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I don't even want it to be important to me; I want to not care about it... I feel that way rationally, but I can't get my emotions to follow.

That's because it means something to you that is under the surface right now. There's a more basic, stronger emotion than wanting to be free of anxiety that's pushing you toward this yearning for greatness.

Here's a suggestion. Start writing about what greatness is. What you think about when you think about greatness, but more importantly what you feel when you think about it. Be free and open. Let yourself say whatever comes to your mind.

This will not solve all your problems, of course. But it will help you to start exploring the connections between what you think, what you feel, and how you see the world and your life in it, I suspect. You can send me a private message if you want to. I had to deal with issues like this when I was younger and I have some perspective on how to get out of it.
posted by clockzero at 7:52 PM on July 21


I don't know. I don't even want it to be important to me; I want to not care about it... I feel that way rationally, but I can't get my emotions to follow.

if other folks are right and you are in high school, i know it doesn't help right now, but it will get better with time. you are almost certainly putting pressure on yourself that isn't really there. internal pressure vs. external pressure. but i do know there are lots of crazy parents who put lots of pressure on their kids--if you have parents like that you need to have a talk with them about the kind of anxiety they are causing you. this type of anxiety as a teen does not lead to awesome results as an adult. ask me how i know.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:14 PM on July 21


I've been here before. Klonopin helped ease the anxiety. Then I'd create. After a while, just knowing I could take the K if I needed it was enough.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:34 AM on July 22


Another thing that I just thought of is that when you're young, especially high school age, it can seem like people around you are always telling you that you have so much potential, that you could be so great at X if you just worked at it and put in more effort. And when you don't live up to what other people feel like your potential is, it can lead to feeling like a failure, disappointing everyone, etc.

In college, I gave up the creative thing that I had spent my childhood and teen years convinced I had been put on the earth to do. I had teachers telling me I was so great at it, and I was going to be famous one day...but I walked away from it. I wasn't motivated to work at it, wasn't improving. It can be kind of scary to let go of this version of yourself and your future you have grown up thinking about--but in another sense, it's part of growing up.
posted by inertia at 9:09 AM on July 22


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