Help me not be an anxious wreck. I can't stand myself.
August 26, 2010 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Decision-making frenzy. Help me not to drive myself and others crazy. Specific situation and long-term problem inside.

I am freaking out about a decision I have to make in the next few hours. I keep doing this to myself. I don't know why.

Here's the current situation, but this has happened over and over and I just want to STOP doing this.

I am quasi-dating someone long-distance, and I was supposed to fly back this weekend to where my grandparents live tomorrow to see him (he also lives there). I have already put him off one week, because I had things I needed to take care of while I was here. I'm kind of nervous about seeing him. I'm not sure how much we'll like each other, he's kind of pushy, but I'm very attracted to him.

There's also a retreat that I want to go on that's this weekend. They only have space this weekend, and won't have room until next month. I'd really rather go there.

But I can't bring myself to say no to this guy. It terrifies me in a primal way.

It's not just him. I do this ALL THE TIME with family and friends. I reschedule plane tickets at the last minute. I change my mind about where I'm going and what I'm doing.

At college, I couldn't decide whether to go on a study abroad (really, I wanted to go, but was scared) so I signed up but never bought the tickets and then it was too late and I couldn't go.

The last time this happened was a few months ago. Again, I was going to go on a trip with a friend. Work obligations came up. I couldn't decide whether to blow them off (ie, try to get things done as much as possible before I left and not worry about it if I couldn't get it done) or to blow off the trip. Fearful I wouldn't do enough at work, I cancelled the trip. at the last minute -- severely pissing off my friend. Then, I collapsed in a heap and cried all afternoon that I'd missed out on the trip. Then, I got to work.

I get in these anxious frenzies in situations like this. I stay up all night, can't eat (or eat too much). I overfocus and can't do anything. I just can't decide. I can't let anyone down. i can't say no. I get so upset that I can't function at all.

Yes, I've seen a therapist. I've tried meds, but they just make me a zombie. I seem like a normal person much of the time, but decisions like this stress me out so much that I can't function for a couple of days until things get back to normal.

I know a lot of this comes from my childhood (abusive and awful). My parents used to do things like let me get all excited about a trip, then cancel at the last minute because they "didn't feel like it" or just not get out of bed all day. Or they would come up with some wonderful alternative plan that was supposed to happen instead of the first one, bait me with it, and then not deliver. For example, I was seeing a therapist for anxiety as a child (long-standing issues!) and they didn't want to pay for it anymore. So they told me I could go to the beach on vacation if I didn't need therapy anymore. So I said I didn't need it. And we never went on the vacation, of course.

I know it's understandable given my history. But now I'm grown up and I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE. I'm sick of pissing people off. I'm sick of staying up all night. I'm sick of terror. I don't know how normal people handle this. I want to be normal.

Help me. Please. I'm supposed to leave in a few hours and I'm sitting in a coffee shop and freaking out.
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Take a first-come first-serve approach to your life and only break that rule under the MOST PRESSING circumstances, real emergencies. Someone booked your time? It's not yours anymore, it's theirs. It's out of your hands to change it.
posted by lizbunny at 9:17 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quit rescheduling things. (You can make exceptions for actual emergencies, though I think you need to ask someone else if situation X counts as an emergency, because you probably have skewed ideas of what is or isn't an emergency.) If you make plan X, keep it. So you go on the retreat a few weeks later, so be it. Once you buy plane tickets to place Y, if you want to go to place Z, go there *next* time.

Once you make a commitment, just keep it. You don't need to make another decision, or keep figuring out whether you made the right one the first time. You decided, that's it, you'll live with it and learn from it. (I do not consider changing my plans the day of an option, so I am not ever up all the time wondering whether I should do it. You are giving yourself too many options at too late a date. At some point you can work it more normally -- I can reschedule coffee with my best friend, even an hour before we planned to go, as can she, because we have a history of showing up when we commit -- but for now, you need a bright, uncrossable line.)
posted by jeather at 9:25 AM on August 26, 2010

Ooooh, been there with the parents! It has a really undermining effect, doesn't it?

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1) Make a schedule. Keep to the schedule. Feel cool that you have stuff going on, but don't view plans as negotiable unless there's some extraordinarily good reason. Ask yourself "What's the worst that could happen, realistically?" (If the answer with the work obligations is "I could get fired or get a really terrible review," then reschedule. If the answer is "I'd have to come in early on Monday/play catch-up next a lot of my co-workers do when they blow off on Fridays!" then, hey...)
2) Realize that everything is WAY more important to you than it is to everyone else. Every change is humongous to you, and it's just no big deal to other people most of the time. When you'd planned to go to a movie and your friend calls the night before and says "I'm sick!", it's no big deal, or if you ask someone to hang out and they say "Rats, I'm having lunch with my cousin," you get over it pretty fast. Having priorities is important and normal. Saying yes to everything is not normal. Say "I'd love to, but I"m not sure--I'll let you know tomorrow once I have a moment to check iCal--my memory's terrible!" to give yourself space if you need to. Then say "Sorry, I can't this time--let's try again in a couple of weeks!" if you need to.
3) If you tried one therapist and s/he didn't help, try another one later. Not every therapist can help every person with every problem.
4) If you didn't tell quasi-bf (kind of pushy? hmmm) that you were coming this weekend, and you really want to go to the retreat, e-mail him or call him now and say "Looks like I'm not going to make it this weekend--I have a chance to go on this really cool retreat, and I'm going to go for it! Carpe diem! Have a great weekend."

Good luck...It can get better. :)
posted by wintersweet at 9:30 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that's another thing--the retreat is offered every month? It sounds like you might be overdramatizing things a little. (I'm not saying that to be mean, but because I used to do that. It took me a long time to realize that now that I was in control of my life, there were many things that I would either have many chances to do/many similar things I would have chances to do even if I missed specific events.) If you miss this retreat, it'll only be 4 weeks till another, not never again like a lot of the opportunities your parents cancelled. If you actually promised to go see the guy, it seems pretty questionable to cancel that for an opportunity to go to an event that repeats monthly. *If* you really don't want to hang out with the guy and are looking for an excuse not to, then own up to that.

(Don't look for external excuses for a reason not to do something, a trait you undoubtedly found about as charming in your parents as I did in mine--and yeah, a pattern I found myself repeating. Now, if I find myself thinking "It's too hot/too far/too crowded," I ask myself if I really want to go. If I don't, I just decide not to go instead of making excuses. If I still do, then I 1) look into how I can overcome the obstacles and still enjoy myself, and 2) make a plan B for something else to do in case I get there and find out that the obstacles are really too much. It's been working really well.)

Once again, good luck, and I hope you haven't taken offense or found anything I've said too off-base here...
posted by wintersweet at 9:37 AM on August 26, 2010

Response by poster: Wintersweet, thank you so much for understanding! It lowered my blood pressure quite a bit. :)

Not sure whether I've committed my time to the quasi-bf. I said I was coming. He tried to book hotel for a getaway for us. The hotel reservation fell through and he hasn't booked another yet. I told him I was coming, but he's not out any money or anything. Ugh. I guess this is me being unclear. Would it be horribly rude to do what you said (Carpe diem, etc.). I'd like to, but I'm scared of pissing him off. He's still asleep so I can't talk with him before I have to go.
posted by 3491again at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, just saw your second comment. Yes, it sounds like you understand completely about the parents.

"It took me a long time to realize that now that I was in control of my life, there were many things that I would either have many chances to do/many similar things I would have chances to do even if I missed specific events."

Yes, exactly. It still feels weird to me that I can decide how to spend my time.

I guess I can go to the retreat later. But I'm just so upset about seeing this guy. I'm not sure I want to. I'm not sure how I feel. He scares me, but I'm attracted to him. I am trying to find a way out of it.
posted by 3491again at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2010

One thing that has really helped me with waffling on decisions is to have an out, once I have honored the commitment. So if I change my mind, once I am there, I can walk away, grab a taxi, check into another hotel, etc.

How often have you seen the guy? If he's booking a "get-away" hotel, it sounds serious, but if your relationship is still new, that's moving awfully fast. If he's being aggressive about spending time with you, tell him he gets a specific time frame, not your undivided attention 24/7.

If you are spending time with the grandparents, there's your excuse to schedule specific time with him. You are in control of your time, you get to say when and where and how long.
posted by lootie777 at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2010

Here's a tip for dealing with anxiety in general that my therapist taught me years ago. I find it enormously helpful, YMMV, as always.

You start by understanding how your emotions work. People intuitively believe that they work this way: you are faced with a stressful situation, you start freaking out, and then your heart goes crazy and your stomach feels weird and you hyperventilate. This is actually incorrect. Neurological research has shown that your bodily response precedes your emotional distress. In other words, something happens, your body starts going crazy, and then you start freaking out as a result of your body's freaking out. Your brain floods you with adrenaline, and then you start thinking, whether you realize it or not, that things must be pretty bad - why else would your heart be racing like that?

So, what you do, if you can, is disengage with your bodily stress response. Think of these symptoms not as you being under stress or freaking out, but as just a thing that your body does sometimes. Think of it this way: when a doctor hits your knee with a mallet and you kick, you don't assume that you were angry and really wanted to kick something. Similarly, you are under no obligation to view your adrenal response as a sign that you're freaking out. If you practice, you might be able to develop a kind of eye-rolling response to stress, so you react to it less with panic, and more in a spirit of "oh, the fight-or-flight response? Thanks man, that's really helpful."
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2010 [9 favorites]

Good to see your update.

Hey - I don't think your quasi-bf issue and the ongoing issue about keeping plans are necessarily related!! Instead, I think one just highlighted the other.

#1 - If this is a long distance thing and the guy is making you feel intimidated, etc., THEN THIS MAY NOT BE THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIP FOR YOU AT THIS TIME.

He may be a great guy, maybe not. Regardless, your gut is telling you that you do not want to go see him.

I'm assuming a hotel=sex. Maybe that's the issue? Maybe you just don't know him well enough yet because of the distance or something? Or maybe he really is pressuring you inappropriately because he's prone to that generally?

Do you see what I mean either way? You just don't seem that into him if you subtract the "attraction" thing.

Sometimes we're attracted to things that aren't so good for us. It happens. You will know better than us which side of the line this attraction falls into. Listen to your inner voice here.

#2 - All the advice above about overcoming your childhood programming and making firm plans where it relates to obvious scheduling concerns is very very spot-on.

See a new therapist for the planning issue. For the immediate, follow your gut. There is no wrong answer about the quasi-bf. In romantic dealings, only ever do what makes you feel comfortable.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2010

I replied to a private message with my thoughts about this--basically, if there's a prior verbal commitment to something I wouldn't normally advise breaking it, but if someone is having genuine negative intuition about spending time with someone else, that's a little different.

It is probably part of a bad pattern to use one event (the retreat) as an excuse to avoid a larger issue (second thoughts about someone who is frightening yet attractive). That's not a good thing to do, so once this weekend is over, the underlying issue needs to be addressed. If he's too pushy, to a scary degree--and you don't mean "he likes me a lot and I'm not used to that"--then I strongly advise dropping the relationship like a radioactive potato. Chances are, your relationship with your parents left you with some self-image/esteem issues, and that could be confusing you into finding someone attractive who isn't someone you should be around. (Maybe not, but I'm just putting it out there.)

(lootie777 is suggesting the "plan B" backup that I referred to. I don't know if it'll be enough in this situation, but it's a possibility if you wind up going.)
posted by wintersweet at 10:58 AM on August 26, 2010

I think aside from the stress/time management/commitment factors you've mentioned, it's getting ignored that you feel scared of seeing the quasi-bf. Are you scared of him because you feel he might physically hurt you? Because that could be a whole separate issue if it's the case.

Would this weekend be the first time you meet him? Are you possibly just nervous about that and it's snowballing? (This has, and does, happen to me often.)

Oops, I see jbenben has touched on this as well.

But, for the future, just remember to keep yourself happy first. Don't agree to do something because you're trying to please someone else. Worry about pleasing you!
posted by slyboots421 at 11:38 AM on August 26, 2010

Can you start by taking small steps? Instead of staying in a hotel with the quasi-boyfriend, can you stay with your grandparents and plan to go on a date with him? You can tell him that you need to help your grandparents with a few things, but can hang out with him one afternoon. Try to make the date time limited, so you don't feel trapped. Meet someplace where you feel comfortable - favorite restaurant, cafe, etc.

My suggestion in general is to try to take small steps. Start planning things that aren't too overwhelming and don't last too long. I'm guessing you'll start feeling more confident in yourself once you are able to follow through with your plans.

Also, give yourself credit for the things you do follow through on. For instance, you are working and seem to have managed to follow through enough with that to keep your job.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2010

Did you specifically ask the therapist about avoidant personality disorder, or is the therapist one who has experience with avoidant personality disorder, not just anxiety specifically? If not, that might be a worthwhile thing to ask about.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2010

Response by poster: Ashley -- looking at the wikipedia entry for that, it doesn't sound like me, really. I have lots of friends and seem very outgoing and "normal" around others as far as I can tell. I don't have agoraphobia or avoid people. I'm pretty sure I have generalized anxiety, though. I am generally anxious!
posted by 3491again at 1:47 PM on August 26, 2010

Response by poster: So I had a really, really long talk with him. And he thinks my concerns (about some blog posts he made about his ex, that aren't very flattering toward her, which I fear he will someday do to me) are ridiculous. And wants to know if I'm coming to see him.

Ack. I have missed the first part of the retreat. And I'm no further than I was.
posted by 3491again at 2:28 PM on August 26, 2010

IMO, the retreat issue is a distraction for you, an escape plan that it attractive because the guy is making you anxious. Do you feel like you need a "legitimate" conflicting event to cancel on someone? Have you ever just canceled or no-showed without having an excuse?

I'm not at all impressed that he thinks your concerns are ridiculous, he sounds quite selfish to me. I think if you listen to the words you've used to describe your upcoming time with him - pushy, scared, upset, scares me - you would see that your gut instinct is telling you to stay away.

Have you ever tried visualizing putting unwanted thoughts "away"? When my brain is stuck on a particular thought or subject (work, relationship, whatever) I close my eyes and deliberately concentrate on what I'm sick of thinking about. Then it goes into a gigantic vault, one with a very elaborate locking system that I do not have the key to. And once the vault is closed and locked up, the thought goes away.

Try and do this with the thought of the retreat - lock it away. You can pull it out again in a month, and see if you really do want to go.
posted by lootie777 at 6:00 PM on August 26, 2010

It REALLY sounds like you do not want to be dating this guy. You're scared of him and he's not gonna let you go easy, it sounds like, and he gives you all kinds of bad vibes and you can be pretty sure that he will bad mouth you on the Internet. You describe him as "pushy" and that is always a really bad sign to me.

I think this is more of a "how do I break up with this guy?" question than anything else. You may have issues with planning, but "don't date someone who gives you the bad vibe" is the priority here. Since it's an LDR, that should make it easier for breaking it off: just don't go and well, you will have to tell him that you don't want to see him. At least you'll be far enough away from his immediate reaction.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:14 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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