Too Stressed to Think of Title

Ever since I was old enough to have tasks and assignments and best friends, I have suffered from crippling anxiety. I now remember why I have so often found myself with no obligations, bored, searching for things to do with my life half-heartedly. It’s not because I am apathetic about life; it’s because I instinctively avoid innate stress triggers without consciously knowing it.

I coasted through most of middle school, junior high, and high school with flashes of brilliance but with little effort and only above average results. I knew I was smart and not lazy, but once homework really started pouring in, I was unable to focus on it enough to get it thoroughly finished. If I actually wanted to do it, it would take me all night because of the focus issues. Instead, I put in 3/4ths effort and spent the remainder of my time playing or watching sports and enjoying adolescence and friendships. I realized that spending 2 hours or less doing homework at a B to B+ level was much better than spending 8 hours or more doing homework at an A- to A level. But things changed when senior year of high school rolled around.

I realized I needed to actually try, to put my all into tough classes to increase my GPA for college applications. Most senior schedules are a joke, but mine consisted entirely of AP or some form of advanced classes. Just one class alone meant a significant amount of work outside the classroom for anyone, but six of them? What was I doing?

 

I was on Zoloft by the time senior year had ended…

 

College applications and essays, standardized tests, scholarships, growing insecurities and social anxiety, college credit classes, senior year bureaucratic stuff, graduation, church, college visits, a bittersweet awareness of friendships that will end or be altered, work, extracurriculars, senioritis, joint custody, family apprehension about losing me soon, etc. These are things we all have to face, but I don’t know how anyone is able to tackle it all and stay sane. My mind amplifies the stress by stressing over stress.

I knew this year would be a ton of work. I was fully prepared for the amount of homework and studying I would need to do, even on weekends and/or at the expense of hanging out with friends. What I was not prepared for, however, was the mental toll that would take place. Here is how a typical day would go: wake up, eat breakfast, fight back nervous feeling in stomach about schoolwork and what classes would have in store for me today. Brush teeth. Fight back nervous feeling about the girl I kind of liked. Stress over it to the point where I make myself think I have a huge crush. Drive to school. See the girl. The stress in the back of my mind tells me I obviously am crazy about this girl since I think about her so much (even though “thinking about her” is just quantity of thoughts, not quality or magnitude of crush). First class. Focus on listening and taking notes and retaining as much information as possible. Imagine test questions. Second class. Think about first class while also listening and taking notes and retaining information for tests. Third class. Think about first and second while focusing. Think about girl. Think about thinking about girl. Think about thinking about homework. Lunch. Think about all the homework I need to do. Last three classes. Bell rings. Think about how much work I will have to do when I get home. (Everyone else’s day is over, and they’re all smiling and sigh in relief. My day is just beginning. I can’t smile or think about being relaxed). Think about getting home and being anxious. Get home. Anxiously think about girl and homework. Eat a quick snack if there is time. Go to quiet place and do work. Eat quick dinner. Say no to friends who want to hang out. Do homework until it is all done. When it is all done, do work for the future. Study notes for future tests to keep my mind fresh. Lay in bed. Think about girl. Think about social anxiety and friends. Think about work that still needs to be done. Combine thinking about girl, social anxiety and friends, and work that still needs to be done into one overwhelming consolidated thought. Try but fail to sleep. Think about anything else that causes stress, which leads to less sleep. Focus on breathing in order to sleep, which leads to even less sleep. Get up and do some more studying to reduce the stress I’m feeling. Go to bed somewhat relieved. Sleep a few hours if lucky.

It seemed like I was more anxious when I had very little to do. So I just gave myself more to do. There’s always something, unless you have the entire year’s work complete. I would dream about practice problems. I would wake up answering tough Western Civ multiple choice questions. I would triple-check the homework my Precalc teacher never graded.

I had hidden anxiety: during every single second of my day, I was thinking about something I needed to do in the back of my head. At first, it was a simple reminder to get a certain thing done. But my mind built it up until it was “something to do” and then “a bunch of stuff to do” and then “so much stuff to do” and then “stress.” By this point, I forgot what the original thing was. These constant thoughts overwhelmed my mind. I wouldn’t usually be able to pinpoint a specific task I needed to do (if there was one at all), but because my mind kept reminding me I had things to accomplish and be stressed about, I became stressed. When I actually did have a lot to do, my mind would go into overdrive, and the stress would be augmented. By the time I actually got to a test or a quiz, I felt like I had already taken it multiple times in my mind. That’s good for knowing the material, but the mental strain involved in “taking” that many tests is agonizing.

Because of this, I started losing my mind. I went through the first quarter or so with relative ease. But when the winter approached, nothing was natural anymore. I started overanalyzing. I got obsessed with doing more and more work at a high level. I was burnt out by midterm finals.

When the second semester started, I had nothing left in the tank. I somehow managed to get all A’s and one B, but the quality of work was much lower, and I had to try harder to do easy things. I started having physical issues. I never had eye issues in my life, yet I began to suffer from vision loss. I forgot how to walk up and down stairs, and I frequently tripped. My left eyelid no longer closed completely when I wanted to sleep, so I slept on my left side to push my cheek up to cover the eye.  I started losing a little bit of hair. Everything that could possibly twitch on my body began twitching. I had heartburn and chest pains. I forgot how to breathe, and the more I thought about breathing, the less I could do it naturally. I started having horrible memory. Words stopped having meaning unless I thought about them a few times, in which case I was behind in whatever else was said. I started having horrible sinus headaches. My heartbeat could be seen and heard more from random places, like my thumbs and ears. I forgot how to eat. I even forgot how to spell as well. Much of this was the constantly increasing obsession over thinking stemming from schoolwork, which simply translated to overthinking in otherwise simple areas of my life. Other issues, though, were not that simple to me.

I went to the doctor over the physical ailments – nothing like this had ever happened to me before. He told me it was extreme stress and anxiety. I laughed. I wasn’t stressed at all, in my mind, and it scares me I was actually able to justify it. Regardless, he put me on an antidepressant.

College was almost the inverse: I worked pretty darn hard for three years, then senior year rolled around. I stopped the antidepressant for a while, and I was faced with extreme apprehension. Because of the burnt out feeling I had experienced before, I took the opposite approach and stopped trying at all. I skipped classes on a regular basis. I was an Economics senior project away from a Finance and Economics double major, but I dropped out of it. I hung out with friends more and cared about important finance classes less. I put little work into group projects, contrary to all of my beliefs on the subject. I was okay with mediocrity if it meant sanity. My nearly perfect GPA took a hit, and it was luck that barely kept me in the summa cum laude range. I did not care at all about my future or my major. Part of me felt great to have no worries, but part of me was immeasurably depressed because I had no life plans.

My grad school experience in SF was more of a malaise than stress. Nonetheless, it was very difficult, I was extremely stressed, and I did drop out for a while.

(Technically) the same grad school in a new location, a new environment, and a number of failed drugs later (and 1 year removed from all antidepressants), I am once again facing the beast. Grad school is tough again. This internship requires a ton of thinking. The CFA is a future challenge that can never be studied for enough. Et cetera. I’m kind of burnt out – this is similar to my high school senior year, the last time I had this much stress while not on an antidepressant. I don’t have time for any obligations. There is uncertainty regarding graduation and jobs. My lease ends in May. Instead of seeing my friends on the weekends, I do work. When I have some time for myself to watch sports or get some exercise, I am only 20% into it; 80% of my mind is thinking about everything I need to do in one collective unfocused stressful thought.

 

My take:  I need to find an extremely low-stress environment. If there is even a remote semblance of stress, my mind will make it a big deal and I’ll burn myself out. If stress is going to be an issue, it better be with something I love so I can handle it.

The positive:  It’s temporary. It will all end by June. I won’t ever have school again in my life, most likely. Yes, other things will take over, but I’m assuming they won’t be as stressful.

 

I know what you’re thinking. Every grad student and young adult goes through this trying period, and I’ll look back and laugh when it’s all over. That is partially true, but not every grad student goes through this period doubled, or tripled. My mind is taking this challenging, productive, and exciting period in my life and turning it into a job. In this job, I’m working first shift, second shift, and part of third shift.

I don’t know how some of you do it. I wish I had the key. I wish I could think about tasks and duties and stressful situations only when necessary instead of constantly. I wish I could see what I had to do clearly instead of having a foggy notion that I always have something unknown to do. I don’t plan on taking antidepressants ever again, but I need to find a solution somewhere. This real world thing is just insanely hard to handle; I need to get a grip on it before it eats me alive.

 

 

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2 comments on “Too Stressed to Think of Title

  1. Michael Dahmane says:

    As we grow up, adults and teachers inform us that we must be successful. Success is usually measured in money, college degrees, test scores, speaking prowess, how attractive our girlfriends are, the cars we drive, the size of the house we live in, the size of our bank account. Et Cetera. At some point in time fancy suites and 100 dollar tee-shirts enter the fray of success. We really made it if we can buy a boat so pretentious in size and cost that it is required to be given a stupid sounding name, yacht.

    We start comparing ourselves to our peers. Pride and self-worth are determined by so many exterior forces, and it’s hard. The ‘variables’ of success could almost be put on a sliding scale of achievement. A Benz and a sweet job is worth this. A BMW and a girlfriend that looks like Scarlett Johansson is worth that. I would be willing to be that we could construct a ranking system and attach it to people. It would be similar to fantasy football. You ever hear of ‘keeping up with the Jones’? In this day and age, the Jones are everyone we know and their friends.
    The true irony is that success is nothing more or less than a state of mind. The most miserable billionaire is not as happy as the most optimistic janitor. But the day kids line up in class and get pushed to become grinning janitors is the day that I swear off meat and take up knitting as a hobby. I mean enjoying your job is great…as long as WE think that you SHOULD enjoy that job, right?

    With all the pressure put on people to be “successful,” we react differently. I spent most of my childhood scoffing at the expectations that were held over my head. My family was made up of successful teachers. My father came to America from a third world country. He spoke three languages fluently and taught English at a university. He was published, tenured, respected in the community; and changed most importantly, he changed lives. My mother graduated with honors from every school she ever went to. My grandmother thrived in life and was a fantastic teacher. She lived through the great depression and overcame a life that was handicapped by severely poor vision. My aunt taught Spanish and English for well over three decades. During the course of my childhood, my sister kicked the ass of every class she was in. On a side note, I am beyond prideful in regards to my family.

    What I’m building up to is that I eschewed stress and success. When the mantle was cast and fitted for my shoulders, I scoffed and said “go fuck yourself.” Those expectations of greatness, or more specifically success, were shrugged off by my lackadaisical shoulders. Sometimes I would even get irritated when I did well. It is possible to accidentally get an A. You will not find many teachers who are receptive to a student going “I got an A? Oh, no. Please, not that.”
    The difference between you and I is that you managed to ‘get it’ about ten years before I did. It sounds weird, but having the ability to get B’s without really trying can be taxing. This is ultimately where I think your problem lies.

    When I read your post, I noted that your stress comes from you. You knew that you should do better. You were cognizant of the fact that you could do better. You started to scramble for lost time. You essentially woke up one day and stared your god given talents in the face. You took those talents and you clocked them beyond overdrive. I don’t know if it was guilt, ambition or a combination of the two, but a fire was lit inside of you; you learned that a fire can be match its high level of use with an equivalent level of danger. In this case, your danger is stress.
    I brought up my situation and analogized it to yours for a reason. The situations stand against each other in comparable levels of severity. In fact, if you combined those two states of minds, you would have the ‘perfect’ balance for a person. I’m not trying to just tell you that you need balance. That’s obvious, I’m trying to give you optimism. Yes, you stress yourself out. But what wisdom for a child to have. How hard is it for a man, or in our case, a boy, to sit down and say “Yup, let’s be miserable at 12-18, so when I’m 30 my car won’t be half as old as I am?” But I don’t think you’re looking for validation of past actions. I think you want some solace, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

    In terms of solace, I can offer you two things. Most importantly, time usually is a tool that heals. You will overcome it. You know this and I know this. You may lose sleep, you may burn out, and you may hate life for a while. But you will overcome it. You’ve tasted the fruits of being close and not getting there. That fruit, oddly enough, tastes like shit. Secondly, you’re a good man. Good men triumph every day they get out of bed and function.

    The best way for me to conclude this rambling and overly verbose tirade is to ask you a favor. Please reread the first paragraph that I wrote. Pull out a notepad, or fire up your Microsoft Word and add items to my list. It can be as simple as “house with a fence,” or as complex as “business portfolio with incredible stock options and revenue generation.” But don’t just add fiscal or material things. Put whatever it is that you value. If you thoroughly enjoy riding your bike in overcast weather, write that sumbitch down. If watching Cardinals baseball –which, shame on you if you do, go Reds – put that down.

    In the end, a man like you has the intellect to accomplish the facets that make up his very own definition of success. When that becomes your focus, stress will eventually be less of a factor.

    Be well,

    Mike

    • Curtis says:

      First off, I appreciate the time and thought you put into this.

      You are very right. My stress comes purely from me. I am hard on myself to the point of negativity, and I assume that’s the way it is supposed to be in the world for some reason. I really did start scrambling for lost time, and it was 50% a very good thing that led me to be productive and make big life changes, but 50% a very bad thing that led to just as much stress as when I was still living in a cave.

      The frustrating part is, I did consider myself wise and foresightful; I saw all of this coming. The second I started messing around, I became fully aware of it and already regretted the lost time even though it had only just begun to pass right before my eyes. I guess that’s somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a weird way. So essentially, I was already having that quarter-life feeling of wasting my life away at the age of 16 or so, never being fully in the moment with school or my good friends. I was so young and had so little to worry about the whole time, yet because of all the stress and confusion and indecision, I really am finding myself at that exact moment I dreaded: 25, graduating, and entering the real world clueless. I am truly not that young anymore where “I’ll figure it out” is a relaxed assumption about the future. In short, I spent all of my time so dreadful about the future that I never actually lived in the present, where I had plenty of time to figure things out and get things done.

      There are times when I know I’m closer than ever, yet it’s so hard to stay true to my thoughts; it’s much easier to get bogged down by stress because of its ubiquitous nature.

      I really do see success as something unrelated to and deeper than a career or job title, yet I lose sight of that and get caught up in the definitions of others. I pride myself on my ability to take steps back on a regular basis, having a constant awareness of myself and the situation. Yet that ability loses its significance when I am valuing the wrong things. If I had a set focus or goals, I would not fall into this trap as easily; but when I’m still unsure of many things, I latch onto whatever happens to be tangible in the moment.

      I’ve always wanted to have that laid back aspect of my personality, the ability to put the stress in its right place. The ability to participate in good conversations with others because I’m completely in the moment and I care. The ability to be real with people without caring about what they think, yet at the same time being sensitive of hurting people. I used to see this kind of stuff in you, and I had / have a lot of respect for that. You mention that I’m a good person, but you’re a better person than I’ll ever be.

      Thank you for this comment. I lose myself sometimes, and it’s comments and messages and friendly gestures from people like you who keep me confident and on track. I will take heed of your advice. It is relevant and very useful, yet I have failed to do anything of the sort. It seems like you have this figured out much better than I do, and I hope you continue on your path of clarity.

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