Today I had to venture into London for a meeting. Rewind 2 years ago to when I still had post traumatic anxiety and this meeting would have been a nightmare – that’s if I had even managed to get out of the house! Of course, it would never have happened anyway, as I had no job, no contacts, no motivation and no reason for a meeting of any sort, other than to get my meds from the doctor!
But I did wonder; how have my thought processes changed since then? This was my first time going back to London since I was assaulted years ago. How would the “new” anxiety-free Tim, think and act when confronted with the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most crowded cities? I thought it would be interesting to compare my new thought processes with my old ones. The results were startling….
After a no-doubt horrendous night of tossing and turning and no more than 4 hours sleep, I would have been up extra early so that I was over-prepared for travel. I ALWAYS turned up for everything well in advance because I was anxious about being late.
I’ll always be an organised and punctual person – that’s just me. Anxiety had nothing to do with me liking to turn up on time and to know exactly what I need to do. The difference is, I now don’t allow it to overwhelm me. I slept fine. I didn’t wake up needlessly early and find myself with nothing to do for an hour. I actually ended up rushing so I didn’t miss my bus. With anxiety, that never would have happened. But it wasn’t a panicked rush. I knew everything was gonna be OK.
Here’s what I found most interesting; when I analysed my thoughts, I realised that they weren’t hugely different to when I had anxiety. For example, it still popped into my head to not wait at the bus stop with the old lady that was already there, because I didn’t want to be next to anyone else. Anxious Tim would NEVER have waited at the stop if someone else was there. I would wait nearby and when I saw the bus approach, I would walk up.
But I did wait with her.
I still considered NOT nipping back home to leave my jumper there because it was too warm, even though the bus wasn’t due for another 5 minutes. The new me thought:
“Fuck it! I’ve got 5 minutes, it’ll only take one minute to go home, sling my top in the kitchen and run back out to the stop. If I stand here deliberating over it like a chump, I’ll run out of time. JUST GET ON WITH IT!”
So I did it.
Bus journeys were always my biggest nemesis. Confined to a small place for up to 20 minutes with a bunch of strangers, was my idea of hell. Worse still, today’s bus was pretty busy. I used to hide away on the top deck if possible but it wasn’t today.
Again, some of the old thoughts I used to have , did crop up:
“I’m gonna look weird sitting with my bag on this side of the chair”
“Is anyone looking at me and thinking my cap or my phone is shit?”
“When I get off the bus and everyone is watching me, will I fall or trip?”
“Do these clothes look really unfashionable?”
Here’s the difference; I didn’t let any of these thoughts dictate what I did next. I usually cut them off instantly, rather than allowing them to fester and to grow stronger and build more negative thoughts layered on top. Most of the time, I actually LAUGHED at how stupid the thought was. Inwardly of course – I’m not THAT confident that I will chuckle to myself on a bus! Or, I would answer my own question;
“No! No-one is looking at you! Don’t be daft!”
“No! Who cares what anyone thinks about your fucking phone? I’m not materialistic anyway, I couldn’t care less about phones!”
“Most of them will be too wrapped up in their own thoughts and lives to be thinking about me. Look at them! Most are surgically attached to their phone and have barely looked up from the screen!”
You see, the big difference isn’t necessarily the thoughts. It’s the REACTION to the thoughts. I shake them off confidently and easily. I then ACT differently, which helps to stave off any further invasion of negativity. So I affirm to myself that everything is OK and then switch to a positive thought or affirmation if I need to. Such as:
“I am strong, confident and rock-solid self assured. Nothing and no one can knock me.”
I make sure my body language shows this state of mind. I now sit with my back straight, legs and arms spread apart, hands out of pockets, head up and eyes looking confidently around, surveying my surroundings, noticing nature out of the window. I don’t fidget, I remain still but not frozen in fear – loose and calm. I know for sure that I am always one of the most confident people on that bus.
When I sit down, the sun is shining directly on me and I’m boiling:
Sits there sweating like a pig, too scared to take off his coat in case it attracts attention. Spends most of the journey trying to get the courage up to open a window. Fails.
I took the coat off. I feel cool and comfortable. I even open the window – and with a fairly loud bang! Unthinkable for Anxious Tim!
- I tap my fingers along to the music in my headphones and don’t give a shit.
- I don’t wait for someone else to press the bell, I do it first.
- I don’t rehearse how I’m going to get up and walk and say goodbye to the driver, I just do it.
- I DO think about people watching me as I descend the stairs and wait to alight but I shrug it off with ease.
Who gives a fuck? Let them look. I’ll never truly know what any of them are thinking, so why waste time pontificating? Hell, they might even be thinking NICE things! I’m told I have a pretty tidy butt…..
I notice the top of my seat on the train is lower than usual. Normally, you can rest your head on the back and you’re cocooned from most people – only those directly to the side can see you. In this carriage, EVERYONE can see me. My immediate thought is
“Move! Check out the other carriages. This is too conspicuous.”
But the new me replies:
“So fucking what? It’s not busy and besides, the other carriages are probably the same. Focus on yourself, not what anyone else might be thinking. In fact, let them look! Show them you don’t care. Get your book out and read. Nod your head to your music. Eat your lunch. Show them how confident you are.”
It has become a challenge and one I always try to take on because I know it will increase my confidence. Any initial discomfort only lasts a second. Once I push through and realise nothing I’m doing is unnatural or of any interest to the other passengers, I’m fine. I usually get on with it with a shake of the head at my own silliness – but a smile is preferable!
I caught the eye of some of the passengers, as you do, but the same thing happens as always in these situations – NOTHING. You both look away after a split second and then get on with what you were doing.
Would have gone further into his shell.
Would have kept eyes down at all costs.
Would have viewed the clash of eyes as a mistake – shouldn’t have looked in that direction.
Would have ruminated over what the other passenger would now be thinking about him.
The negative well becomes deeper and darker as he slides further down it. Because he doesn’t automatically shut it down, it creates more and more nasty thoughts till it becomes out of control. Then he’s lost in a flurry of negative reactions which only heap on the pain.
New Tim is enjoying the beautiful English countryside…….
In part 2, I run through my meeting – with actual PEOPLE!! My time spent in London. And return journey through rush hour traffic and a packed train!
This is really interesting Tim, it’s obvious you have been through a lot and I’m happy to see things are better for you now – you deserve it 🙂
Thank you so much Kristi 🙂 Although I have been through a lot, it is making me the person I am today and will shape my future, which I believe is going to be incredible. You are right – I do deserve it! I haven’t always believed that but I know I do now.
Hey Tim, just wanted to say that you are such a lovely person!! A joy to read and I know exactly where you’ve been because I’ve been there myself. Anxiety is harsh but it’s inspirational to see the way you have overcome it and are now doing your best to help others do the same.
From what I know of you, you have indeed crushed anxiety and a more charming, confident man I have yet to see on the blogosphere! Keep up the good work.
Oh wow Jade, I’m truly blushing here! That’s so kind of you to say those things and I can’t thank you enough. Just know that it has mad my day – my week in fact!
I dunno about “charming” but I’m definitely confident these days and I hope you are too, whatever you went through. Of course, comments like yours boost that confidence even higher 😉
Fascinating stuff. Really shows that you have a grip on your mental state by being able to examne your thoughts. I know most people would struggle with this (including me!). Love your blog and love your honesty 🙂
Thank you for the lovely words! 🙂 All you have to do to master your thoughts is to keep working on yourself every day. It will transform your life if you just make a bit of time each day and try to ingrain the habit. Become more mindful and you’ll find more peace. Not that I have found peace yet but I’m constantly improving and building that habit.