Content warning: I’m talking about anxiety today. If you’re like me and someone else’s anxiety can tip you over the edge, avoid this one.
I do not use the term “trigger” lightly. I genuinely mean that when my fear of judgement is activated — by a stray thought, by the actions or words of someone else, my body fills with fear and panic. The anxiety I live with every day feels like the mushroom cloud after an explosion — growing exponentially bigger and worse within seconds, spreading in all directions, impacting everything in its wake.
Worse, I can lie to myself about what I’m feeling, how it started, and whether it’s “truly” anxiety. Those lies are the real problem. When I admit what I’m feeling is my anxiety disorder rearing it’s ugly head, I can (sometimes) go into self-care mode. Drink more water, do less stuff, sleep more, allow myself to ignore my responsibilities for a while.
But when I lie about where my head is, I push myself harder, filling my brain with every cruel, thoughtless thing anyone has ever told me about being “weak.”
The seemingly smallest things activate my fear of judgement…
Our two bed, two bath, 966 square foot condo is officially on the market to sell. Between John Brownstone and I, we’ve worked very hard over the past couple of months to get it ready to list. Our Realtor (kinky and proud!) told us we did a great job getting everything ready. Verbal gold stars are my kink, y’all. That should have been enough.
At the same time, I’ve also spent a lot of time talking to John Brownstone to help him deal with the stress of waiting for someone to want to buy our home. I’ve worked around real estate (in some capacity) for over a decade. I know enough to be dangerous but also know enough to manage expectations and be realistic.
“We don’t need everyone to love this place because not everyone will.”
“It’s not personal if someone views our condo but doesn’t like it.”
“If we get consistent negative feedback, we’ll adjust.”
These are, of course, many of the “right” things to say and think about having strangers traipsing through your home while you hope they like it enough to buy it. But understanding the logic of something and believing it are two completely different things.
I know those things are correct, but my anxious brain whispered, “Lies. They’re all judging you for not having a nicer home.”
From one small fear to the next, my anxiety combines them all into one…
Anxiety is fear on steroids. It’s the amplification of fear combined with a lot of other things that psychological and medical professionals can explain better than I can. For me, it’s the worst version of the What If game you can imagine.
Sitting in our living room, livestreaming the latest Loving BDSM episode, talking about our condo being on the market, those whispers grew louder and made wild leaps of logic. I could feel my mind going fuzzy around the edges as the fear slowly consumed my body.
“What if no one wants to buy your condo because you didn’t do a good job getting it ready?”
“If you sucked at that, maybe you suck at everything.”
“What if none of what you said for the past hour even makes sense? What if you’ve wasted everyone’s time? Maybe you don’t really know what you’re talking, and you’re full of shit about everything?”
“Why are you even bothering?”
What had been a low-level anxiousness throughout the week, something I’d recognized but tried to ignore, something that disrupted my days in low-level ways, exploded in my brain.
John Brownstone knew something wasn’t right because he put a comforting hand on my knee while we finished up our recording. I both love and hate that I can fake my way through (most) moments when my mental health crumbles. The last few minutes are a blur, and I remember very little. Until my anxious brain decides to pick out a single detail to go over and over again when I should be doing something else — working, sleeping, certainly not thinking about something no one else remembers. Because my fears around judgement don’t just extend to others. No one can ever judge me the way I do.
How do I know fear of judgement is to blame?
My big, bad, ultimate fear is judgement — whenever my anxiety lurks, it’s likely to be the cause. Judgement of not being good enough, of not doing enough, of not being enough. That doesn’t mean it won’t be something different next time. But judgement is my Achilles heel.
Judgement from others means a lack of perfection in myself.
Let’s set aside what most of us know — there’s no such thing as perfection. Of course there isn’t. Unless you’re a perfectionist like I am (and many others are). We can say the right things about perfection being a myth but in my head, a little voice says, “But what if I just tried a little harder? What if I was just a little better?”
Perfectionists come to this way of thinking in different ways. For me, perfectionism was the only way to make sure no one was unhappy with me. To make sure no one yelled or threatened or scared me. If I could just be good enough (perfect), I could keep everyone else happy.
Judgement, fairly or unfairly given, feels like a condemnation. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t do it right. Now, not only is that person unhappy, it’s my fault.
My adult brain knows this isn’t true. Enough time in therapy taught me these are leftover thoughts of the low-level but chronic trauma of my childhood.
And because brains are weird, some judgement doesn’t touch my anxiety.
Tell me my D/s relationship isn’t real or that I’m not a “real” submissive, and these days, I’m likely to laugh in your face and tell you to fuck off.
Say that I can’t make a living writing about sex or that I suck as a writer, and I’ll smirk all the way back to my paying clients and my bank account.
To get to that point, though, I had to swim in my anxiety for a long time. I had to go through the experience of being terrified those judgements might be true and come out on the other side realizing they weren’t. Or, if they were, I could adjust, get better, and find a way to do the things I wanted anyway.
I know that’s how I get through these moments. Not around, over, or under…only by going through them. But sometimes the fear is bigger than I am. It paralyzes me, sends me to the couch with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, renders me nearly mute, makes me angry. Fear tricks me into thinking feeding my feelings will soothe me, that relying on old (bad) habits will make me feel better.
My brain is a fucking liar on a lot of levels…
Knowing it helps…a little. Not at the height of my anxiety, when everything around me is fuzzy, when the only thing I can hear are my fears incessantly whispering (and sometimes screaming) at me.
Usually, in the middle of the chaos, I’ll have a moment of clarity.
“This is anxiety. Your lying liar of a lying brain is in control. You aren’t the sum total of these fears.”
If I can focus on that moment of clarity, I get a chance to breathe. Even 30 seconds, makes a difference. It gives me the chance to say, “My brain is lying, and this will pass.”
If I’m really fortunate, I get five minutes of clarity, enough time to plan how to get through it. This blog post is courtesy of a 20 minute shower, after many hours of telling myself I didn’t have the energy to shower. Washing my hair slows down my brain. Showers are where I can think again.
And during this nearly neglected shower, while the world felt like it was crashing down on me, I had the moment I needed. The moment to make the connection between selling the condo and every fear of judgement I deal with as a creative person living my life out loud on the internet. It was enough — it has to be.
P.S. Judgement is a part of my life (as it is for all of us), and so is my anxiety. I’ve got to go through it to get to the other side.
P.P.S. I recently watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage (click the link to watch the trailer), and as always, she hit me between the eyes with multiple truth bombs like…
“I kept myself small because I was afraid to be seen.”
Yep. But I don’t want to be afraid to be seen. For every person who doesn’t understand or like me, I connect with someone else who thinks they’re alone in their experience. The connection is what matters, and to make those connections, I have to be seen. Until I figure out another way, my anxiety will simply have to come along for the ride.