Attack of the Anxiety Brainweasels

tl;dr version then the full version that I wrote while trying to process things and do some google-fu.

So, I was just doing reasonably normal things on the Fire Howling (it didn’t really differ from what I said would happen, though I didn’t need to go to the production meeting or design presentation indicated by question marks on the initial list). Below the cut, I literally needed to go through the symptoms manifesting in order to connect them all to one another.

This entire thing started at 12:55, went through my 12:55 – 2:45 class, went through the 3 – 5 Shop hours, went through the production meeting from 5 – 6, and didn’t really end until 7. I had no idea how to describe what had just gone on for six hours. (Which meant that someone asking at one point if I was alright wasn’t actually helpful because I had no idea what to say.)

Shout out to Google. Panic attack versus an anxiety attack [here]. A less symptom heavy, quick glance at differentiating [here]. Derealization explanation [here]. This just in – 10/10 would not recommend having an anxiety attack. Below the cut, I also talk about being reminded of different coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy and I’ve been working on not encouraging. (Talk of self-injury in the form of scratching and digging fingernails into skin; talk of smoking.)

Overall, this was a shitty (though 100% unplanned and unintentional) way to end the Fire Howling. It’s a very noticeable reminder that my brainweasels aren’t entirely limited to depression, and I have some hybrid of depression and anxiety. Because those motherfucking brainweasels had a ball, man. I need to do a drop-in and psychiatric consultation, so my brainweasels are managed better and don’t get six hours to do whatever the fuck they want to do.

Cut due to length and not wanting to fuck with someone’s head by getting them stuck in my inner dialogue / narrative (yes, that is a thing that can happen).

So, I was just doing reasonably normal things on the Fire Howling (it didn’t really differ from what I said would happen, though I didn’t need to go to the production meeting or design presentation indicated by question marks on the initial list). I needed to print off the to do list for the electricians to do something from 1 – 3 while I was in class (and I needed to print off something else).

I had worked to a point where I could’ve printed off the papers and made the ten minute walk to the building I needed to be in if the printing process was the same as it was last year. There’s been a change where you have to swipe your student ID or enter your login info (used for everything else attached to school stuff) on this touch screen device in order to have your print job actually print (this means you immediately pay the printing fee unlike the previous method).

It took about ten minutes longer than I had expected it to because I wasn’t the only one taking longer than they’d expected to in order to get this touch screen device to work. As I was speed walking to where I needed to go, I hit the point when my class technically started (12:55). I still needed to hand off the to do list and plot for the crew to start working at 1 [it’s a good thing my class is on the third of the same building, so I technically didn’t need to walk to another building].

I am a punctual person. My mother indoctrinated me with – If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, what’s the point in showing up? I’m the person who is anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes early to everything, especially when it comes to certain classes / times (1). One of my Theatre degrees is in Playwriting, and this class is my Playwriting workshop. I have never been late to a Playwriting class in four years of undergrad because the subject is important and the classes are never an absurd am time.

This overwhelming feeling of failure reared its ugly head. Of course I’m a failure, how could I be so surprised – I am not a late person, no no no, I have never been late to Playwriting. It was like I had some sort of tunnel vision on this, and someone who was just back from a summer stock job that ran into the first week of school was surprised / may be some other emotion that I wasn’t happy or excited to see them. I handed off the paper, didn’t stop to leave the ME Binder, and just told the Grad Shop Head to make sure no one died during the 1 – 3 shift.

There was something off about my breathing, and it wasn’t because of the speed walking. I’ve never been in shape; trust me, I know how that manifests. This was shallower and different some how. The summer stock person mentioned above expressed something about me to a faculty member who was on his way to the section of offices (you often can catch him in the hallway in this manner), and he was like, “Are you okay?”, or something along those lines. I could understand that he was being sincere, but at the time, the only thing I could say – in a tone that seems a bit dramatic in hindsight – was, “No, I’m not okay” while getting on the elevator to get to correct floor for my class.

Internally, I was the walking manifestation of WORRY, STRESS, FAILURE, THINGS WILL NEVER BE OKAY. And there’s no good way to succinctly explain this while communicating that you’re also late for class. When I walked into class (only five minutes late), the professor commented that everyone else had said that it was unusual for me to be late like that. There’s such a flustered feeling of being rushed when you usually have more than enough time to get your laptop out and powered up, get out your notebook, and basically get ready for class.

I was intermittently fully present and – unplugged? – from what was going on. Like, my brain would lock on the failure and extrapolate to Shop, which I would go onto after class. Because I didn’t leave the ME Binder, I didn’t really explain anything to anyone, what if my directions  weren’t clear, what if I didn’t have enough to do for the 2 hour shift, how was I put in a leadership position when I obviously didn’t have my shit together?

It wasn’t like I was only focused on my inner dialogue to the point that I had fully checked out from the class. It was like I had more than one tab open in my mind or something, but it was different from multi-tasking. Something seemed off, but I didn’t really know what. When class ended, I had to turn in / sign / go over the paperwork so my PACE position would be considered official in terms of getting paid and then immediately head to the Shop. This year we have a higher number of people working during Shop hours, so they had basically done everything I had planned out for the day with a small crew in those 2 hours because they had the equivalent of two crews working.

I wasn’t mentally prepared for another game plan to be developed so quickly, on so short notice. We started hanging the first three Electrics because they had gone ahead and gotten all of the units for the Electrics and Booms (because they finished my to do list quickly enough). I had trouble conveying the purpose of the lights (you can tilt and position the light in the rough direction it needs to be so that time is saved during focus) because I was struggling with stage directions (2) for an entire Electric. I was having trouble with a very basic, normal mental flipping of perspectives (I couldn’t place “me” on the stage to get the correct stage directions).

I had trouble with measuring out where units were to be placed. In the case of not having actual measuring tape, you can use a “dummy stick”. Most people can measure out 18 inches from the tip of their elbow to their fingertips (some have to go with some point in their palm / hand). Electrics are ticked off in 18 inch increments with the units being hung one tick away at the closest (barring a few exceptions of being half a tick) with any amount of ticks in between really (usually 1 – 3 ticks for this plot).

I don’t know if it was doing so many that were meant to be one tick away, but I ran into issues with some units not being distanced correctly if they needed to be more than one tick away from each other. I also think I messed up a bit due to feeling rushed because everyone was like WE’RE DOING GREAT, LET’S KEEP THIS PACE GOING. Instead of trying to only tick out where units were to be hung, I probably should have just chalked one tick increments and let them skip the ticks (3).

When the designer stopped by to check in on us and see the plot, I startled when he got to my peripheral vision. Not once, but twice. I’m not the tallest person on the crew, so I’m used to people being a “tall presence over my shoulder” in my peripheral (because their face is literally quite likely over my shoulder). He startled me twice in about an hour, and not like “oh, I didn’t see you there”, but physically startling with a spike in heart rate and anyone can visually see that I was startled.

I found myself occasionally staring at the plot and feeling mentally unplugged again. Like, things would briefly feel very overwhelming and I’d just be mentally-off again until someone asked me something. I felt the most present when someone needed help side arming a unit (taking off the C-clamp and replacing it with the side arm) because I was physically doing something.

While it was still a bit annoying, I didn’t mind nearly as much that the summer stock person stepped into giving orders (they’re prone to doing this when they’re not in charge, which usually is more problematic). And then we ended a little bit early because the summer stock person and I needed to go to the production meeting for Much Ado About Nothing (they’re my LD; I’m their ALD) that was to start right at the usual end of Shop hours.

I’ve never been ALD before, and being briefly assigned to that position for this show [Elbows Off the Table] doesn’t mean I know what the hell to do (4). I literally had no idea what was expected of me, and what I needed to do at this meeting. I haven’t even fucking read the play (plus we’re doing an adapted Much Ado script, I’m sure), though I’m sure I read the Spark Notes in high school or something. I hadn’t been invited to the Box folder, which shares the info for all the Shops, the production calendar, the script, everything you’ll need to work on the show. Because it was the first production meeting, things weren’t entirely finalized yet and my LD wasn’t done with the plot. So, I really wasn’t necessary.

I was fucking unplugged, and the entire hour long meeting didn’t seem real at all. I found myself with the breathing thing again, and I realized I was catching myself at this weird ‘I’m just before hyperventilating’ stage where it’s shallow, a bit panicky, and yet not noticeable. All of the stress, feeling like a failure, and all other shit was just happening internally, and no one else noticed. I think my LD noticed I wasn’t taking notes at one point, but I was too fucking gone by that point to even try. Focusing and trying to grasp all these mental / conceptual things was hard; I remember what was considered important for my Shop, but I don’t remember everything (5).

I left my stuff in the room because it was the same one I was going to be in for the SOUP meeting and went to get food. I didn’t really start to feel mentally present until after I’d eaten and done some socializing with SOUP members before the meeting started. This entire thing started at 12:55, went through my 12:55 – 2:45 class, went through the 3 – 5 Shop hours, went through the production meeting from 5 – 6, and didn’t really end until 7. I had no idea how to describe what had just gone on for six hours.

Shout out to Google. Panic attack versus an anxiety attack [here]. A less symptom heavy, quick glance at differentiating [here]. Derealization explanation [here]. This just in – 10/10 would not recommend having an anxiety attack. Mindfulness and engaging the senses is listed as a way to help ground you back in this world when experiencing derealization, which does help to make sense of what happened. On top of feeling more present while working on side arming the unit, I primarily felt present and could engage in my Playwriting class easier when I was scratching at my forearms.

Scratching my forearms and digging my fingernails into the backs of my hands, wrist, or forearm are known ways of staying engaged in a class. Small, controlled amounts of pain are grounding. Having gone through a Math class my Freshman year where I was literally bored to tears, I know this method works. It also functions as a safer ‘compromise’ to self-injury, though these actions technically still count as SI. They’re a relatively safer compromise to cutting and drawing blood, which is why I opt for these if I need to.

While I’ve spent more time talking about alcohol, it’s taken this to remind me that I have a history of wanting to SI. I’ve been so used to just going “nah, just scratch and don’t draw blood” and thinking I’m okay by doing blood donations as my blood offerings, but SI doesn’t just go away that easily. I spent most of the walk to get food after the Much Ado production meeting ruminating on the Exacto knife I got as part of the Scenic portion of supplies for my Design class (making model boxes entails an Exacto knife) (6).

I also had a reminder of smoking being a thing I should avoid because I passed someone smoking on said walk to get food and clearly remember thinking – If someone told me I would calm the fuck down by smoking, I’d probably try it right now. It’s been a known thing that my biological ancestors would prefer me to not smoke due to it being one of many vices and/or a contributing factor to some deaths. It’s also a matter of ‘could you not court addiction’ from Fenrir and potentially dealing with Someone in the Family of Fire (7).

Overall, this was a shitty (though 100% unplanned and unintentional) way to end the Fire Howling. It’s a very noticeable reminder that my brainweasels aren’t entirely limited to depression, and I have some hybrid of depression and anxiety. Because those motherfucking brainweasels had a ball, man. I need to do a drop-in and psychiatric consultation, so my brainweasels are managed better and don’t get six hours to do whatever the fuck they want to do.

~~~~~

(1) Ok, so this perfectionist standard has had some of the rigidity taken out of it from early am classes. However, I typically didn’t have as much of an investment in those *cough* J Comp at 8:30 am*cough* or they presented their own issues that I dealt with when taking those (we don’t need to talk about Sophomore Design).

(2)  Sometimes it happens as an honest mistake, but it usually happens in our other work space due to set up and how to orient the plot. As a playwright and a techie, stage directions are considered a very basic skill. When you’re in the audience, it basically amounts to reversing your directions. House Left = Stage Right, Upstage = Moving Down the actual stage, etc.

(3) As it was, when the designer added in some lights the next day that wound up being where other lights were already hung on the pipe, they busted out the tape measure to technically measure the increments between each light. Some were one or two inches off because my dummy stick requires placing the light next to my fingertips to be 18 inches (my fingertips actually land at 17 inches), but others were basically one tick when they should’ve been two. YOU WANT TO HANG HALF THE STAGE BOX IN TWO HOURS WITHOUT A MISTAKE HAPPENING SOMEWHERE; BITE ME.

(Note: There are 9 LXs in this plot, but they wanted to hang four by the end of the day. Saying three earlier wasn’t a mistake; we hung the first three completely.)

(4) I’m pretty sure the people in charge of assigning Shop positions realized some stuff in making the decision to not have me be ALD and ME for this show: 1) I’m a double major and already have that increase in workload and stress to deal with, 2) Due to when production meetings start for Much Ado, I would’ve had a portion of time when I was technically ALD for two shows at once, and 3) Certain schedule conflicts for the person who was put in the ALD position for Elbows had to be finalized before knowing which shop positions would work for them (they’re an actor, so they have to work around rehearsals and being in certain shows).

(5) I remembered my LD for Elbows telling me one of the Electrics was breasted upstage [nudged in that direction so it wouldn’t get hit by a nearby Electric], but I didn’t really ‘remember’ this until he repeated it the next day. Like, I knew he had done it, but I couldn’t remember which LX it was until he repeated it. It’s this weird deja vu feeling except you can actually remember the first instance?

(6) When just thinking of cutting helps to calm you down a bit, it *might* be a sign that you should avoid doing so. Just *may be*. So far, I’m doing good with my current plan and don’t really need to delve into this aspect of management as much.

(7) Kaditi (kuh-dee-tee) – to inhale and exhale smoke from a burning cigarette (source). Coincidentally the name of the plamen [Fire Jotun] that I, at least, interact with as the Overseer of Cigarettes (and smoking them, obviously). Kaditi currently prefers she / her pronouns, and She’s technically been around for awhile (only now getting a name). (Rest of the commentary about Kaditi and smoking cigarettes has been transferred to a separate Google doc for me to stare at and think about for a while.)

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