Today, I wanted to share a technique that I’ve started using, on the advice of my therapist, for releasing intrusive thoughts. Because of my history and my trauma I do suffer with anxiety and I am sometimes caught off guard by thoughts that don’t belong to me. This can come in the form of feeling guilty for things that aren’t mine to carry, it can be negative thoughts and feelings about myself or my surroundings, and sometimes it’s a literal sidestep into my old reality – the one that I escaped.
As I writer, I do find it soothing to suspend reality and run away into my own little world of make believe. In there I can solve other peoples problems and kill the bad guy if I feel inclined to. Out here in the real world it’s not always that simple.
Anyway, my therapist suggested writing things down. First, she suggested writing a letter to people who have harmed me and then tearing it up as a way of releasing those feelings. I haven’t found the strength to write my own story yet, and maybe I never will. Nor have I written those letters she suggested because I don’t even know where I would start. I have taken her advice in baby steps however.
Last week I was invited for a couple of job interviews and it was all very unexpected and exciting and scary. I’ve been blogging for almost six weeks and I decided to start applying for jobs in the writing industry on a whim one evening. I joined LinkedIn, edited my old CV, uploaded it to a few jobs and thought nothing more of it. When the offer of interviews came through I was suddenly terrified. What had I done. There was no way I was ready to interview let alone think about getting a new job right now.
There were so many reasons not to do it. I kept as much of the negativity at bay as I could and thankfully the first zoom interview was booked in for the same day so I didn’t have much time to panic or to prepare . I had a quick Google of the company and the job role and made a few notes for the interview – my notes were basically just sensible questions to ask at the end because I always remember someone advising me once that employers like a few good questions at the end of the interview. Not questions about pay and the like, but good intuitive questions that show you’re interested in the job and are keen and prepared to learn. So I gathered what I could.
The interviewer was a couple of minutes late and I sat perfectly alone staring at the empty Zoom meeting on my phone for about three minutes. They were the longest, sweatiest three minutes of my life. You see, this job was a gateway, me sitting there and interviewing for it was THE DREAM. It was why I studied English Literature at university, it was why I have hundreds of word documents of old stories I’ve written saved on one drive. I didn’t realise how much I wanted this job until I was sitting there in an empty Zoom conference.
I almost cancelled the call. Pressed that little red button and escaped before I could embarrass myself. There were 76 applications I could see from the advert, I knew at least half of those people would have more experience than my absolute zero experience. I knew there would be others there with qualifications different to mine and more suited to the job. I believed that I would be absolutely stupid to get my hopes up. This is when the intrusive thoughts began, because I was putting so much pressure on myself and panicking. I began the cycle of feeling that relentless negativity, of feeling absolutely worthless. Six months ago, to prevent the spiral, I would have cancelled that call.
Instead, I snatched up my pen and scribbled all those awful thoughts down on the paper in front of me and got them the hell out of my head.
The interviewer attended the meeting and they employed me.
Pulling those thoughts out of my head gave me the space to really engage in the interview instead of self sabotaging and being lost in the spiral. So my humble little suggestion to anyone who suffers with anxiety – or anyone about to go into a high pressure situation that triggers your fight/flight/freeze – WRITE IT DOWN.
You can tear it up, burn it, eat it, laminate it, post it on your blog. Do what you want with it after, but, my god, is it freeing to give those thoughts somewhere to go and free up some space in your head for the important stuff.
While I’m being all inspirational I just want to add – there is no such thing as ‘wasting a dream’ as my list seems to suggest. At age 14 I decided I was going to be a writer, a year later I was sucked into an abusive relationship that lasted almost 15 years. I lost myself and my dream somewhere in the midst of all that, although occasionally I would surface like a sodden floating bit of bark in the middle of a lake. It’s been over a year since I escaped that situation and here I am, suddenly employed in the industry where I can follow that dream.
Don’t give up, and remember there is no timeline for anything in this life. And if, like me, you suffer with anxiety that cripples your ability to try anything new or step out of your comfort zone – take baby steps, try writing it down or find your own outlet. Those awful intrusive negative thoughts don’t belong to you, let them out and make space for your true self.
© Emma Stead