When your coping mechanisms control your life

There are things I have struggled with for many years that I never wanted to admit to myself or to anyone else.  Things that make me feel weak, that paralyze me and control my life.  Things that I have known for a while were harmful but I just wasn’t ready or didn’t feel strong enough to deal with.  I wasn’t strong enough on my own before, but now that I am at a place in my life where things feel good, with friends who I trust and a partner who makes me feel safe, now I am ready to admit to myself that the coping mechanisms I developed when my life felt out of control have been controlling my life and left me with intense anxiety. 

If you have been following along with my journey than you are familiar with this story but if you are new, let me explain.  When I went to college I ended up feeling lost.  I didn’t find a solid group of friends, I missed my family like crazy and the school work was kicking my ass.  This feeling of being lost led me into an unhealthy friendship and living environment.  By the end of my junior year I was miserable.  I was extremely unhappy; I had isolated myself and I was very overwhelmed with the pressures of my major.  I started developing coping mechanisms to make me feel more in control.  Since everything else in my life felt like it was in turmoil, I turned to things I could control, my diet and exercise.  I started being very restrictive with what I ate and very strict with how much I worked out.  I started labeling foods as good and bad.  I started measuring my self-worth with how much I exercised and what I looked like.  I was extremely hard on myself.  I would never let myself have “bad” foods and if I did I felt weak and would want to punish myself with more exercise.

Having control over these areas of my life made me feel like things were better, that I had a grasp on my life.  These controlling tendencies and my resistance to letting go of that control became how I viewed myself.  I told myself this is just who I am, I like things a certain way and that’s that.  After I finished school and was back home with my family I started to feel better.  I was happy and less stressed so my control coping mechanisms weren’t needed as much.  I moved to California, started over and I was on my own to be in control of how my life went. 

Over the past two years many new and stressful things have come up.  I was in a job that was extremely stressful and gave me tremendous anxiety, I got engaged and started planning a wedding. After the wedding planning, I started on a new health journey of healing adrenal fatigue and a special diet for gut health which has been very difficult. I became more stressed and overwhelmed and my needing to control everything came back full force.  I know that I have been lying to myself all these years, that these controlling ways are not who I am, they are my coping mechanism for stress and they have become more harmful than good.  I have come back to a place where if I feel like I don’t have control over a situation I get intense anxiety, sometimes physically debilitating anxiety.  If I had a plan for dinner and then something came up that changed this plan, it would cause me physical discomfort and anxiety.  Since I want to be in control, I want to control where I am going and what I am eating, it makes me feel safe. This has become a more serious issue I want to address because it is negatively impacting not just me, but my husband. 

Since I have anxiety related sleep issues I feel like I have to be home every night to control the little steps I take as part of my sleep routine.  I work myself up and convince myself that if I don’t do my bedtime steps that I am not going to be able to fall asleep.  This need for control keeps me from having a fun social life.  Instead of being excited when Derek asks if I want to go to dinner with friends I get anxious.  My mind immediately starts thinking of how I won’t have control of the situation and I won’t be able to sleep.  This makes me upset and I fight against going out and this is not fair to Derek, I’m holding us back from life. 

No one wants to admit that they feel weak, that they can’t overcome something on their own.  I have been hiding behind my anxieties and playing them off as character traits.  I have convinced myself that this is just who I am and that should be accepted. Deep down I know this isn’t true, I have known it all along.  Life is going to be stressful at times, things are going to be tough and I can’t keep coming back to my controlling coping mechanism to handle it.  This way of dealing with things creates a negative loop of stress and anxiety and digs me into a deep, dark hole. 

Admitting this to myself and to Derek was exhausting.  After our big conversation about all of this, I felt like I had run 12 marathons.  I spent the day on the couch barely able to keep my eyes open from crying so hard.  But it also feels good to let it all out, I feel lighter.  Just the simple act of speaking these words out loud has lifted a giant weight off my shoulder.  I am going to continue to be proactive with this and see a therapist.  Sometimes we get too close to things and so do our loved ones so we need an outside, unbiased opinion.  I have always resisted this because I felt like I was giving up, like I couldn’t handle it on my own.  I wanted to be strong enough to figure it out myself.  With Derek’s help I realized that admitting all of this and seeking help is the strong thing to do, it takes courage to admit you need help. 

I am both excited and nervous for this journey.  I know it is going to be hard and emotional and at times I might want to give up.  But I am doing this for myself, because I deserve to be happy to live a life where I am not controlled by my stress and anxiety.  I am also doing this for Derek because he deserves to live his best life and I don’t want to be holding us back. 

I lied and said I was busy.
I was busy;
but not in a way most people understand.

I was busy taking deeper breaths.
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts.
I was busy calming a racing heart.
I was busy telling myself I am okay.

Sometimes, this is my busy –
and I will not apologize for it.

-Brittin Oakman-