Because the mind is a terrible thing

June 7th, 2017 | Posted by Mush in Panic & Anxiety

In which I’m just watching my mind be an asshole, because that’s what you do.

I smoked cigarettes for 30 years. I was at the point where my lungs felt dry, I couldn’t get a deep breath, and walking three blocks made me pant.

I quit smoking by switching to vaping, because patches and gum didn’t work, and I wasn’t willing to try Chantix. When I made the switch, I read everything I could find about vaping and determined that vaping was not zero-harm, but was most probably significantly lower harm than smoking.

That was a year ago. My lungs feel much, much better! I can walk to Pancho Villa’s and back without panting. My voice sounds better. I don’t think about smoking at all, and I think about vaping very little: when leaving the house I no longer feel compelled to bring my nicotine delivery system, I just go. It’s great.

The other day I read a Skeptical Raptor round-up about vaping. The take-away was, essentially, we don’t know what, if any, harms are associated with vaping, really, but it does seem like you might maybe possibly be exposing yourself to more formaldehyde than you should. Aaaaaand my stupid brain latched onto that, and I spent the rest of the day being afraid of vaping but doing it anyway. And like a tongue worrying a loose tooth, my mind is still trying to be upset about the topic and provide me not with solutions, but just vague dread and worry and self-pity. Nothing like, “Well, perhaps it’s time to set a plan for quitting vaping,” just vague dread. Nothing like, “Is your need to vape greater than your fear of possible formaldehyde over-exposure?” Just nervousness and anxiety and feeling bad.

Another example. Human hair sheds all the time, constantly. For me, about every 36 months I experience a few months of my hair shedding out more heavily than usual, probably because for some reason there are just a bunch of follicles on the same cycle, and because I’m vain and aging is weird, I dislike it. I mentioned my feels about hair shedding on social media yesterday and two people were all HAVE YOU CHECKED UR THYROID. So I rolled my eyes and went and looked up the information on hypo- and hyperthyroidism again, and yes, while I do have a number of the symptoms mentioned, half are from the hypo- side and the other half are from the hyper- side, so, yeah, no. It’s much more likely I’m subject to normal shedding cycles and, based on my older relatives’ hair, genes, thanks.

But now my stupid mind is trying to obsess over those “symptoms,” all of which are also consistent with hormonal changes typical to women of my age, while ignoring all the symptoms I don’t have and the fact that you can’t have a simultaneously over- AND underactive thyroid. It’s trying to give me an anxiety attack. Because it’s a bastard.

I’m not sick. Nothing hurts. My life is so nice that I never use an alarm clock! I sleep, every day, until I wake up naturally! I live a block or three from everything. I have incredibly fast fiber-to-the-home, money in the bank, and two vacations planned! I am pampered, lucky, well-cared for, and fine.

Except for my stupid mind, which wants me to have anxiety and panic attacks anyway. It wants me to be afraid of things over which I have no control, while frequently ignoring things I should be afraid of — it let me smoke for 30 years, unironically! It let me do cocaine, a street drug of unknowable dosage and provenance, for several years, without a peep of worry — and obsessing instead over dumb things! My mind is afraid of the regulated, properly-dosed OTC drugs you might buy to treat a bad cold, but was never worried about street drugs. Because it fucking sucks at risk-assessment and is irrational.

Conclusion: my mind is an idiot, and, because it never shows up when there’s actual statistical likelihood of danger (riding in a car, for example), anxiety is non-information and should always be ignored.

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