So I wrote an essay for class and was encouraged to use it for a blog post (thanks Shauna) I thought about re-writing it for the different audience, but decided I didn’t need the extra writing project right now and it probably has more meaning this way.
HEAR I SIT: MY CHALLENGES IN WRITING
As I sit staring at the cursor as it mockingly blinks at me I wonder what I could possibly have been thinking when I decided I should return to school after 25 years of working on assembly lines and in warehouses. Because of an anxiety disorder that makes expressing myself problematic, I am finding the assignment, to narrate an experience with a writing or reading task that I find difficult or challenging, is my biggest writing challenge to date. As a result of my anxiety disorder, my trip through formal education was difficult. My career path led to my writing experience being mostly in bullet points and my hobbies are done in live and unscripted video. Stir in a dab of post-concussion syndrome and the written form has become my biggest obstacle when trying to get my point across. This writing assignment has been the most challenging for me, which is significant because it’s helping me unlearn old habits and learn a writing process that respects my anxiety and sets me up for future success at school and in my career.
As I think back I realize that for as long as I can remember communication has been difficult. My trains of thought move so fast that when writing my fingers can’t keep up. The spoken word becomes quick, low in volume and enunciation takes a back seat to just getting the thoughts out. This caused many issues throughout my educational career. From being thought of as just shy in early grades to the dreaded “you have so much potential if you would just apply yourself” as I grew older and my attendance level dropped. It simply was not understood that shyness is a symptom of anxiety. For me the condition exists on such an all-consuming level that it became less exhausting to limit my participation in an effort to compensate for what I can best describe as sensory overload from the educational environment. This limiting of participation had negative side effects when it came to writing. I learned to write to pass, not how to write effectively. The distinction was huge as I moved from school to a career path. The anxiety issues did not leave me barren of job skills. In a small team or individualized workplace setting my ability to listen and my personal observation skills allowed me to learn and progress in a company fairly well, to a point. As long as the most complex writing to be done was an accident report form or bullet points of production challenges things were ok. However, when I would progress to a point where more communication was required to keep progressing in a company the added stress would trigger more anxiety and I would revert to the learned process of minimal participation. Of course, since the company would want me to reach my full potential there would be some understandable disappointment, usually from somebody who gave me a break. This would feed the anxiety disorder until I would have to change environments or I would have an anxiety-induced nervous breakdown. This cycle repeated its self until I realized that I needed to form a new relationship with my anxiety disorder and I needed to practice alternative forms of communication.
There are a number of ways I use to practice communication; the most effective has been the use of live video streaming. I learned the attempt to follow a script or even a general outline creates more avenues for anxiety to invade. By going live and unscripted once the stream is up the only anxiety trigger is the camera. I have no time to over analyze, no script or outline to try and follow. My genuine thoughts must bubble to the surface or I must turn the camera off. Since these are mostly hobby related videos, the audience is friendly and expectations are low. Because of this moderate success, I was beginning to feel confident about new skills and the progress I was making in coping with my anxiety disorder related communication problems when a small home accident changed the equation.
It was as much a normal day as any, I was a few days late for my monthly cleaning of the HVAC filter and I had a few minutes so I took it outside and washed it off. But when I turned off the faucet, I turned around, stood up and hit my head on the pole of my son’s basketball apparatus. At first it didn’t seem such a big deal, it hurt a little bit but really not that bad. It didn’t take long thought before I started feeling more serious effects and a trip to the hospital became required. After 3 months of mostly blank memory, a variety of tests and a number of doctor visits I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. This syndrome and its consequences have spent quite a bit of time in the news recently. For me, other than the gap in my memory, the biggest ongoing issue is that it has turned up the intensity of my anxiety disorder. So, my normal anxiety issues became more intense and more ever-present. This did also have a benefit; it forced me to reconsider the nature of my anxiety disorder. Instead of “fighting” or “battling” through the disorder I decided to develop a relationship with it, then evolve that relationship into something more functional. Part of the evolution is to return to college for a degree.
And that all leads me back to the reason I was staring at the cursor, I understand the reason for this assignment is more than just an exercise in proper grammar or even getting my thoughts onto the screen. It is about unlearning old habits and learning a writing process that both honors my anxiety and sets me up for future academic and career success. For me the successful completion of this difficult writing assignment is more than another assignment, it is an opportunity to continue to change and improve my life.