Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thoughts on Awfulization and Context

::This post was first posted yesterday, but I came up with the post on blogging and am super anal about having only one post per day.  Call me crazy.  Here is the post again for those of you who didn't read it!::

I think that most people who struggle with anxiety or depression at some point come into contact with the idea of awfulization.  If you haven't heard of that word--as it isn't really a word at all, just something I heard at my counselor's office--I assure you that it is exactly as it sounds: making every situation into something far more awful than it actually is.

Though I'm sure the concept is relatively common, I think that at this point I have it down to a science.

A few weeks ago Rob announced to me that he had figured out what one of my main issues was: when I encounter a setback, or something that I perceive as a setback, it becomes simply by nature of being inside my head* the absolute worst case scenario. He noted that if, for example, he left for a weekend, I reacted to it as though it were the worst case scenario--that he was leaving forever or that we were back in the Army days.

In summation, I suppose, I have no ability to contextualize negative or stress-inducing events.

Another example is how I deal with money.  Growing up we didn't have a ton of money but certainly were not destitute, and yet I still managed to develop an intense fear of financial instability that has carried into adulthood.  Based on however much money I make at a given time, I establish a "cushion" in my bank account; those of you who know me probably can guess that this cushion is higher than what most normal people would consider a "cushion" and not just "having money in your bank account."  Any time my account goes below this amount I go into hardcore panic mode.  I pull out the calculator (as in, double-click on the icon) and frantically try to determine how far below my cushion I will go before payday. With credit cards, any tiny amount that can't be paid off immediately terrifies me and has me checking my account two or three times a day. Since we just moved across the country and are paying a significantly higher rent (and since Rob won't start work until April) you can imagine that stress has been pretty high for the higher-strung half of Roblin.

Rob went on to say that with money, I probably have the same stress reaction as, say, someone who is barely or not making enough to cover daily expenses and whose credit card debt exceeds reasonable standards.  He's probably right, because he always is, but that totally sucks.  There are people in this world--some of whom I know personally--who actually live with this fear day in and day out.  Despite the stress and worries that we won't make rent, we have a far more substantial safety net than most people in the world. Indeed,  it seems petty and clueless to complain about what more or less amounts to nothing.

I think on some level it's good to be cautious about money and good to recognize that we should appreciate the presence of our loved ones. But without context I think I will only continue to drive myself crazy with worst case scenarios.  This isn't just about money or Rob, it's about my ever-present fear of failure and my lack of confidence in myself.

I suppose in this way, no problem or worry exists in isolation, which is an important lesson for me (or anyone) as I wade through the mire of anxiety and depression. At the same time, I think it is equally important to learn how not to beat the shit out of myself emotionally once I realize that I'm worrying for nothing.  This never-ending cycle of awfulization and self-hatred can accomplish nothing but more of the same.  No one can break me out of this cycle but me and it's time I took that battle more seriously.

I hope you all had a great week and wish you a fabulous weekend.


  1. As someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, I applaud your discipline! As a family, we are very frugal and I, too, have a "cushion" in our account. I'm proud to say that we rarely have to dip into that savings, but it's a daily struggle to justify NOT doing it! :)

  2. my nickname isn't OCDanielle for no reason, so you can bet your bottom dollar (like what i did there?) that i'm all too familiar with awfulization.

    when my mom and dad were married we had what we needed, but we definitely weren't rich. it made me grow up appreciating the value of a dollar, but maybe a little bit too much seeing as how i can't part with a penny. reading blogs further reinforces just how cheaply i live since i don't shop at anthropologie, don't go out to eat very often, and don't have a brand new top-of-the-line car. i know the kind of stress you're talking about, because i have it too, even though i know we'll truly be fine, but i think in the long run, it's probably better to be that way than like so many others who live above their means and will eventually be faced with the consequences.


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