I’ve known for a long time that I get very anxious and nervous, especially in social situations or when I’m agitated. In addition to the mental grief that comes with this anxiety, I’ve always wondered if my body has any reaction to these symptoms that are visible to others. Anxiety makes one feel edgy, nauseous, and at times on the verge of a breakdown. Additionally, one’s outward behavior might seem odd, paranoid, or terribly panicky for no real reason. These problems are only amplified when BPD is thrown into the mix.
Feeling nervous and anxious has been a way of life for me. I’m at the whit and whim of my anxiety whenever I’m in public, during performance events (athletic, musical, academic), and in awkward social situations. My nerves all seem to empty into my stomach and intestines.
For example, before high pressure track meets, it wasn’t unusual for me to disappear to the bathroom to vomit or pass diarrhea. Afterwards, coaches always gave me a funny look because I appeared white and withdrawn. My father famously said, “You like like you just saw a ghost”. Some people get pumped before a big run. Me, I looked like I was facing a firing squad.
The same held true for concert performances, especially if I was a soloist. I was a little calmer on stage compared to the track, but still suffered in silence. My mouth would dry out while I was playing my trumpet, which makes it impossible to relax and produce a good sound. Sometimes I would bring a bottle of water with me on stage to drink during long rests in between passages of music. It looked odd because I was the only one lugging a refreshment out next to my music stand. Everyone else seemed confident and assured that they would render a great performance. Unfortunately, I felt the near opposite: as if weeks of practice and preparation flew out of my head and I was sight reading the music for the first time. The result was disastrous. In rare cases I could get past my nerves, but more often than not they got the better of me.
My BPD only makes things worse. Even now – after 10+ years of meds and 3 years of therapy – I still have a hard time relaxing and letting go of my nerves. Clonazepam has been helpful at bedtime and during especially stressful moments, but it is merely a Band-Aid and not a panacea for my problems. Agitation resulting from BPD rages, lethargy, and general malaise ultimately just stoke the anxiety fire. It’s not that I’m nervous about feeling tired, it’s that I’m tired of feeling nervous. This thought process will circulate around my head until I’m asleep or by myself away from the source of my stress.
All this negative energy creates weird ticks and twitches that I hardly ever notice unless I’m really concentrating.
For example, I realized during my vacation two weeks ago that I get anxious stepping into a car. When I put my sunglasses on prior to leaving my hotel, I caught my head twitching in an odd way, such that I could see my sunglasses bobbling around in place. I felt myself moving my ears and using muscles to make weird facial expressions. All of this was going on unbeknownst to me. Without fail, I would feel agitated and anxious as I turned the car’s ignition on, and these sensations would play out across my head and face. It probably looks like a bad tick to a stranger. I wish I didn’t do it at all.
My feet also twitch uncontrollably. I have an old pair of loafers that I keep around the house for quick errands or walks to the store. I also wear them when I have pants on, particularly for air travel. Getting onto my plane to return to Costa Rica last week, I noticed my toes would dig into the sole of my shoe, in a forced grating motion. Once taught, I would also attempt to make my toes move about their double joints in a repetitive manner. When I was aware of what I was doing, I would release my toes and attempt to relax. Minutes later, though, I found myself doing it again almost automatically as if it was a vital function of my body.
Curious about just how much I twitched my toes, I inspected my loafers when I was back in my apartment. The heal portion of the shoe soles had slight wear consistent with the age of my shoes. Then, I moved my fingers towards the front of each shoe where my toes were unknowingly grating and fidgeting. To my surprise (…well maybe not 🙂 …) the portion of my shoe soles beneath my toes was worn raw and nearly falling apart. Looking at the shoes with a flashlight showed even more damage: the fabric of the shoe sole cushion was completely tattered, as if I had put it through a Cuisinart.
In essence, this revelation regarding my shoes was a perfect analogy for all the other ticks throughout my body. On the outside, things look generally OK and normal, perhaps a bit nervous but not frantically stressed out. On the inside, however, things are dramatically different.
My ticks only worsen as I feel tension and angst. If I’m doing a tedious, repetitive task, I’ll become agitated and my ticks suddenly go into high gear. Instead of relaxing and pushing through challenges free of stress, I tend to contort myself in odd ways, anxious for the task to be over but nervous that I’m not completing it fast enough at the same time. These seemingly contradictory feelings play themselves out across my face, head, and feet almost invisible unless one looks closer.
Ultimately BPD and managing anxiety amid peer pressure and social conformity creates an exhaust of ticks and twitches that wouldn’t appear on most normal people. While everyone makes odd gestures or facial expressions during pressing moments, most people do not twitch so much that they ruin their favorite shoes or look like they’re doing the hula with their sunglasses.
It comes as no surprise to me that I have these twitches now that I’m aware they’re happening. The real challenge is trying to find ways to quash the anxiety that powers them. Whether or not that’s a realistic behavior for me to modify remains to be seen. I can only hope that in time, as I learn more about myself and what makes me anxious, I’ll eventually get to a point when I can be completely relaxed without the caveat of a multitude of ticks moving spuriously throughout my body.