A constant state of rehearsal
'Over-prepared' isn't a term I ever thought would be associated with me. When it comes to just about anything in life, I'm pretty laid back and tend to live by the Dr Pepper mantra of 'what's the worst that could happen?'.
At least, that's how I saw myself. It was only when my therapist pointed out my 'rehearsing' behaviour that I realised, at least when it came to social interaction, that I was exactly the opposite.
I remember I was telling her about a social gathering that was coming up in the next few days. I was explaining that I was feeling very anxious about having to share a venue with around 100 or so people and that the thought of simply chatting to someone was filling me with fear.
"What do you think could go wrong if you talked to someone?" was her question. I listed off a few potential scenarios – they could laugh at me, they could ridicule me, they could tell me they were bored, they could leave mid-conversation, just to name a few.
"Just how much have you rehearsed this scenario?" was her next question. "A lot" was my answer. I then explained to her that with any social event, I would go through multiple scenarios that could possibly play out on the day, sometimes weeks prior to the actual event. How far away the event was would dictate how much of my time a day I'd be spending on creating and analysing hypothetical situations in my head. So on the day before an event, these scenarios would quite literally be running through my head from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep.
This kind of behaviour was something I had been doing for as long as I could remember. I'd always build imaginary scenarios and craft lines of dialogue as a means of coping with any potential situation. I'd even think about the kind of body language I'd want to give off to give myself the best chance at 'succeeding' in my quest to experience a normal situation.
My therapist labelled it this a 'safety behaviour' –a kind of ritual that many people with anxiety create in order to help themselves through a situation. And, although I had always felt like this behaviour was something good, she pointed out the many negatives that came with it.
Because of the time and the mental energy I would be spending on building these hypothetical situations, I'd often feel exhausted, preventing me from being able to focus on and enjoy life. Often the behaviour would actually result in the exact thing I didn't want to happen happening. For example, if I was caught off guard by dialogue I wasn't prepared for, there'd be an awkward pause in conversation while I scrambled for an answer. I'd then feel embarrassed and begin to blush, reinforcing the incorrect notion that I should have been prepared.
Occasionally I fall into my rehearsal behaviour, but now I can identify it and do something to break myself out of that way of thinking. And I've since learned to live with the randomness of real life. It's far more interesting than whatever imaginary situations I could come up with anyway.