Author Topic: Anxiety and FIRE  (Read 1805 times)

StetsTerhune

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Anxiety and FIRE
« on: August 09, 2018, 08:00:21 AM »
Preface: I am talking only about my own (extremely mild, not medically diagnosable) anxiety, and no way want any of this to be construed as "people with mental health issues just needs to get off their ass and fix it."

I have always had a decent amount of anxiety. Basically, any interaction with a stranger that doesn't follow a strict and known script makes me quite uncomfortable. This has gotten much worse, though, since being FIRE'd. I have almost no stress and nothing that I need to do on a daily basis, so I can just avoid interacting with people (and/or just have my wife do it). Anytime I actually need to do something I have no problem doing it, but seemingly the less I do, the more I stress about little interactions. This has really cut into my enjoyment of my life post-FIRE.

The contrast was made very clear recently. My wife ended up spending a few days in the hospital in a foreign country (everything ok now!), and I had lots of logistics to deal with. Poof! Anxiety gone. All the random tasks that would have caused me huge discomfort normally weren't an issue at all. I needed to do them, so I did them. This was always true at work. I needed to get something done -- if I needed to call 10 strangers to track down an piece of info, I just did it. Right now if I had to call one stranger I would put it off for a month and spend that entire month with low-level stress about that fact.

I guess when your life is incredibly unstressful, you need to invent things to stress out about? Is this a form of Hedonic Adaptation? I have tried to give myself things to do that will force me to deal with people and things, but it never works because I know I don't actually need to be doing anything. Anyone have any thoughts or advice?

HovEratoTo

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2018, 10:39:43 AM »
I'm curious about this myself, though I'm in a slightly different place. I'm in the process of transitioning to post-work life, and having suffered from GAD/panic disorder for about 3.5 years now, I'm hoping to see a significant reduction in my symptoms after leaving the workforce. I can report back on my results :)

A few thoughts:
- I could see how, once FIREd, you no longer have the tolerance for useless, stressful interactions. Like you said, you do it if you have to, and it's good to know you can. But in the same way that people start to not care about work and work drama once they're FI, maybe you just don't care for people and their drama once you're RE.
- Do you remember when this started? What was going on in your life? Was there a specific event that seemed to trigger it? Sometimes going back and processing that can help with healing. Though I recommend working with a therapist for that.

Personally, I'm also hoping to find more time to practice meditation and mindfulness once I leave work. I've heard that after a few months of consistent practice, people just don't get stressed about things as much anymore. That sounds mighty wonderful to me :).

terran

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2018, 10:49:34 AM »
It kind of sounds like when the interaction is a well defined part of your role (caring husband, diligent employee) you're fine with the interaction. Might there be some kind of subconscious thought process going on like "I'm wasting this person's time, I don't really need their attention, in some way I'm not worthy of their attention, they have better things to be doing than talking with me, etc."? And when you do have a very good reason to be taking their time you have no anxiety about doing so? Or, along similar lines, maybe it's kind of an identity thing. When you have a particular role you know the script you're supposed to follow, but if you don't have a role you're filling you no longer have a strong enough sense of who you are to know how you should interact in a situation?

joonifloofeefloo

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2018, 10:58:59 AM »
Very interesting topic, StetsTerhune!

I have an "allergy" to both phones and small talk whether I have high stress or very low stress. Sometimes I can "just do it" but for me it seems to be a sensory thing. For example, if I ensure several days in near-silence, then I can make a phone call on the fourth. Or if I sit in or near water, I can make a call.

When I "have to" do something (child's disability care; lots of difficult tasks with agencies), I do, but I have a big stress response if the sensory piece isn't sorted in advance.

I do find that in my new life of excess solitude, I'm becoming dramatically worse at small talk, chit chat. I'm trying to avoid it becoming a full-blown allergy but that effort is hard in itself.

mxt0133

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2018, 03:15:34 PM »
I have always had a decent amount of anxiety. Basically, any interaction with a stranger that doesn't follow a strict and known script makes me quite uncomfortable.

I have similar issues when things don't go as expected as how I planned it.  I used to be more flexible when I was younger but as I started taking on more responsibilities, full time job, moving out, getting married, and having children, my ability to just go with the flow or roll with the punches was getting worse and worse.  I my mind I am so resource (time, money, energy) constrained that I needed to optimize everything.  One of the main reasons for being on MMM.  However, when things don't go according to plan I just end up throwing a tantrum and I could not effectively handle the situation.

I stared practicing mindfulness to help with accepting the way things are instead of focusing on how I want them to be.  It has helped me to significantly lower my anxiety and stress and be able to actually enjoy the moment no matter how far it has deviated from my expectations.  I highly recommend reading up and practicing mindfulness and see if it helps you.

Mr. Green

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2018, 09:30:14 PM »
This sounds like classic introverted behavior. A task with a clearly identified objective overrides the discomfort of social interaction but when that interaction is only casual there is no particular objective. I can relate somewhat. I wouldn't say I get anxious about casual conversation with strangers but I can definitely get uncomfortable. Social interaction is a skill that comes more easily to some. For those of us that struggle with it, there's only one way to improve and that is to practice. I worked at a Publix grocery store for two months over this past winter and one of the things I liked about it was the forced interactions it required me to have. My conversational ease improved a healthy bit just in that amount of time, though I was working almost 40 hours a week so I got a lot of practice. The challenge with FIRE is you converse even less with strangers if given the option so the skill you do have gets rusty. The only way I know how to maintain it is to do it, which means you have to get uncomfortable.

LightTripper

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2018, 05:51:26 AM »
Really interesting topic!

I'm not FIREd yet but definitely identify with your question.  I remember early in my career getting suddenly stressed about taking the lift to my office.  I'd never worried about lifts before and I realised I seemed to have a base level of anxiety that had to go "somewhere" - and I temporarily had no big worries and just started worrying about the lift.  That did help me get the anxiety in check a bit.  As I've got older and have a more responsible job, more family responsibilities, etc. I guess my anxiety has more places to go.  It will be interesting to see whether it ramps down after I retire (as I hope) or not.  I'll still be busy with kids so I guess that will give me something to be "purposefully anxious" about which may be a good thing (or not!)

Interestingly my daughter has just been diagnosed as autistic and I never spotted it because she is very similar to how I was as a child.  I now wonder whether I am also on the spectrum.  I'm somewhat sceptical as I really don't "suffer" in any respect, though I think this may also just be because in my middle-age I have now managed to either (a) practice doing the scary things I have to do (e.g. making phone calls at work) so much over 20 years working that I can get through them without "abnormal" levels of anxiety on a daily basis or (b) avoid many of the scary things that weren't essential by just cutting them out of my life.  Interesting that some posters above mentioned sensory issues in this context though, which is obviously an autistic characteristic too (as well as just a human one!)

I am still a mess of contradictions.  I am relatively OK at making a work call (because I have to) but will agonise about calling for a takeaway and will try to get my OH or a friend to do it if at all possible...  I will always use e-mail rather than a call if humanly possible.

My one hope for defeating anxiety is that when I was on maternity leave with my daughter I do remember a couple of months when I had kind of got the hang of having a baby, but was still a couple of months away from having to sort out childcare and go back to work, when I was really aware of having much lower anxiety levels than normal.  It was lovely!  It made me realise how much I live with anxiety all day every day in my "normal" life.  I'm hoping I can at least reduce my levels a bit when I retire: but if not, hey, I've been dealing with it pretty much all my life so I'll just carry on carrying on.  I don't think that anxiety has to block out happiness - you can have both.

sui generis

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2018, 05:02:23 PM »
This is a fascinating topic.  I'm a slight extrovert that rarely has anxiety about anything.  But I still do often try to avoid making calls and I totally identify with @terran's suggestion about :

Quote from: terran
Might there be some kind of subconscious thought process going on like "I'm wasting this person's time, I don't really need their attention, in some way I'm not worthy of their attention, they have better things to be doing than talking with me, etc."?
or even something similar to "you're not doing it right" - like I imagine calling someone and asking for something and having them chastise me for asking, because "that's not how it's done" or something.  Like everyone knows the right way but me and I'm the dumbass that made this stupid move.  The thing is, that could be a legit fear  under some circumstances, but I basically feel that way all the time, like almost even for calling for a restaurant reservation or something.  Like I'm obvious calling way too late, or way too early, or for some other reason they just do not have time to deal with my outlandish request to eat at their establishment. 

So, yeah - not sure if that makes you feel a little better that it's a pretty common thing - even for those that are extroverts and not prone to anxiety - it's a human thing, apparently!

As far as how to handle it, I try to mix it up.  Sometimes I force myself to do things and sometimes I rely on others (likely my fiance who has no problems asking for what he wants in life) and I feel like I hit a decent balance.  But, I'm about to RE in less than two weeks, so if and when the world starts putting less obligations in my way to do uncomfortable things at all...yeah, it's interesting to contemplate how rusty my skills might get, how much more I will avoid it or, because I'm slightly extroverted, maybe I'll force myself to do it more if I am in extra need of just some basic human interaction and my two instincts will war it out. 

Humans are pretty funny creatures.

StetsTerhune

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2018, 02:10:31 PM »
Thanks for all the great replies!!

Reading these replies makes me realize how little I've actually analyzed this aspect of myself. Some of the things brought up don't strike a chord with me at all, some very much do. Other than knowing, viscerally, it's difficult to determine what does and does not make me anxious. I suppose if there was too much logic behind it, it wouldn't be anxiety at all. It's so fascinating how different we all are and how differently and randomly this sort of thing manifests.

Several people brought up social interactions, small talk, or chit chat. Those don't bother me at all. I'm not saying I love it, or am good at it, but I have no anxiety about it.


Might there be some kind of subconscious thought process going on like "I'm wasting this person's time, I don't really need their attention, in some way I'm not worthy of their attention, they have better things to be doing than talking with me, etc."? And when you do have a very good reason to be taking their time you have no anxiety about doing so?

This strikes some chords with me, but it doesn't feel quite right either.


or even something similar to "you're not doing it right" - like I imagine calling someone and asking for something and having them chastise me for asking, because "that's not how it's done" or something.  Like everyone knows the right way but me and I'm the dumbass that made this stupid move.  The thing is, that could be a legit fear  under some circumstances, but I basically feel that way all the time

I think this is very close to exactly what I feel. The situations where I don't know exactly how this works, but the other person clearly does. Walking into a restaurant that works differently. I guess a lot of it is living in fear of someone (even, or especially, a total stranger) thinking I'm a fool, or telling me "no, why would you even ask that."

I actually feel pretty good, just having named it more precisely. It is something that i can easily cope around. I could just walk into a restaurant and force myself to just say, every time, "I've never been here before, how does this work." And also, thinking about it I am most comfortable when I'm traveling and I know I stand out as a tourist. Walking into a place in Indonesia, everyone knows I'm an idiot tourist, and I know there's nothing I can do to embarrass myself.

Again, thanks all for the responses and insights!

joonifloofeefloo

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Re: Anxiety and FIRE
« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2018, 02:17:36 PM »
Yeah, I very rarely experience anxiety (fear) anymore. I have sensory stuff and cognitive things, but not anxiety. I can chat people up fearlessly, I can walk into any new environment...

Re: new environments or different ways, I just give myself opportunity to understand: I arrive early, I email questions in advance, or I observe for a while before joining in. This makes almost everything a wonderful experience.

The only really hard time I have of anything is aggressive (loud, fast, rude) people. Those who quash any opportunity for me to understand. Those do cause me actual anxiety.

One of my favourite environments is where people are speaking a language I don't understand a word of. I drop into a deep calm, a profound ease and patience, because I know I can't know anything. It's wonderful!