n. “The sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.”
Quite a common trait of alexithymia seems to be that people misinterpret emotions as bodily sensations. I doubted that I experienced alexithymia because I didn’t do that. More recently, I’ve realised I actually do the opposite. I am far more likely to interpret a fairly harmless bodily sensation as a threatening and unpleasant emotion. I’m going to write about two of my most common errors, to hopefully help myself to distinguish between them.
Headache – Anxiety
I don’t get headaches all that often, maybe a couple of times a month on average. I get anxious very often. When I have a headache, I get that urgent ‘something is wrong’ sensation that I get from anxiety, so I often assume that I’m anxious. Which then causes more of a problem because my anxiety coping solutions don’t really help when I have a headache. So the headache carries on, and then I keep on thinking I’m anxious which makes me more anxious, and it usually ends up in a hideous spiral that only ends when the headache goes away (usually when I go to sleep – which is harder to do when I’m anxious!).
Here are some things that I am working on trying to remember in order to prevent this from happening. When I have a headache:
- I usually feel better if I take a painkiller.
- I usually feel worse if I get up and move around.
- I am probably drinking a lot of water even though I don’t feel particularly thirsty (years of conditioning that headache must equal dehydration, even though I am probably the most well-hydrated person in my entire family).
When I’m anxious:
- Painkillers probably won’t make a difference. Might also make me feel worse if the act of taking painkiller is anxiety-provoking.
- I usually feel the need to be moving around and that will help me stay calm.
- I probably have a dry mouth but don’t feel like drinking more than sips of water.
Tiredness – Sadness
I’m not often very sleepy during the day. I don’t need that much sleep and I’m not particularly active, so it’s rare for me to be very tired in the daytime. I’m much more likely to be inexplicably miserable, so that’s what I tend to assume. Both cause me to be unmotivated, floppy, and unable to concentrate.
When I’m tired:
- I might really want to do things, but not be able to concentrate enough to enjoy them.
- If I lay down on the sofa for a while I’ll probably fall asleep.
- Physical tasks will be more difficult and daunting than mental tasks. For example, I’ll dread getting up to go to the toilet more than I’ll dread writing a long email.
When I’m sad:
- I probably don’t feel like I want to do anything. I might be able to concentrate on thinking about something if I make the effort, but I still probably won’t enjoy it.
- I’ll probably feel physically restless if I lay down for a long time, even though I might not actually want to be doing something else.
- Physical and mental tasks will be equally unappealing. Or sometimes, mental tasks will be even more unappealing.
I’m writing this stuff down in the hope that I will refer back to it next time I’m tired or have a headache – so that I can remind myself that I’m having a fairly harmless physical experience. I’ve known this all for a while, but when I’m actually experiencing it, it all goes out the window. That seems to be a pretty common thing, too. I can understand things in theory, but putting them into practise is a very different matter. Hopefully having this written down to refer to will help me bridge that gap.