Bad Google Translate: On Living with an Anxious Mind

Bad Google Translate: On Living with an Anxious Mind

I haven’t blogged in an inordinate amount of time again. Suffice it to say I’ve been battling through a confusing haze of depression and anxiety again, which has made it difficult to create and be vulnerable and, unfortunately, the first thing to get the axe is almost always my ability to make cohesive words a thing. But I am here! And alive. And doing my best.

Pretty much the whole period since June has been a huge test for my mental resilience. Steeping for 40 hours a week in an environment dripping with the after-effects of trauma makes progress challenging, because I’m devoting so much time to just trying to stay consistent for the better part of my weeks. And I don’t think I’ve necessarily stayed consistent as well as I could have, because giving into the pain of a toxic environment is easy and fighting against its negativity is really freaking hard.

Without getting into a play-by-play of the past few months of toxic environment > feelings of stress > perceived helplessness because of feelings of stress caused by toxic environment (which, while I’m working to change, is what it is for the time being) > feelings of frustration because of perceived helplessness > anger because of feelings of helplessness > feelings of failure because of anger … that’s basically been the last few months. I’ve been stuck in this positive (negative) feedback loop of feeling shitty and feeling shitty about feeling shitty and etc. The madder I get at myself for letting negative energy affect me, the harder it is to accurately interpret my surroundings and interactions with others.

If you took a language in school, you probably remember your teacher or professor discouraging the use of Google Translate for more than a few words at a time. The more you tried to plug into the translator at a time, the more likely it is that you’d get an inaccurate translation. That’s because translations between languages are rarely word-for-word accurate, so you have to have a larger understanding of the way words function in a given language to create a sentence that makes sense. Having anxiety is kind of like having a brain that defaults to Google Translate at all times for all interactions, so you have to fight through its crappy translation to actually understand what the hell is going on, or being said, or whatever else.

When I’m in the middle of an anxiety episode (or just in the latent anxiety undercurrent stage of the last few months), my brain works kind of like Google Translate converting entire paragraphs … which has gone about as well as you would expect. Experiencing interactions through the lens of anxiety has led to lots of miscommunications and misinterpretations, where my own negative self-talk has superimposed itself on top of a conversation with someone else. Something as simple as “What are you doing to manage your anxiety?” gets translated as “You’re a worthless burden and aren’t doing anything to help yourself. Stop being dramatic.” Also things like seeing side-eye or grumpiness where there is none and subsequently assuming it’s my fault and everyone hates me and why am I such a terrible human being who ruins everything.

Recognizing when my brain has shifted into Bad Google Translate mode is difficult, because when someone calls out the fact that I’m upset about them being “mean” without any actual evidence besides my brain’s shitty translation, I tend to get more stressed out because they’re upset with me. Did I mention how great anxiety is for effective social interaction? Especially having experienced multiple instances of long-term emotional and mental abuse, it can be difficult to separate out what feelings of pain and alienation are valid and what feelings are caused by bad translation … so until I can get enough emotional space from the anxiety I’m feeling, I’m kind of stuck.

Reactivating mental resilience strategies is like returning to a language you were once conversational in, but haven’t actively practiced in months or years. It’s a lot easier to plug a sentence into Google and let it do its (bad) translating for you than it is to stumble through a sentence at a five year old’s conversation level, probably mispronouncing and tripping over easy words. But the sentence you create on your own, while imperfect and awkward, is almost always a better product than the one you steal from Google.

I’ve leaned on my mind’s bad translations because reactivating skills that have gotten rusty is hard and scary and intimidating … but that’s also not very kind to the people around me who are trying to help and support me. If I’m constantly stressed out over misinterpretations of our interactions, someone who wants to help me can’t really do anything except shut down and push me away (which, you should probably know by now, is the last thing I want or need when I’m going through a tough time). Even though I sound like the equivalent of an anxiety five year old (as in I still literally have to say “What my brain just heard you say is not what you actually said” most of the time), I’ve been trying to be a little better about not relying on my anxiety’s lazy Google Translate.

Anxiety is exhausting and frustrating. For me and for everyone around me. It’s a constant battle to remember that while anxiety is a burden, it doesn’t mean I’m a burden and it doesn’t mean I’m unworthy of support and love. I lean on those bad translations every once in a while as I get better with my “language” skills again, and hopefully the people who love me can be patient … and I can be patient with myself.

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