Alarm Flare Up

One of the most eye-opening — and useful — things I learned as a patient in psychotherapy was the concept of the "Alarm." You may know it simply as a sense of nervousness, panic, or a high level of anxiety. 

I used to resign myself to being anxious about practically anything: an imagined dirty look from someone on the sidewalk, a project at work rejected by a boss, or a new introduction to people I didn't know. Naturally, I would assume they wouldn't like me or would be looking for a reason not to.

But I learned to recognize the nervousness, and to immediately assess if my fear was actually warranted, or if instead I was acting with a knee-jerk response to uncertainty I had learned decades ago, and the situation was actually harmless.

I've gotten pretty good at telling the difference. But I can still surprise myself with an absolute surrender to my Alarm.

Case in point: I got my manuscript back via email from an online editing service called EDIT911. They've got PHDs on staff, and mark up manuscripts with copy editing fixes and questions about logic and structure. They also send a written assessment of the work overall. 

I looked through my edited manuscript and found over 2000 changes in the margins. Immediately my Alarm when off, and I could only see the comments as negative, critical, and hostile. Clearly the editor didn't like my work. 

Things got worse when I skipped to the end of the manuscript, and couldn't find a written assessment. I went back to the website to make sure one was supposed to be included. It was. I went back to the manuscript and checked again. Nothing. The only explanation I could think of was the editor hated my work so much that he refused to send an assessment. I felt bad enough about myself and my work that I had to leave and go to the gym to clear my head.

Later I reread the original email to double check if perhaps it was included as an attachment. It wasn't. I tried to summon the courage to write back, and as I toyed with the email, I realized the assessment was included as part of the email, but at the bottom below the signature, and it simply didn't fit on my screen without scrolling.

I felt like an idiot — my go-to response — and was grateful I hadn't made a fool of myself by writing back. The assessment was very helpful, and actually quite good. But once again I learned that as far as I've come with recognizing my Alarm reactions, I can still combust.