Me and Anxiety
Well, this morning has been somewhat different to my usual Saturday mornings. If you have read any of my weird life series you will be aware that I like my routines.This morning, due to illness and changing plans, I am currently sat in an unfamiliar coffee shop in an unfamiliar part of town trying my best to concentrate on writing this blog rather than standing up, leaving my coffee and heading home again. It seems almost fate, that I had already decided about the content of this week’s post before today and that now I find myself in a state of anxiety writing a blog post titled me and anxiety!
I’m sure that when I was growing up I probably heard the phrase – “You’re just a worrier” many times. I am a worrier to the point that I worry about almost everything and anything for the majority of the time. I’ve spoken about my weird life several times before and I have, to be honest, been putting this post off since it is often very difficult to verbalise my thoughts and feeling about my anxiety in such a way that it does not come across as sounding silly or well … ‘weird’. If you read about me and sleeping you will be aware that I have, what many people refer to, as an active brain and I do attribute many of my anxiety attacks to this. It is important at this stage to make it clear that I suffer from anxiety, although I will be referring to them, or it, as worries throughout this post, mainly because I think it flows better and I’m not sure that I am spelling anxiety correctly every time. In order to give you somewhat of an insight into me and my anxiety, I wanted to split the post into the usual three sections. First I wanted to share with you what I actually worry about on a daily basis, then explain what happens when things change and finally, because I like to end on a positive, the progress that I have made over the past years – well actually decades.
My daily worries – I can’t actually remember a morning when I have actually woke up and felt content, happy and restful. I don’t sleep well at all, for example this morning I woke up from a dream/nightmare at 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep because Mr. Active Brain kicked in. I don’t actually worry about anything major, which is probably why it is so frustrating. I think the best way to explain this to you is to provide you with some examples. When I wake up the first thing I worry about is always – do I feel well? disliking germs I worry constantly about being ill. The first thought that goes through my head is – are you ill? Of course thinking about this rises my anxiety levels and can actually make me feel ill. Every slight pain, twinge or slight feeling away from what I consider to be normal immediately increases my anxiety. Then I will worry about what time I will be finishing work – will I have to walk home late? Will it be safe? Will I get mugged? I worry about the car parking outside the flats where I live – will someone take my place, has something taken someone elses’ place why have they changed places. My mind literally goes into over drive and starts to think about numerous possibilities in order to explain or predict what has or is about to happen. I have to make it completely clear at this point that it does not engage with any positives, only the negatives. It is constant. Walking down the street – will that dog come near me? Do those men look dangerous? and even – which you will feel is completely illogical – should I take a different route home tonight because something is going to happen on the ‘usual’ route. If you read any science about anxiety, you will be aware that there is a connection between the nervous and digestive system and you can imagine whats happens – I’m sure the majority of my IBS could be attributed to my anxiety and my Gaviscon bill would be a lot lower without it as well.
How to really mess me up – The daily worries cause symptoms and thoughts constantly, but if you really want to see me go into melt down then change something major. Having routines, I realise is not actually good for me, although they do make me feel very secure. Why are they not good for me, well it makes any changes to that routine really impact on my anxiety levels. This morning my sister was ill and I had to change my routine. I can only describe the experience as instant panic. My heart beats faster and I break out into a heavy sweat. I can also get quite cross and even angry. Even if someone says something like – ‘can you go on to this conference in a nearby town?’ then BOOM! I’ll sweat and feel sick instantly. My brain just takes control and places me and my body into panic mode. I have a real phobia about the dentist and, even though my dentist is fantastic about me and it, I will see the appointment slowly getting closer and closer in my calendar and have several panic attacks weeks before as I try to analyse exactly what will happen, even though it is impossible. Anything can set this panic off, sometimes it is something quite minor other times something quite major. As a scientist and mathematician I consider that I have quite a logical brain and looking back after the experience I know that it was completely illogical but when I am in the zone then the logical side of my brain completely shuts down. It is literally in primeval mode – fight or flight and, if you have ever seen my non-existent muscles, you will know that flight is my only option.
Progress so far… – This is probably the hardest section to write since it involves me going back to a place and time in my life that I would never want to revisit. I actually hinted at it in a blog post I wrote about coffee shops but I feel it is important to actually demonstrate how far I have come from that rather ‘dark’ time of my life. Although it might appear that my anxiety is bad now, it was, and believe me when I say this, a lot worse. It was so bad that I would not leave the house for any reason that wasn’t completely necessary and I couldn’t go anywhere ‘new’ at all. I do remember once walking about town with my mum and sister and they went in for a coffee. I literally could not go into the coffee shop and I walked around town in a circle until they actually came out again. I would set off somewhere and return to the house several times making up excuses why I needed to go back even though they were just that, made up. I couldn’t eat out, or drink out and literally lived at work and in my flat. I lost weight, lost friends and lost every ounce of self confidence and self esteem. Some people tried to help by ‘forcing me’ into situations. This had disastrous impact on my progression and it was only the understanding people who allowed me to make my own steps into new situations and supported me as I encountered them. Coupled with this was regular meetings with a clinical psychologist that actually allowed me to start to make progress. When I look back at this time, I do realise that I have come quite a long way and I wanted to share that with you so that you realise that if you are in a similar place then it is possible to move forward, if, of course, you are willing to push the boundaries and make progress.
I have made myself come to a different coffee shop today to write this blog. This is good for me, although I do know that I have probably avoided going to my usual haunt due to the fact that I was worried that there would be no seats available – yes I even worry about that! I learnt a long time ago that in order to make progress with my anxiety I have to push myself and try and engage with new situations and people. I know I still have an awful long way to go with my anxiety and yes I will have times when it is really bad and maybe I won’t want to leave the house or feel that I can’t do things. But there are also days that I can summon enough self confidence to try something new, whether this be a different coffee shop, restaurant or even a train journey! I’m not planning to ever go back to those ‘dark times’ although it would be very easy to slip back to that place. I’m determined to go forward constantly in small or even tiny steps and despite at times taking several steps backwards, at the end of the day I feel that I am generally making progress.
I don’t have an amusing or funny way to finish this post but I wanted to finish it by saying thank you. I am very grateful to everyone who actually puts up with me when I am in my ‘intense’ panicked states. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for all the support and, perhaps more importantly, the understanding that people have given and continue to give me. I know it all sounds weird and illogical and maybe, to some people, even pathetic, but to me it is all very real and I am always appreciative of the people who acknowledges this. If you suffer from anxiety then please take heart, we can beat it so please keep pushing those boundaries and moving forward since it is only by moving forward that we know that we are not going backwards.