Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling that we all experience at times. It is a word often used to describe when we feel 'uptight', 'irritable', 'nervous', 'tense', or 'wound up'. When we are anxious we normally experience a variety of uncomfortable physical sensations. These include:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscular tension
- Feelings of breathlessness
Anxiety also influences how we behave. For instance, when we feel anxious, we often avoid doing things that we want to because we are worried about how they will turn out. Although short experiences of anxiety are part and parcel of daily life, it becomes challenging when anxiety begins to follow people around and is a regular feature in their lives.
I personally suffer with anxiety and depression and to me it often feels like those that profess to care about us most, our nearest and dearest don't get 'it', even when they're trying their hardest to help and understand us.
They don't always get 'it' though do they? Not in my world anyway.
It often feels to me much like when English people raise their voices towards foreigners hoping they'll understand us! Of course, they don't, they try to help, they offer whatever they think you need, but ultimately, they don't understand what the hell you're going on about. I feel like that's how it is with anxiety and depression, no matter how loudly I shout some people just do not understand, they offer help but sometimes you just want to know someone gets 'it'. Otherwise it's a lonely place feeling desperate and misunderstood. It's even more crushing when you've been a functioning anxiety sufferer when you come to a point in life where you're not to be able to snap out of it anymore, not able to wade through the anxiety to get to work or social functions because you're crippled with self-doubt and self-loathing.
When you look in the mirror... what do you see?
For a very long time when I looked in a mirror I saw something that I didn't like, in fact I often used to repeat the same mantra to myself over and over 'gee you sure is ugly'. There was nothing about my reflection I wanted to see, looking was a necessity for social compliance, to allow me to fit societies mould.
I have always had my ups and downs. Good times and bad. I have learnt over the years to see when things are sliding down hill and that's exactly what happened seven months ago. I slid all the way to the bottom and have spent the last few months trying to climb back up the slippery slope of life.
At my worst, I am tearful have a banging headache and aching joints. At my best, I can be positive but believe me it’s always a fight and let no one tell you any different, you literally have to fight anxiety as there are no quick fixes.
People often ask me how does anxiety feel?
Well I often feel like I'm in that moment just before you trip over when you're still upright but know full well you're likely headed for the deck. That secret second of time when you know your future before anyone else. You know something bad is going to happen and you're just waiting for it to come to pass.
It's often like that moment when you've sent a text message, a 'shitogram' expecting it to go to your best mate who you've been remonstrating with about whoever it is that has actually pissed you off... Then shock horror you realise you've just sent that text message straight to the very person you've been nasty about by mistake! In that moment, the world stops and your stomach feels like its dropping out of your bottom! You flush with embarrassment, your heart pounds, your pulse thunders in your ears, your throat tightens and the panic sets in. That's how anxiety feels just going grocery shopping or doing the school run, like the end of the world.
Our world can feel like a very lonely place as anxiety makes us fear a fall constantly, makes us panic that our world is about to crash around our ears over the stupidest little things.
Yet ever the reflective type I have often pondered how other people are meant to get 'it'. Let’s face it, life is full of unique experiences and we all tread our own paths, so how can our friends and family possibly be expected to know how it feels or find the empathy over and over to match any given situation?
When I get to a really wobbly stage its generally because of a combination of problems. Much like the start of a game of Jenga I can be strong tower, a force to reckon with, but start to chip away at me and I'll start to wobble. That said even a wobbling Jenga game can remain standing, ...right? I have in the past stood tall for too long, fighting my demons, trying to steady myself when maybe I should have gotten help sooner and not tried to stand tall for so long, maybe things might not have gotten to the really bad stage they did?
I know it must be difficult for those non-anxious folks amongst you to accept that we, the anxious, generally only turn down social events because of our mental illness. It does seem like such a stretch I'm sure for you guys to grasp, but believe me when I say it’s nothing personal. I have often been treated with contempt and hostility for bailing out of functions which seems unfair because if someone said they couldn’t attend a gathering because they’d broken a bone or had the flu there would be gushing compassion and sincere wishes to get well soon. However, mention mental illness or anxiety and firstly it gets glossed over, ignored, but long term it can be taken as an indication that you are untrustworthy, a useless friend even, one who should perhaps be excluded from future social functions as a punishment.
That's how it feels but perhaps this is just my paranoia kicking in? There was a time when I lied about why I couldn’t make social functions. There was always that distant relative who needed attention, or a friend who needed my help or I had some mystery illness that was sweeping the town. However, since this my worst ever bout of depression, I feel compelled to be true to myself. This is the first time in my life that I actually admitted to myself that I have a real illness, I have finally given myself some credit for not being that selfish stand-offish bitch who allegedly hates people, but instead I can now recognise that I am someone who has a genuine illness.
It's taken me years of looking in that blasted mirror to accept that depression and anxiety are going to be a lifelong issue for me and it’ll never just be a case of getting better. There are good days and bad days, but admitting it to myself was a big deal. So, if I’m asked why I am not going somewhere these days I am honest about it, whether that makes people feel uncomfortable or not and I'm sorry to say that I think it does still make some people feel squirmy and awkward.
In the Victorian era, us, the mentally ill, or the insane, as we were once referred to, were locked away from society, placed in mental institutions or work houses, segregated and scorned. I do wonder whether that depth of stigma still resonates in people’s minds, because there is still a stigma attached to mental illness.
I 've been making it a habit of mine to say it out loud these days, although you can end up feeling a bit like the elephant in the room when you do. People almost want to physically shift away from you, to put some distance between themselves and you. Perhaps there is an automatic assumption you’re an axe murderer, or is it just an inherent discomfort that someone would admit that sort of shameful secret out loud? Or is it more likely to be the fact that many people face similar battles of their own but have yet to see the light in their own mirror, to accept their own truths?
Social media, twitter and my blog have been an enormous help to me. There is a large supportive community of people that do get 'it' out there waiting for you and trust me when I say feeling accepted for who you are is immensely cathartic.
I have deviated from my point. I do not want to be ashamed of my mental illness. I want to be proud of myself for working through my anxiety, for getting up on those mornings when all I want to do is cry and hide under the dining room table. For continuing to drive to social functions even when there are tears of panic and stress rolling down my cheeks, for getting back up every time life’s bowling ball knocks me down.
So, to you the non-anxious folk out there if people like me are shouting about their anxiety from the rooftops please know it helps us cope and move forwards. Be kind and compassionate, maybe just buy yourself some ear plugs!
If a friend or colleague confides in you that they’re struggling or don’t feel able to do something because of their anxiety or depression then just say ‘okay that’s fine I understand.’ Give them the space they need and do invite them out again and again.
Do not take it personally; it’s about them not you. They’re not trying to insult you; in fact, if they confide the truth in you then they’re paying you a compliment in trusting you, making the assumption that you might just understand them and the struggles they’re living with. Just know that they’re literally putting their heart into your hands so be very gentle with it.
To you the anxiety sufferers I say trust in people, tell them your story honestly. Look in your mirror and see yourself for who you truly are.
Ways forward that I've tried...
It is important to find time to relax. This can help to reduce your anxiety levels by calming the body and mind.
Relaxation should involve doing something that you enjoy even just being by yourself. Try to choose something that you will look forward to and that will give you a break from your day to day grind.
Doing this activity will also give you less time to spend worrying! Here are a list of activities that I find help me to relax.
- Do some exercise (e.g. walking the dog)
- Reading a book
- Watching a favourite TV show
- Doing something creative (e.g. I find writing helps)
- Having a bath
Consider visiting your general practitioner if you haven't already, they may discuss with you possible medications that might help you deal with your depression and anxiety.
Some people find something called mindfulness really helpful. It's quite a complex topic so I won't elaborate other than to say it revolves around paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – it really can improve your mental wellbeing so it might be well worth looking in to.
Breathing techniques can also really can help. Again there are a variety of choices out there. I use something called 7-11 breathing that a therapist taught me.
- Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
- Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in gently and regularly.
- On the breath in count steadily from one to seven. (You may not be able to reach seven at first.)
- Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let your breath flow out again really gently, this time counting to eleven.
- Keep doing this for three to five minutes
As I said you may not manage these figures straight away but as long as you breathe out for longer than you breathe in the technique will work for you.
You could also experiment with meditation, there are many apps out there to help with this, again it is such a wide topic I'll let you research that for yourself.
Finally there is counselling/therapy. This can be accessed via your GP, you can pay privately or in some cases there are various charities that offer help. Some employers, the police service included, offer access to private services. I accessed private therapy via a charity.
First and foremost, take those first steps towards self-acceptance. Seeing your truth will put you on the right path towards learning self-compassion for yourself and finding a method of healing that suits you.