Most people close to me know that I suffer from anxiety and depression, and I’ve talked about depression and suicide awareness quite a lot in the past. But I don’t often talk about my anxiety, particularly not here.
So I thought I’d change that.
Just a warning, this shit will probably get deep. If you’re not comfortable reading about it, then it’s best just to click away now. Same if you ‘don’t believe’ in mental illness. I genuinely don’t have time for you. But aside from that, I do encourage you to keep reading, because anxiety (the disorder) is really damn common but also really damn hard to comprehend at times.
I can remember my first anxiety attack really clearly. I was 7-10 (I don’t remember what exact age, just that we were in my family’s house in East Malvern at the time), sleeping in the front room on a trundle bed, listening to The Silver Brumby’s Daughter because I couldn’t sleep without audiobooks because I’d get too anxious (that probably should have been a sign). I have no idea what I was so damn anxious about, but at that point in my life I had genuinely never felt so bloody terrified. It was this…primal anxiety, something biologically wired within me. I was so frozen with fear that I couldn’t even shout to mum in the next room to come in and fix it. I played finger counting games on my hands for what felt like hours (and very well could have been) until I finally calmed down enough to pass out.
Since then, I have had anxiety and panic attacks about a lot of ridiculous things. I once barely slept because I was petrified I’d used up all my computer allowance at my primary school and would never be allowed in the computer room again, despite the fact I hadn’t even logged into a computer that year. I worked myself up into a state because my cousins couldn’t come up to visit us when I was in year 7 and I was convinced that it was my fault because I’d said something to my drama teacher. I’ve had anxiety attacks and full blown panic attacks in school, in shops, out to dinner, and even at a friends’ engagement party (sorry, again). And the worst bit is that it feels totally out of my control, because when there’s no logical reason for feeling anxious, there’s no way to resolve it and force yourself to calm down.
It’s difficult to explain these moments of anxiety because a lot of the time there’s either no reason or no logical reason behind them. I don’t actually get stage fright. I love public speaking. I don’t get particularly anxious before exams. And yet sometimes the idea of getting out of bed and putting away a pile of laundry is so overwhelming that I hide under the blankets (I’ve actually hidden under the laundry once…). Or not knowing what I’m having for dinner makes me so anxious I bother everyone in the house until someone gives me and answer or takes me to the supermarket (sorry Anthea!). Or I’ll be completely fine during the day and then up until 4am stressing about nothing but unable to calm myself down enough to sleep. More nights than I care to admit I’ll be trying to watch YouTube videos or Netflix, listen to audiobooks or Hamish and Andy podcasts, scroll through instagram, write in my diary, or play weird competitions amongst my fingers (don’t even ask) without disturbing A because my body is simply too anxious to consider sleeping (and yes, it fucks up my sleep cycle. I’m not sorry). There are times when I’ll message people at absurd hours of the day stressing about something that came up in a conversation we had a week ago that they don’t even remember because I’m convinced it’s ruined everything.
It’s like being anxious about a first date, or a speech, or a test, or a performance, or anything else anxiety inducing, except none of that is there. And it’s a lot more regular. Sometimes all the fucking time.
And it’s fucking shit.
It’s shit because a lot of the time there’s nothing you can do but wait for the anxiety to pass, which can take a few minutes to a few hours (yes there are coping techniques but sometimes they don’t always work). It’s shit because there’s nothing A or anyone else can say that will make the anxiety go away, and no one wants to watch their loved one go through something shitty when they can’t help. It’s shit because sometimes it’s so overwhelming that the idea of doing anything (including putting clothes on or showering) is way too much to deal with. It’s shit because people just don’t understand it, and try to make you feel better by saying ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ or ‘we all get anxious’.
I know there’s fucking nothing to worry about. And yet that doesn’t help me sleep at 3am when my body/mind/chemicals/whatever has decided to go into fight or flight mode.
And yes, I know everyone feels anxious from time to time. But there’s a huge difference being ‘feeling anxious’ and ‘having anxiety’.
I had a thought the other night when I was still awake at 3am thanks to the above mentioned anxiety, that anxiety is a bit like asthma.
Hear me out.
Most people lose their breath sometimes, after exercise or when tackling Edinburgh’s dreaded stairs, for example. But people with asthma lose their breath more frequently, for a whole variety of reasons that just don’t impact people without asthma. And it takes longer for these people to recover their breath once they’ve lost it.
Anxiety is the same. Most people get anxious from time to time, when they have a test or when their crush is around. But people with anxiety feel anxious a lot more frequently, for a wide variety of reasons that aren’t always logical (or even existent). And it takes them a lot longer to calm down from this anxiety. It doesn’t just ‘go away’ when the problem does.
There are a lot of things people can do to help with their anxiety – exercise, giving up caffeine (it sucks but it’s definitely worth it), some people find yoga/meditation helps, some take medication. But sometimes whether we like it or not the anxiety is just going to come and ruin a perfectly fine day with its irrational worry.
I know anxiety can be really difficult for people who don’t live with it to understand. I don’t even really understand it and it’s become an almost daily addition to my life. I know A has struggled at times, and it’s really common for anxiety to put a strain on relationships (all sorts of relationships). Which is part of why I think people should talk about it more, and also listen more.
My anxiety itself may be irrational as fuck, but I’m not. Please don’t forget that.
If you want to learn more (or think you might have an anxiety disorder) there are heaps of fantastic resources (like BeyondBlue) that you can access online. Or just chat to your GP or school counsellor or someone about it!
*Featured image from the BeyondBlue anxiety ad campaign