Anxiety: A Survivor’s Story
In the first of this two-part series on anxiety, we look at what it is like to live with this debalitating condition and identify ways to recognise generalised anxiety disorders.
Glass half empty
They say that there are two types of people in the world- those whose glass is half full and then the curmudgeons who always see their glass as half empty. Although it comes naturally to me to wonder where the other half of my pint is, I’m always conscious of falling into the latter category. So I spent a lot of time learning how to ‘turn that frown upside down!’ and see the good that comes out of every situation, almost no matter how bad. It’s a trick I still employ today and I truly believe that it has made me a more positive and happier person. But that doesn’t always stop me from worrying about that empty half. Despite my determinedly sunny outlook on life, I am a natural worrier. I don’t even see it as a bad thing always. Worrying is my way of solving problems before they arise. It helps to prepare me for many eventualities and so when they do actually happen, I am able to remain calm and respond conscientiously.
When worry goes wrong
But what happens when that worrying becomes excessive? It happened to me. I was 37 when I had my first real panic attack. I consider myself to be pretty self-aware, so I’d have thought it would be obvious. I keep a close check on my emotions and I am generally a very open and honest person, so you would think that my family and friends would have seen it coming. But nobody did, not even me. For months I suffered from work-related anxiety and depression and it wasn’t until I had a nervous breakdown that it even crossed my mind that I wasn’t alright.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight. In my experience, anxiety creeps up on you over time. It started with a little bit of worry everyday. Seemingly reasonable concerns that anyone might have about their job; how was I perceived at work? Was I doing well enough? At some point those worries grew bigger and the negative voices in my head got louder. It started to spill outside the work box into other areas of my life; what if he doesn’t love me anymore? What if they don’t think I’m a good mother? But I still didn’t want to worry anybody so I kept quiet, desperate for them not to find out. Pretty soon I was having difficulty sleeping and was waking up in the night to that soundtrack in my head reminding me of all the terrible things that could happen. It became harder and harder to mask my unease. I developed a “tell”, a nervous twitch, but I still hid from the true extent of how bad my fears were.
It’s thinking too much, it’s caring too much. Because the root of people with anxiety is caring.
It’s sweaty palms and a racing heart. But on the outside, no one can see it. You appear calm and at ease and smiling but underneath is anything but that.Alwaysopenmind.com
Not just a phase
I thought it was a phase, that it would pass. I thought that if I just tried harder, worked harder, that it would all get better. I was nervous and irritable at home, but cool and collected at work. I snapped irrationally at my kids at times and my partner struggled to put me at ease. I did have good days where I would laugh and joke and smile and play, but even then the black thoughts were never far away.
“They’re better off without you.”
“If they knew how bad you were at your job, they wouldn’t respect you anymore.”
“He only loves you because he has to.”
“They only like you because you’re funny.”
“If you weren’t so selfish you would kill yourself. Then again, you’d probably even do that wrong and end up a vegetable.”
“You’re useless, worthless.”
Anxiety was like the school bully living inside my head. It’s a terrible beast of burden.
Anxiety is the art of deception for people who don’t know you. And for the people who do, it’s a constant stream of phrases like, ‘don’t worry’ or ‘you’re overthinking this’ or ‘relax.’ It’s friends listening to these conclusions you’ve drawn and not really understanding how you got there. But they’re there trying to support you, as things go from bad to worse in your mind.Alwaysopenmind.com
I was scared that if anyone found out what I was thinking that they’d laugh, or even worse, they’d agree. So the fear fed the secrecy and the secrecy fed the fear in a self-perpetuating loop of despair. And I felt trapped, like this was how life always was and always would be. I tried to rationalise with this unwanted guest, this intruder in my mind. I tried to argue my way out of it, privately. But you can’t ever win with your own subconscious. Counselling taught me that. The best way to stand up to bullies is to ignore them. Someone wise told me that worry is like a plant – if you feed it, it will grow. If you don’t, it will wither and die. So slowly, very slowly, I started to tell those I trusted what I was thinking. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t agree. They just loved me and comforted me and told me that none of it was true.
Help and hope
Loving someone with anxiety can be very hard. Often you will sense that something is wrong, but they won’t be able to communicate exactly what. It’s hard to tell if what they are experiencing is anxiety or something else. Some common signs that you may be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) are:
- Excessive worrying
- Irrational fears
- Chronic indigestion
- Muscle tension
- Stage fright
- Panic attacks
Of course we can all suffer from these symptoms from time to time, but if you have been experiencing some or all of these symptoms for six months or longer, or are struggling to cope with them, we recommend that you consult your doctor.
Next week we will look at coping strategies, treatment options and ways to support people affected by anxiety. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, please know that there are effective treatments out there – I am living proof! Talk to someone you trust, if you can. If you prefer, contact us at Aurora Wellness and we will be happy to offer confidential help and advice.
But more than anything anxiety is caring. It’s never wanting to hurt someone’s feelings. It’s never wanting to do something wrong. More than anything, it’s the want and need to simply be accepted and liked. So you try too hard sometimes.Alwaysopenmind.com
Image Credit: Veronica Dearly
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I am a firm believer in the old adage "love comes first". Self-love is the foundation of all love, but for many it is the most elusive. I am passionate about helping people to love themselves, so that they can be free to live their best lives.