‘Understanding’ Anxiety

Understanding anxiety is no easy task, even for those who suffer from it. As with anything, it affects everyone differently. Some people have panic attacks, others don’t, but those who don’t have panic attacks aren’t necessarily suffering less than those who do. I myself very rarely have panic attacks, when I do they are usually induced by me being trapped in a room with a spider, while the spider is just going about it’s spidery business trying to find flies wondering why there’s a human girl sat in the corner hyperventilating. I know how horrible they can be (panic attacks, not spiders) and feel great sympathy for those who suffer with them on a regular basis.

At the moment I keep seeing various cartoons, articles and videos trying to explain what anxiety is for those who don’t know. I think this has both a positive and negative effect. It is fantastic that people are talking about it and opening themselves up to the world, but often these pieces are presented as ‘this is what anxiety is like’ (often not by the author themselves I hasten to add, but by the sites that share them) whereas someone else may suffer from it differently.

One you may have seen is this one comparing anxiety to being in the rain. This is a pretty good way to describe it, though it doesn’t completely match up with how I feel about anxiety. If it were me, I’d be so worried about being rained on that I would have gone out with a coat, umbrella, waterproof trousers, walking boots, and a boat and then be paranoid that people would think that I was weird for being so hyped up about the rain. On the other hand, you may look at it and think ‘that is exactly how I feel about it’ or ‘I know someone who feels like that’ and it helps you. I think the danger with these is that people begin to think that anxiety falls under an easy definition. The website that shares the illustration about being stuck in the rain lists it under the heading ‘here’s an easy way of understanding anxiety’ when it would be better to say ‘here’s a way of understanding how anxiety can affect some people’.

I have my own way of describing how anxiety affects me, and I’m still working out how best to put that into words (who knows, maybe I’ll do my own cartoon), but the basic gist of it is that I feel like there’s always something following me, sometimes it’s right up close my heels and trips me up, others it’s way back in the distance, but I know it’s there somewhere (hm… I don’t think I’ll make Poet Laureate any time soon.) If anyone fancies sharing their own comparisons then let me know, I’d be very interested in hearing them!

When it comes to talking about anxiety, I would say to those who don’t suffer from it, don’t try and fit someone who is confiding in you into a definition you picked up from someone or somewhere else. There are several anxiety disorders, and each is characterised by different symptoms. Be sensitive. To those who do suffer with it, don’t feel that you don’t deserve to feel bad because someone else appears to have it worse than you. Everyone deserves help!

The NHS has a fairly good break down of the effects anxiety can have which can be found here and provides good information on what the different anxiety disorders are. Again, not everyone will have all the symptoms, and other people will have symptoms that aren’t listed (I kept on getting this weird bubbling sensation in my leg which a doctor assured me was a common anxiety symptom which I found no mention of on the website. I was freaking out convinced I had a blood clot or something.)

Just remember: everyone is different and everyone experiences things differently!

graham chapman monty python Life of Brian john cleese british comedy

graham chapman monty python Life of Brian john cleese british comedy

graham chapman monty python Life of Brian john cleese british comedy

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Images sourced from here!

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Anxiety and Me

I don’t want to spend too long on this, but I will briefly talk about what my relationship with anxiety is just so you know where I’m coming from.

The first time I really remember being affected by anxiety was when I was eleven. I just remember constantly feeling that I was failing, I’d forget a piece of homework, or not complete something and I’d get into panics. These were panics where I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so afraid of getting into trouble, but the more I panicked the more unable I was to get things done. This was when I developed trichotillomania. For those not knowledgeable about what trichotillomania is, it’s an impulse disorder characterised by the urge to pull out your hair (thank you for the simple definition, Wikipedia.) While practically balding my scalp didn’t make me the coolest kid in the class – I spent the next few months with my hair in a ponytail to hide the bald patch – the moment mum spotted the patch was the moment that we realised something was wrong.

The thing with anxiety is that you don’t always look anxious on the outside. Combine that with someone like me who tends to healthily bottle up their problems and you have a recipe for complete meltdown. When I was that young, I couldn’t vocalise what I was feeling, I don’t even think I understood what I was feeling, so all that stress released itself through me pulling out my hair.

The next time I had a bad bout of anxiety was halfway through Year 11. I can’t really say what I was feeling, mainly because when I try to remember that period (January and February in particular) the only thing I can visualise is the colour black. That and the week the skin on my face completely dried out and went flakey because I used the wrong skin cleanser. Fun.

It took me until about the Easter holidays of Year 13 to actually sit down and think “there’s something wrong, and I need help.” By this time it was very hard for me to think positively about myself.

Being on my own was awful.

There were many times at school when during free periods I’d end up locked in a cubicle in the girls toilets crying because I was convinced that the reason I was on my own was because no one liked me. I was stupid. I wasn’t going to pass my exams. I was worthless.

I don’t know what it was that suddenly made me realise I was unwell, but luckily I did and I ended up with a brilliant counsellor. I passed my exams, went to uni and spent four years of my life feeling great. I went Japan, made great friends, met my lovely boyfriend and then graduated with a good degree. Things were going well for me.

Then I started looking for work properly, and along with that I was visited by an old friend. Hello anxiety! What I noticed this time around was how much it affected me physically. I lost weight, my stomach seemed to constantly hurt (cue convictions of bowel cancer), my chest hurt (cue convictions of heart problems), my head hurt (I’m definitely dying), I felt sick, was sick, lost my appetite – I didn’t feel great. Mentally… well, let’s just say job seeking and rejections take their toll and don’t lend themselves well to happy thoughts. By October I had a collection of diagnoses, IBS and some betablockers to help my chest chill out. I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it’s by far the best thing I could have done. After three sessions my scores were already down from severe anxiety and depression to moderate to low, and at the end of the six sessions I was checked out feeling good and having got a grip on things.

Obviously, anxiety is something that is always there for me. I still get pains, I still have betablockers, but I also have a good set of skills that help me keep my anxiety from exploding all over the place and making a big old mess.

The main thing I’ve learnt:

It’s okay to not be okay.

Let us begin…

First of all, I have a confession to make. I haven’t yet listened to¬†The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or read the book… But it is next on my reading list and I saw the film with Martin Freeman in it. Once. A long time ago. But anyway, I’m getting distracted. (I will listen to/read it, I promise.)

Second, the point of this blog. Most people who know me will be aware that anxiety is something that I’ve had to deal with for a significant amount of my life. This blog isn’t all about me going into my personal life and talking about all the times I’ve felt anxious, but more an account of things I’ve done and tried to combat it, or help me feel better. I want this to be a place where people can come to read about techniques that may help and have somewhere where they feel like someone understands what it’s like living with anxiety. It’s also for people who may know someone with anxiety, so that they can better understand what they’re going through.

I do want to stress that this blog is not to replace seeking medical help. If you haven’t previously spoken to a doctor about your anxiety, or if you’re reading some of the posts and think that sounds like something you’re currently experiencing, please go talk to someone medically trained. I can’t diagnose you. Some of the things I talk about may not work for you; anxiety affects everyone differently and different techniques work for different people.

So, let us begin…