Real Talk: Anxiety
Earlier this week, I read this great article by Kady Morrison which looked at '9 Things I wish people understood about anxiety', which I liked so much, I decided to do my own version, based on my own experiences of Anxiety. Some background, I have always been a worrier! I remember being as young as 5 or 6 and panicking about stars exploding (in hindsight I'm pretty sure I was seeing helicopters) and crying myself to sleep with absolute terror. I was a pretty smart kid, with an incredibly over-active imagination, and I can't help but feel as though these factors attributed to my constant worries. Fast forward a few years, and my 'worries' resurfaced with a vengeance in my second year of university, and it was around this time that they seemed to morph into anxiety rather than just a little bit of extra worrying. This really hit a peak when my Dad died at the beginning of my third year. Suddenly I was faced with death and my own mortality and my every moment was spent worrying about dying, and trying to hide this fact from everyone around me. After a year of bed-time panic attacks and day-long anxiety, I finally saw a councillor who confirmed that I have an anxiety disorder and weirdly, that made me feel better.
My anxiety makes me poo
Well, sort of anyway! There are a lot of physical ways that anxiety manifests itself, and for me, it's pooping. My biggest IBS trigger is worry and stress, which usually results in horrible tummy cramps and incessant poops. Which stresses me out. Which makes me poop more. It's a vicious cycle of poop and anxiety.
I never stop feeling anxious
Take right now for instance. I'm sat at home whilst Steven is at work. I am convinced that someone is going to break in and attack me (I have already worked out my escape plan and anything that would work as a weapon), or there will be a fire, or something will happen to the baby dragons, or a whole host of other things that I'm too scared to write in case they come true. Bed time is the worst because I'm convinced I'm going to die in my sleep. Even watching TV isn't safe because anything bad that happens is just another thing to add to my long list of things to worry about.
There are things people can do to help
Some things are pretty simple, for example, texting me to say you've gotten home safe when we hang out. If you don't, I tend to think something horrific has happened, and I'm too scared to call or text incase you checking your phone is the reason that something horrific happens and so I sit and worry and panic until I hear from you. Something as seemingly simple as making a cup of tea, or having a bath tends to result in imagining a painful and elaborate accident. One thing that makes me worry is when people say things like 'I need to talk to you later'. I will rack my brains constantly until we meet trying to work out what I've done wrong. Sometimes this gets so bad that I actually wretch with nerves.
Mental health all seems to be interconnected
Kady's article addresses the link between anxiety and depression and I have to agree with that, however, for me at least, there is also a link between anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. I show a lot of obsessive compulsive traits as a sort of coping strategy for my anxiety, which gives me another thing to worry about - have people noticed my weird ticks?! I've never really had, or at least noticed, an obsessive compulsive actions in myself until my anxiety got particularly bad so it all seems to be interlinked.
Sometimes I make jokes about it.
That doesn't mean it doesn't suck, I usually make jokes when I feel particularly shy or awkward, or when I'm worried that the person I'm talking to feels awkward.
We love you
I'm very lucky to have a pretty great support network. It's easy to feel a burden to those around you when you know that you're not the easiest person to be around. Steven will often tell me that he wishes I didn't have to feel anxious all the time, not because it's annoying for him, but because he knows how hard it is for me, especially on the nights when I am too anxious to sleep and he stays awake calming me down. I appreciate this. Katherine will always make a point of reminding me that my feelings aren't my fault and are totally valid. I also appreciate this. Some friends never mention it at all, but make an effort to avoid topics that make me nervous (such as my inevitable death) and I appreciate this too. You can be there for someone without having to make a huge effort to learn all about their triggers and comforts. By not just running away, you are wonderful, and trust me when I say, I appreciate you.
The most useful piece of advice?
As Kady says: "As for what you should do, much though I appreciate your making it to the end of this article, there is no advice that I, A Stranger On The Internet, can give you that will be better than the advice that they, The Person You Actually Know Whose Specific Experience You Are Concerned With, are going to be able to offer. They know themselves, and that makes them a lot more likely to know what they need than I am. You'd be surprised by how many people are afraid to even ask the question. Do not worry, friends. The anxious person in your life? They know they are anxious. Your bringing it up is unlikely to startle them."
There is no better way to put it than that. People are inherently different and that's what made me want to write this blog - to explain my experiences better. If you want to understand a person in your life with anxiety (or anything else really), just read articles like Kady's - the more you know, the easier it will be for everyone. Asking what you can do to help them (if you ask in a nice way, at an appropriate time) is generally a kind and useful thing to do. I have a few friends with anxiety, and the things they need are different to the things I need, so it's always best to ask.
Now, I'm off to the kitchen to make sure no one has snuck into the apartment whilst I've been writing this... Armed with a blunt pencil for protection - just in case!