Well, I’ve been having some down days recently, so I think it’s time I try and get some of those feelings onto paper! Or, onto a computer screen…
One of my biggest challenges to overcome recently has been my anxiety. It kind of crept up on me, because I started off with symptoms of depression, and so I kept focussing on that and attributing any issues I was having at the time to depression. To be honest, it never occurred to me that there might be something else going on. The first time I heard anything about it was when I went to my GP to have a medical record printed off for me, and while I was reading through it I noticed a new diagnosis listed on there- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), with depression.
Suddenly, everything made a lot more sense, and although I know there are many who argue against diagnoses, I found it really helpful to have two separate names for my two separate symptoms. It helped me change my way of interpreting my behaviours and thoughts, and it also allowed me to explore and express my anxiety in more detail and depth. Saying that, there is frequently an overlap between the two, and I notice that they often go hand in hand! In my case, I think a fair few of my ‘anxieties’ developed as a way for me to combat the lethargy and despair that I now associate with depression. It was, and to an extent still is, a way for me to cope with depression, and although it was effective in the short term, it has only led to more difficulties in the long term!
I want to try and explain to you how my anxiety affects me on a daily basis, and I think the easiest way for me to do this is probably to break it down into sub-headings of some sort… I’m sorry if this doesn’t make a lot of sense by the way. I promise it often doesn’t make sense to me either!
I find it really hard to relax
I associate relaxing with not working hard enough, and so on my days off, after I’ve slept in, or when I’m taking a lunch break, I feel incredibly guilty. I’m still not 100% sure why I feel the need to work really hard all the time, and needless to say this compulsion has been the subject of many a therapy session! It’s been a joint effort between myself and my therapist to deduce that I seem to have absorbed the expectations placed on people by society and the media to be a ‘good person’. Somehow, I feel like I need to work myself to the point of exhaustion to prove that I’m a good person, which is frustrating, as I certainly don’t define other people as good or bad based on this criteria.
So, I generally always feel on edge, unless I’m in a space where there is a very clear expectation of what I should be doing rather than working- Such as when I went on holiday (although this was still difficult at times), or when I go to my Krav class.
I feel anxiety physically as well as psychologically
It’s that ‘butterflies in your stomach’ feeling, but all the time, x 10. Sometimes x 20.
For a while I had some really nasty physical symptoms, before I realised what was going on and started trying to express my feelings outwardly instead of bottling it all up. I had awful stomach cramps, and mild nausea on and off like, all the time. I developed this weird twitch in my right eye, which would pop up in times of particular stress, and I experienced a horrible twinge across the front of my head (/brain?) too. Then my diet wasn’t great, very on/off eating, so I felt tired all the time and couldn’t concentrate. My sleeping patterns were very disturbed too- Despite being exhausted I find it very difficult to fall asleep at times!
I think sometimes, because anxiety is classed as a ‘psychological’ illness, people forget about the fact that your brain and your body are very much linked. Your mental state can have a profound effect on your physical health, which is yet ANOTHER reason why mental and physical healthcare should be treated equally, by the way. 😉
I feel like I need to apologise all the time
So, I worry a lot, about a lot of different things, and this manifests itself in many ways. For the most part, I keep my worrying private (as unhealthy as it is), but saying ‘sorry’ all the time is something that other people can definitely notice.
There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that I have low self-esteem (to some extent), and so I get pretty convinced that I always do things wrong, and that people probably don’t like me very much. Frustratingly, it’s one of the most resilient ‘maladaptive thoughts’ that I have, so even though I know in my heart of hearts that my friends and family love me, I just can’t shake the fear that I’ll do something wrong and they’ll all leave, or that they don’t really like me at all. It’s like there’s a little voice questioning everything all the time. “They were acting a bit off the last time you said hi. Are you sure they still like you?” Or, my favourite: “You forgot to do something for them that one time, so they probably hate you now.”
So my solution for this is to apologise incessantly, at the slightest mishap, or sometimes just when I’m not sure if I’ve done something wrong, just in case. It makes me feel less anxious to apologise, and it’s very uncomfortable for me when I try and stop, inducing massive amounts of guilt and self-deprecation.
I’m not scared of meeting new people, but I worry about social interactions a lot
This is very much linked to my about point regarding saying ‘sorry’ for everything. Meeting new people is something I’ve always really enjoyed. The ‘me’ without anxiety loves making new friends and meeting new people, but to my utmost frustration, I now suffer a lot for it. I worry about what new people think of me in the same way in which I worry about people I already know deciding they don’t like me for some unknown slight. I also don’t feel like I’m a particularly likeable or interesting person, but that’s a whole different issue! (Or is it?)
Sometimes I get scared out of the blue for no reason at all
This is the part of my anxiety that I understand the least. Thanks to lots of therapy and a psychology degree, I can see quite clearly what thought patterns are causing me trouble, despite the fact that I still find it difficult to combat them. But sometimes, I will be happily going about my day, when suddenly this wave of panic comes over me. It’s not a panic attack- I know what they feel like- but I will suddenly become aware that my body is displaying all the physical symptoms of anxiety. I get butterflies in my stomach, my heart rate goes up, I start shaking. And I also feel really on edge. I’m still trying to work out which comes first, the physical feelings or the psychological feelings, but in any case It can be really exhausting to deal with!
There’s no obvious cause, which sometimes triggers even more anxiety- “Why am I feeling worried? What’s wrong with me?”- And so I generally just have to go about my day feeling super-tense and uncomfortable.
‘Nervous energy’ has taken on a whole new meaning to me
Following on nicely from my previous point, whenever I feel anxious, whether it’s for no good reason at all, or obviously triggered by a stressful situation, I take on a huge amount of ‘nervous energy’. From what I can tell, this is a fairly normal reaction to stress. I remember when I used to do a lot of acting, I would get very fidgety right before I went on stage, as would most of the rest of the cast! However, with me, nervous energy is becoming something which hinders my day to day functioning. It stops me concentrating on work, as my mind flits about from one thing to another, constantly worrying about everything at once. I can almost feel it physically in my hands and arms, in my legs and feet, and in my shoulders and upper back. I can’t sit down for too long as that feeling will build up in my legs until it’s so uncomfortable that I need to get up and pace. Sometimes the energy will transform into frustration, and I start feeling very aggressive and angry. If I’m having a particularly bad day, I end up in tears on the floor punching the nearest thing to me.
So, it’s not so much just ‘nerves’. It’s a horrible uncomfortable itching feeling that will at best just stop me from working productively, and at worst will debilitate me for a time and sometimes lead to me inadvertently hurting myself when I lash out. It depends on how resilient I’m feeling on the day, and what the days leading up to it have been like. I suppose the nervous energy must build up as I experience the things listed above which cause me anxiety, and then culminate in me expelling it all in whatever way I can. It doesn’t always happen like that, as there are coping mechanisms which I can use to defuse the situation. But, despite my training in such coping skills, it can be very hard to implement them yourself when you need them.
I hope that this post helps with your understanding of anxiety, or offers you an alternative account of what anxiety feels like if you suffer from it yourself. Most probably, if you have anxiety and are reading this, then you’ll recognise a lot of the feelings I describe. I’d also like to point out at this time that you can have anxiety and not experience it like I do, or like anyone else does for that matter! Similar to when you catch a cold, you can experience some symptoms but not others, and still be classified as having ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’. If you have any concerns about your mental health, please visit one of the websites listed below for help and advice. You know yourself best- If something doesn’t feel right, please go speak to your GP or another healthcare professional, or even just someone you trust!
Thank you for reading. 🙂
Time to Change: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/
Rethink Mental Illness: http://www.rethink.org/
Mental Health Foundation: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/