A friend of mine recently asked me how life is going. I said to him, imagine you are the shy kid at school and you are being forced to perform the lead role in the school play every day, and no one has given you the script. It’s that!.
He was quite confused, the line went quiet for a moment and then he said something along the lines of ‘what the ….. ?” we laughed a bit , and I quickly had to explain that I hadn’t taken up a lead role in the West End or any other position that requires me to be on an ‘actual’ stage 5 nights week , but it was in fact the quickest summary I could come up with about how I have been feeling in recent months, without boring him , or me with the tedious detail.
Ah the tedious detail!. In the back of my mind there is always this feeling that I should be ok now. That this has gone on long enough, it is all a little bit boring and I should just be ok. It is this feeling that has led me to be estranged from some of my friends for a longer period of time than I envisaged. Its been the ‘I just need to be ok first and then I will reconnect with them’ , and ‘I’ll just wait until I have good news and then I will call them” and one month leads into 12!, it’s very scary how quickly time flies when you are trying to put your life back together.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is very personal and as you would expect means different things to different people. It can show itself in many ways and can be terribly debilitating. I have suffered with anxiety off and on for a few years now, however never quite to the degree I have in the past year. I can usually control it , and the majority of time I just avoid situations that I know are going to make me feel anxious, this of course is not the best course of action, and it is certainly no long-term solution, however sometimes it is the easiest and least painful at the time.
It’s the feeling of being absolutely out of your comfort zone, the fear of the unknown, being in situations that you cannot control, and not being able to see a way out, so you start the ‘what ifs’, the wonderful ‘what ifs’ , they are obviously all worst case scenarios, they are all the things you fear that may go wrong. When I have suffered with bouts of anxiety before I have always fallen back on my anchors of familiarity, my home , my job, my surroundings. This time around because I didn’t have any of them, they were all taken away from me, I did not have that grounding, and that made it a little trickier to manage.
OCD and Me
In recent months, I have also developed some OCD behaviours, that again, are quite time-consuming and irritating. On leaving the house, I lock the door, get in the car, get out of the car , check the door is locked, reverse off the drive, stop the car , get out of the car, check the door is locked ,get back in the car drive off!!. For someone who has not suffered with this kind of thing before , it is , as you can imagine , a bit of an irritation, to say the least!. I sometimes even find myself as I am walking towards the door to check it AGAIN!, saying to myself in sheer frustration, “the doors locked, you know you locked the door don’t you!”, but still I have to go through the ritual.
The same with locking the car, I lock the car, walk away from the car, turn and press lock, and STILL have to walk back to the car to check the car door. It is tremendously frustrating. It is only when I spoke to a friend of mine who explained that she developed the same habits when going through stressful time that I realised it was all connected, she told me that talking herself through the process is sometimes helpful, and I am finding it does help. Now as I am locking the door , I repeat to myself ‘you have locked the door’ over and over until I get in the car and am able to drive off, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the days it does work means I am a step closer to winning the battle!.
The worst thing about anxiety , is its unpredictability. I have recently had a few days away which was great, and exactly what I needed. I left on a high and started my drive back home, as I was driving back to my life I started thinking about my situation, driving the opposite way on the motorway to way that felt most natural. Thinking about going to back to work. Thinking about the magnitude of the upheaval in my life, wondering when I will start to feel normal again, will I ever feel like me again?, and before I knew it the nauseous feeling that had been brewing in my tummy, started to travel up to my chest and I started to feel like I was being suffocated, like my lungs were about to explode.
I was unable to get my breath, my chest was tight and all I could hope for was a sign for the services so I could pull over, which luckily enough came sooner rather than later. I pulled over, burst out of the car that all of a sudden started to feel like it had been removed of all oxygen, and started to try to get my breath back. Luckily through practicing yoga I have learned some breathing techniques that are really useful and I started to put those into practice and slowly bring myself to a place of calm again.
There are lots of different breathing techniques out there to help with anxiety and panic disorders and my best advice would be to have a look on you tube, there are lots of videos on there, try some and find one that suits you, practice it , and keep it in your bag of coping mechanisms to call upon when you need it most. Dont be unprepared.
I say don’t be unprepared because it is the most unlikely things that can trigger feelings of anxiety too and the things that on paper you think should, actually don’t.
As an example, In less than a weeks time I will be going to my brothers wedding. I am very much looking forward to such a special day, I will be surrounded by family and friends in an intimate and loving environment, but already the anxiety cloud is hanging over me like a bad smell. Immediately after this I am going to a rugby game where the capacity of the stadium is 82,000 people, I have no idea who I will be sitting next to! and oddly this doesn’t phase me at all. I am not sure of the exact number of people at my brothers wedding , but it is not 82,000 and the likelihood of sitting next to someone I know is pretty high!, and that is anxiety in a nutshell, it sometimes unexplainable, unpredictable and it certainly doesn’t play by the rules.
The driving force that helps me to pro actively manage my anxiety is my absolute determination that I want to overcome it. I refuse to be defined by it and I will not miss out on any part of life because of it. Having an awareness of it helps, practicing breathing techniques, getting out in the fresh air, all cost nothing but work wonders.
I enjoy going for long walks. When the walls feel like they are closing in, and this can happen from time to time when I am at work, rather than go to the gym afterwards where I will be surrounded by even more people, I go for a long walk along the beach and focus on my breathing.
If I am feeling stressed about going out that day or being around others, I find that wearing sunglasses helps, or a baseball cap!… or both!, the difference this makes shouldn’t be under estimated!.
Avoid alcohol!, or should I say, avoid using it for ‘Dutch courage’ and I speak from recent experience on this. At the time it doesn’t end well, and for a few days after you certainly don’t feel well, I don’t just mean the dreaded hangover, I mean the butterflies in your tummy , the shortness of breath, the low mood, all of this is magnified by alcohol and just exacerbates the problem you are fighting so hard to overcome.
My advice is read, read enough so you are forearmed , but not too much so that you get consumed. Find a balance, find what works for you and never give up trying. “You are not your anxiety”.
Thank you for reading.
Lots of love,