Thursday, 21 July 2016

Real talk: I have generalised anxiety disorder

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder in December last year.
I've been trying to find a way to write about it for the last 8 months, but as you might expect, writing about my anxiety makes me, well,  anxious. 
But I know I need to talk about it. I know we need to talk about mental health more. I know we need to remove the stigma. But it's hard to talk about your own brain betraying you. It's hard to talk about how small parts of every day life can be overwhelmingly difficult. It's hard to talk about not knowing where your personality ends and your disorder begins.

I've always been a worrier. Always. My Dad always joked that my favourite phrase is "I'm really worried." I've worried about everything for as long as I can remember. It's hard to know when it stopped becoming normal, or if I just had different ways of coping with it. I knew it was time to get help when I found myself sobbing uncontrollably because I was half an hour behind my prescribed schedule for the day because Phil and I had chatted in bed longer than I'd planned. 

I don't remember what I said to the doctor. I remember crying. A lot. I remember ugly, gasping sobs, an unsympathetic tissue, a stoic reception. A form to fill in. A referral for counselling. The suggestion of medication. For me, being diagnosed helped. It made me realise that it wasn't normal to feel like this. And that, in a strange way, was reassuring.

I remember that walk back to work. That desperate need to tell someone, but at the same time to not wanting to make a fuss, to not want anyone to treat me differently, not wanting anyone to think I couldn't do my job properly. Telling a manager, being asked "what can we do to help you?", not knowing the answer.

And that's the problem with anxiety. I don't know what anyone else can do. I wish I could tell you to rub it better or put a plaster over where it hurts. But I can't. Because I don't know where it hurts. You can't just tell me to calm down. 

I've noticed in the people I know who have anxiety that we tend to be a certain type of person (this is just my observation at least). We're the people who always want to do better. We're always putting pressure on ourselves. We're the hard workers and the perfectionists and the people pleasers. We're the ones who never, ever feel like we're good enough.

And this is the part that scares me. I don't know who I am without my anxiety. I don't know where my personality begins and my anxiety begins.

My anxiety is deeply rooted in not being good enough. I'm tremendously influenced by other people. But other people's achievements don't spur me on, they destroy me. I don't feel jealous, I feel inferior. I find it hard to relax because I feel like I should always be doing something better. I should be reading more, I should be learning another language, I should be blogging. I shouldn't be wasting time. I should be getting up earlier. But then maybe I also should be getting more sleep? I get a pang of joy whenever someone tells me I'm so organised or so healthy or so good at planning or so productive. But is that my anxiety winning? Is everything I do just anxiety management?

Is everything I do a symptom of my anxiety, or a way to control it? My list-writing, my planning, my obsessive organisation. Is this just the house of cards I build to protect myself, in constant fear of that gust of wind that will tear it all down? Is it my anxiety that pushes me through marathon training? That fear of failure and need for success? All my planning, my habits - are these just the ways I try to stop my anxiety from rearing its ugly head?

I plan everything obsessively because I'm scared of the unknown. As soon as there is a slight change to my schedule - a lunchtime meeting where food will be provided, or someone coming over for dinner - I'm straight into my Notes app to update my meal plan. I have to do it right away. I plan my weekends, I plan my free time, I plan my shopping lists, I plan my exercise schedule. Everything is planned and organised, because the smallest change can absolutely floor me.

Just saying that makes me feel so pathetic. That I can't cope with the every day inevitability of change. Or I suppose I can cope. You likely wouldn't notice if I was having a complete meltdown. It's all in my head. Which is good, at least, because I don't want people to know that I'm struggling.

My anxiety comes in peaks and troughs. I can have a few good weeks, then a few bad ones. Anxiety is sometimes described as "anxiety and low mood" and sometimes I have a few days of an unshakable low mood that seems to come from nowhere. I can get on with my life - I would never call it anything like depression - but I just feel like I'm under a little black cloud.

For me, counselling didn't really work. I had six sessions under the NHS, but didn't really feel I made any progress. In those six sessions, over the course of about 3 months, I think I just moved into a non-anxious period, thought I was getting better and that was that, until the dark cloud returned. I'm too scared to try medication, although I've heard good things, because I'm scared of how they might change me.

But I worry (bad choice of word there...) that I'm not addressing my anxiety at the moment. I worry that the things I love - the high pressure of marathon training, for example - aren't good for my mental health. I'm worried that I let my anxiety win too much. That I don't relax enough. That I let the guilt beat me too often. I worry about being hard to live with. I wonder if Phil would love me more without my anxiety.

I'm in a trough right now. I think about my anxiety every day, my mood is lower than usual and I feel like I'm battling a thousand different thoughts in my head at once that I can't write down or "plan out" fast enough. I'm trying to take time to relax, but I end up "planning" my relaxation, or feeling guilty, although I know relaxation is one of the main treatments that work for me.

I don't talk about my anxiety a lot, hence why this is hard to write, but Phil has been amazingly supportive. He knows when to try to calm me down, when not to. When to help me work through the problem. When to just let me talk. When I need to not talk at all. I know my anxiety makes me difficult at times, but he never makes me feel like it's my fault.

I don't know what I want to achieve from writing this. I'm scared people will treat me differently. I'm scared of being thought of as a delicate little flower that can't cope with the world, because I'm not. I'm tough enough to get through the day fighting my own brain and my own quickened pulse and shallow breath. I don't want this to be "brave" because I don't want talking about mental health to be a brave thing to do. I'm scared to talk about this but I'm also scared not to.

I just wanted to say something. Because I don't like to keep things from people. And I want other people to know if they're struggling they're not alone.

Blog comments or Facebook or Twitter aren't the place for this. If you want to talk, drop me an email - girlnextdoorfashion@gmail.com

And now I just have to press "publish"...

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