Entry 1: Diary of an Anxious Mind
Is it just me or are we all worried sick? Is anxiety threading its way through society and manifesting itself in various forms? Travel anxiety, separation anxiety; health anxiety; social anxiety; phobias; panic attacks? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t harbor one of these afflictions?
For me, anxiety has always felt normal because it’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve been panicking and fretting since I was two years old. It’s only now that I realise that it doesn’t matter whether anxiety is ‘normal’; it’s a question of what is healthy! And my anxiety certainly isn’t healthy.
To use a popular new expression, anxiety can be ‘life limiting’; not necessarily in a near death or physically disabling fashion, but it may shrink your view and experience of the world; it may leave you in a permanent state of ‘fight or flight’; it can give a nasty edge to the day. And yes – it can exhaust you.
My earliest memories are of feeling anxious. As a small child, I didn’t worry about the kind of things I should have been worried about, like whether the ice cream van would turn up. I worried about proper worrying things; Would my new baby sister be OK? Would the house burn down tonight? Would my dad make it safely home from work?
Where did this groundless anxiety come from? All before the age of five? My childhood environment was stable and happy; there were no experiences which could have reasonably left me in this anxious state. Hence, I can only conclude that I was simply born this way.
Perhaps if I’d told someone how worried I was they would have reassured me – but I didn’t tell anyone; not my parents, not my teacher or my dolls or my hamster. I can’t remember why but I kept all of my fears to myself. I just swallowed the bile and let the anxiety brew.
And brew it did. Now I’m in my forties – and far from growing out of my angst – I’ve grown into it. I worry about Armageddon; I worry about living, about dying, about starving children, lonely pensioners, abused donkeys and the mole on my shoulder.
I worry about being with people and not being with people. I worry about the funny look that someone gave me and I fret about the worm which is making its way over the hot pavement on a Summers day. Will make it to the grassy patch before the sun dries out its thin skin? Should I pick it up and take it to the grassy patch myself? And then beat myself up about whether it definitely wanted to go there?
I rarely mention my head state but I don’t need to because I have found that it is possible to be happy AND have anxiety. It is possible to lead a normal life, do normal things and have normal relationships. Unless you feel like telling someone, nobody needs to know if you foresee catastrophe wherever you turn; or that you are not processing life events in a productive fashion; or that you are overthinking EVERYTHING to the point of paralysis.
It’s not that I haven’t attempted to deal with my anxiety. In fact, I’ve tried everything to combat my fears; counselling, self-help books, Kalms; meditation tapes, yoga, emotional freedom techniques….. the list goes on, but I’ve been somewhat half-hearted about it. I like instant results and, if I don’t get them, I lose interest. My anxieties have ebbed and flowed over the years so I haven’t always felt bad enough to be chasing a solution.
Not any more. Anxiety is now a daily battle. I wake every morning, heart pounding and feeling like I have been injected with black ink. My first waking thoughts are always horrendous; will a loved one die today? Will there be news of a dreadful atrocity when I switch on the news; and what exactly will my body look like in thirty years time?
Fortunately, I tend to feel better once I get into the day but it is exhausting to spend the first few hours like this and to know that an underlying fragility might persist all day; that I won’t be able to cope if I read about global tensions; that I will break down if I accidentally step on a spider.
Worrying about things doesn’t stop them happening; but depleting one’s mental energy by fighting and hiding so much pointless daily fretting means that there is no emotional resilience to deal with real life events. Quite simply, I need to get a grip of this.
I have decided to launch my anti-anxiety strategy. I am going to be more conscious of what causes anxiety and I am going to take it by the throat; I’m going to revisit all of the therapy and coping techniques again. And if laughter is the best therapy then I’m going to have plenty of that too.
Oh yes – and I’m going to blog about it – I’m going to take one of my long held ambitions to ‘do some writing’ and I’m going to give an honest account about it all.
So here it is – “Diary of an Anxious Mind”. The laughs, hopes and fears of a professional panic merchant.
Next Week – “Doctor, Doctor – I can’t stop worrying!”