me and my anxiety
It starts with an idea: one tiny little thought that sprouts like a seed inside my head. “You’re going out tonight,” the idea will drawl. The idea always speaks casually, as though all of its observations are no big deal.
“Yep,” my brain will answer back. “I am. What of it?”
“Well,” the idea will continue. “How many people are going to be there?”
And, from this moment, the idea shoots and grows until it’s not just a sprout, but a jungle of tangled vines and thickets that suffocates everything else. My brain – the part of myself that I like to think is logical and rational – tries to keep it under control, but can’t. The idea has taken over.
“It’s going to be fine!” my brain will shout. “Just because there will be a lot of people there doesn’t mean anything bad is going to happen. Just relax! Be yourself! It’s going to be fine!” But in the background the idea keeps rumbling. It doesn’t go away. “How many? How many? How many?” it whispers over and over and over again.
By the time I get to where I’m going I usually feel sick and faint and reluctant to be there. Sometimes I’ll tip right over and have a panic attack – my heart will race, my stomach will churn and my whole body will feel like it’s surging towards something catastrophic. On some level I know that what I’m feeling is nonsensical, and maybe even a little bit silly, but brains and ideas don’t always make sense. Sometimes they just make anxiety.
At some point we all experience anxiety – the nerves before a big test, shyness around strangers, the fluttery stomach before speaking in public. A lot of the time these nerves can be helpful, but for some people, including me, these feelings can be consuming and debilitating.
For me, the smallest things can act as a trigger: crowds, scrutiny, situations without a clear escape. Any combination of these three can be especially difficult; being seated in the middle of a crowded theatre, for example, is hard. The pangs of lightheadedness start when the house lights go down and when the curtains open, the heart palpitations kick in and my stomach will rage and gurgle like a squally sea.
When these feelings start, I want nothing more than to get up and go as far away as possible. Many times I have wished for a portable flying Segway so I can zoom up, up and away without having to push past people to get out. But on some level I always know that I should stay – that I need to – because if I give in, if I get up and leave, everything will just get worse.
It took me a long time to deal with what was wrong. I was convinced I could handle anxiety on my own; that I could cure myself with positive thinking and high fives. But I couldn’t. I tried and I tried and I couldn’t. Anxiety draws you in and holds on tight. You can’t just shake it off like you would a bad movie or crawling insect. Coming to terms with my own anxiety meant adjusting my concept of self: I had to accept that I was emotional. I had to accept that I could be irrational. But I also had to accept that this was OK.
With help I learnt how to weed out thoughts and silence ideas. Shutting down anxiety can be enormously satisfying, but it’s also a constant battle – anxiety is always lurking, just waiting to resurface. You start a new job; you have to give a presentation; you’re in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket. These battles can be difficult and tiring, but every day I am winning. What keeps me going isn’t the small victories, but the knowledge that one day I won’t have to worry at all. One day I will win the war.
This story comes straight from the pages of frankie feel-good, a one-off issue dedicated to mental health. Head here to find your closest stockist or pick up a copy from our online store.