Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"It's all in your head"

"Are you sure you have to do that?"
"What happens if it goes wrong?"
"What if it's dangerous, or scary, or you don't like it, or you want to go?"
"How will you get out?"
"What will they think?"
"What if you fail?"
"What if you're ill?"
"You don't need to do it. You can just stay here"
"Go on. Stay here"

It's easier to talk about anxiety when you're not feeling anxious. It's easier to talk about anxiety when you're surrounded by people who understand you, people who are also anxious. So that's why I'm writing about it now, and why I didn't feel like I could six months ago. In the last year I've battled with epic anxiety, to the point where I worried about everything and to the extent where sometimes I didn't want to, or couldn't, leave the house. It is one of the most debilitating things I have ever felt. It's also one of the most consuming feelings I've ever experienced. It's a feeling I cannot vocalise, and I never could have imagined until it had gobbled me up. 

As a child I was never shy: I never had any trouble making friends, I revelled in the idea of meeting new people, I had no problem with being the centre of attention, and all I wanted to do was be on stage. I had never felt properly nervous around other people, or in new or different situations. I couldn't really understand people that were quiet or self-conscious - not because I thought there was anything wrong with it, just because that had never been me. I was confident in myself and in my own abilities - a trait which my Mum and my school had been really significant in instilling in me. There was very little to be truly afraid of. 

Sometimes feelings of anxiety come on slowly: they build up, gradually, so you don't realise what they're doing to you. Sometimes it's sudden: like one minute you're fine, and the next you don't feel like you can cope. Sometimes it's both. Moving to university, feeling unsettled, isolated and confused started it, I think. But it was absolutely manageable - just nervousness, you know? Last year I suffered quite a bad electric shock, from which I was lucky to walk away with only some very charred fingers and a pretty mashed up back. I was out of bandages and physio twelve weeks later. Mentally, I was a shadow of my former self. The trauma of the shock itself, the pain during the recovery, and the constant knowledge that I was "lucky to be alive" soon became a bit too much. There's something about becoming so aware of your own mortality that is terrifying; something which slowly drives you into a corner where death and destruction is all you can think about. I left the house mostly just to have my dressings on my hands changed or go to the physio. What do you do when you're terrified to leave the house, but you're also terrified to stay? When you don't want to plug anything in or turn anything on for fear that the same thing might happen again - but this time you're on your own, and who's going to look after you now? 

You turn to someone you love, and someone who loves you. For me, it was my boyfriend. You break down; he picks you up. He shows you what you've become, and he helps you get all the support you need to get better. It's really easy to drift into an existence of anxiety and normalise it, and sometimes you need someone to point out to you what's changed and who you are. Understanding that, talking about that, and seeking help for that is the biggest possible step you can take. 4 weeks of talking therapy and 8 weeks of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy  (CBT) later I could leave the house without feeling overwhelmed; I could eat out at a restaurant; I could be in the house by myself; I could begin to appreciate the things and the people around me again. That was the beginning, and now definitely isn't the end...but we're getting there, and I can talk about it. And talking about it has proven to be the best thing I can do: talking not just to a psychologist, but to friends who experience the same things. The knowledge that you're not alone in your fears, but you're one of many irrational humans trying to make their way through day-to-day life without becoming overcome by fear. Seeing the illogicality in others anxiety helps you to realise and reason your own. 

One day soon, I'll be the little girl who always wanted to be the leader, always wanted to be known, always knew what she was doing, always wanted to be at the centre of social situations, always wanted to be in the spotlight. Only by losing yourself can you find yourself again. To the anxious, the worriers, the hypochondriacs, the OCD-ers, the "I'm scared and I don't know why" - you're more than that, you're not defined by that, you'll come out the other side of that. Surround yourself with people you know you and love you and listen to you; realise it; talk about it; write about it. Don't fear it. 


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