Thank you for reading this latest of posts in my mental health awareness series.
I feel somewhat of a charlatan in that I was always extremely blasé where mental health was concerned until it hit close to home and affected me very personally. For that I can only apologise to those people who have suffered and to whom I paid little or no attention, even going as far as saying many were attention seekers and/or were allowing their condition to consume them. I now know it really isn’t as cut and dried as that.
I’ve done a lot of research on anxiety of late and have attended a number of different seminars based on that and stress; the two are palpably intertwined. It’s become clear to me that anxiety isn’t something new to me. The scary thing is that I think I’ve been suffering from it for a long time and not recognised that was what it was. My mantra of thinking logically and shunning what my emotions are telling me is likely the reason for that.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe thinking logically rather than emotionally is the right way to do it in most cases and one should always at least attempt to use logic when making decisions rather than acting with emotion-fuelled haste. Obviously, it isn’t always easy to do that.
What do I think anxiety is?
Well, I know that anxiety is essentially a dump of adrenaline controlled by our unconscious mind, the ‘old part’ of the brain, when it recognises a threat. This is known generally as the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. When faced with a potential threat, the adrenaline is released to give us a shot of energy. This energy enables us to either fight our way out of the situation we’re in or run away from it.
A person with anxiety is in almost perpetual flight mode. Their unconscious mind recognises a threat and tells them to scarper as soon as possible. They lack the impetus to fight or stand their ground in most situations. They even see harmless situations as dangerous.
This can be, and often is, very crippling for the host. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include, but are by no means limited to, twitching, fidgeting, procrastinating, sweating, nausea, forgetfulness, and being antisocial. While most people will get up in a morning and go through the rigmarole of a normal day almost on autopilot, your anxiety sufferer wakes most days dreading what’s to come.
What is anxiety for me on a personal level?
In its most basic terms, my anxiety is an irrational fear of the everyday mundane things. Fear may be a bit dramatic; I use the term for want of a better word. Perhaps ‘concern’ would be more fitting. I’m concerned about a lot of things. Time management is one of the main things. I’m forever worrying that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get done everything I want to get done. I worry about money a lot, which makes me rather frugal and I feel extraordinary guilt when I spend on myself, even if what I buy is necessary. I worry about my physical appearance to the point where I feel bad if I eat anything unhealthy. I’ve even cut back on drinking alcohol despite the fact I wasn’t drinking that much anyway. I could go on.
Where did my anxiety start?
That is hard to pinpoint. I think I’ve probably always suffered from it on some level. It was never as intense back in the day and I had the confidence to push down the walls that anxiety built up in front of me. At some point along the way it became much harder for me to do that. Looking back, I think the tell-tale sign that I was becoming consumed by anxiety was a sudden need for solitude. I started really craving it. Being surrounded by a lot of people became something I hated immensely, especially if it was people I didn’t know. It made, and still makes me feel, claustrophobic. Little did I realise I’d developed social anxiety. I still feel it now and it’s more intense than ever. I’m forced to use public transport to get to and from work and I hate it. That worry that somebody is going to sit next to me makes me feel sick. Walking through the busy Manchester City Centre is an experience I could do without also. I’m very irritated by the general public and am often unable to stay my tongue when someone does something I particularly don’t like. It really isn’t a nice way to feel when you’re walking around with pure, baseless loathing for everyone.
Understanding where, or roughly where, it all started is quite important in my mind. Oftentimes, the best way to solve a problem is to get to the root of it as severing the root could kill the rest of the tree. That isn’t necessarily the case, but it makes sense to me. The unfortunate thing surrounding my social anxiety is that it’s the strongest of anything that makes me feel anxious and I really can’t see how it’ll ever go away. At least not at present.
How does my anxiety make me feel?
I’ll answer that question in a specific way first. At the moment of writing this article I’m at work. I will stress that I’m not skiving. A host of computer systems we use are down, so I’m unable to do my job. There’s nothing I can do about this until somebody comes to sort the issue out for me. My anxiety makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, like everyone’s eyes are on me, like people are thinking “Look at him doing nothing while everyone else is working!”. I can feel my hands shaking. I keep bouncing my leg up and down. I’m constantly flexing my wrists and ankles, cracking my neck, and tensing my calf and abdominal muscles. I’ve recognised my involuntary behaviours when feeling especially anxious. Worryingly, I’ve noticed I’m performing these behaviours virtually all day.
I experience two states very prominently throughout the day: nervous energy and fatigue. I now know why this is. Anxiety, as already stated, is a dump of adrenaline. Adrenaline isn’t in endless supply. We have between sixty and ninety minutes worth of it before the supply is used up. When I’m experiencing anxiety, I feel as described in the paragraph above. After the adrenaline is used up, I feel tired. My anxiety is tiring me out.
In a more general sense, anxiety makes me feel out of control, illogical, and weak. I’m clearly unable to control my own mind the way I always thought I could. Anxiety makes me feel disappointed that I haven’t had the strength to fight it off. Anxiety makes me feel like I’m acting the victim when there are people out there with real problems. Anxiety makes me feel guilty. Guilt is all-encompassing. I feel it all the time for a variety of factors, even if I really ought not to. Feeling like you’re always doing something wrong, putting someone out, or not doing enough for someone is not pleasant.
So, I’ve answered all of these questions, yet I’ve failed to answer the original one:
What does anxiety mean to me?
Anxiety means business and it means trouble. I haven’t shown this debilitating condition enough respect down the years and it’s almost as though it’s come to me just to teach me a lesson. It means a manifestation of deep-seated issues that I’ve either ignored or have failed to sort out. On a long enough timescale, repressing these issues and letting them fester brings about the onset of anxiety. Failure to deal with the anxiety can lead to further problems such as depression. The two often come hand in hand and it makes me wonder which leads to which.
The effect this mental health condition has had on me and my family cannot be downplayed. It’s sent tremors through our unit and has vicariously created more anxiety on its travels. I’ve had to learn a lot about anxiety and what it does to a person. I at least now have far more extensive knowledge than I previously did to deal not only with my own anxiety, but that of people close to me.
Tips on how to minimise the impact of anxiety are available in a host of places online. Don’t be afraid to talk to your GP if you feel you’re suffering. Admitting to mental health issues is not weakness; it’s quite the opposite. Help yourself by allowing others to help you. The fight against mental illness isn’t a fight you have to endure alone.
Useful UK websites
A self-help guide for printing from Moodjuice
Useful US websites