I have always been a nervous person. As a child, I would worry about getting in trouble for the tiniest things (and yet somehow manage to overlook the big things that would really cause problems). I always studied harder than anyone else in my class because I was terrified of the consequences of imperfect grades.
As an adult, I can look back on those concerns and laugh, because I have bigger worries and because dropping five points on my Maths GCSE was not really the biggest deal in the world.
But even though I can look back and laugh, I probably shouldn’t. Even as an adult, even in the full knowledge that the things I am worrying about are ridiculous, I still manage to. I worry about the possibility that having left the dishwasher not-quite-closed might kill my cats. (My brain rationalises this because there are knives in the dishwasher.)
I worry that I’ve not locked the door at night, to the point where I check it five to ten times before I finally allow myself to fall asleep. I worry that every meeting with my boss might lead me to be fired, and that every tiny mistake at work will be a black mark against my name.
I worry on my own, and I worry in groups of people. I worry whether I’m in environments I’m comfortable with, or environments I’m not. I worry whether I have a lot on at work, or whether I’ve got nothing to do. I worry about being unprepared for wet weather on a sunny day in 42 degrees in the middle of the scorching Australian summer.
The point, I suppose, that I’m trying to get to is that I am slightly more than just a nervous person.
My name is Amy, and I have an Anxiety Disorder. To be specific, I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, with an occasional side-line in Panic Disorder. And I want to be completely open and honest with you (the internet) about this.
It is Monday morning and I am sitting at my desk, completely paralysed. It’s 9am, and I’ve been in the office since 8:30, like always, but this morning I can’t think or breathe or read.
I can’t make out the shapes of the letters on my computer screen, and when the shapes begin to form, I can’t translate them into words. My vision is blurring and brain feels like it’s full of stones or cotton wool – a weight that’s both heavy and light at the same time, but is completely obscuring my mental ability.
The reason for this, I am well aware, is that I didn’t sleep last night. I woke up around 2am and I remember the passing of every hour until 6:15, when sleep finally came back to me for the brief 20 minutes before my alarm went off. I don’t know why I was awake for so long, but I’m pretty sure it was my anxiety.
I can hedge a bet that it was because, at around 6pm last night, I was suddenly gripped with the all-consuming fear that I’d not completed an order for promotional t-shirts for work correctly. Rationally, I know that I probably did do the job properly, and also that even if I didn’t, the world will not end because 220 t-shirts arrive a week later than expected.
I probably lost a night’s sleep to this fear, and with it the entirety of the following day.
Today, I will sit at my desk and try to bash out the easy tasks – the ones that don’t require complex software or much brain power, and I’ll call that a success.
Sometimes, getting to my desk at all is the best I can hope to achieve, and anything I manage on top of that is a bonus.
Today is one of those days.
Anyone with an ongoing medical condition of any kind will know that, as soon as your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues (your cats?) find out about it, they will suddenly become experts in your health and wellbeing, and start offering new and absurd suggestions for how to treat the problem.
Over time, you learn that this is normal, and that you have to accept it, and that smiling and nodding is the only solution. You learn that you know how to look after yourself better than anyone else ever will, and that if your doctor has not suggested the weird and wonderful treatments your loved ones are offering up, you should probably dismiss them out of hand.
Anxiety disorders are no different, except that they are completely different.
When someone offers up a bizarre new treatment for my Coeliac disease, which they read about online, I can take the steps I listed above without concern. I can accept that they mean well, but are ill-informed, and I can go on with my day as before.
When someone suggests a new mechanism for coping with stress, or that I might need to talk to a specific person who is not my Psychologist about the way I deal with things, or that I don’t look like I’m coping so well right now and do I need am afternoon off, I cannot be that rational.
They are offering a solution to my anxiety which goes ahead and induces the problem to a greater extent. Treatment with help valium. I worry that their concerns have some foundation in reality, and that I look for all the world like I’m about to snap. I worry that I haven’t noticed the signs of an attack building, and that I am on the verge of hyperventilation.
I worry about this until it comes true.
I am telling you all of these things – I am talking to the internet at large about this – because I know that I am not the only person my loved ones, friends, colleagues and cats know with an anxiety disorder. But, I am one of the only ones who’s open about it.
I am telling you all of these things because I hope that, one day, the stigma around mental health conditions will lift, and that people will feel more comfortable talking about their conditions. I hope that this will mean that they can get the support they need from their loved ones, friends, colleagues and cats without worrying and without judgement.
I am telling you all of these things in the hope that, if you recognise any of this in yourself, you can get the help you need.
I am telling you all of these things because seeing a Psychologist on a regular basis has changed my life. I am on the road to recovery, and the paralysis I felt this morning, which used to be a regular occurrence, is becoming more and more out-of-the-ordinary for me.
I am telling you this because I am finally at a point in my life when I am no longer ashamed of the way my brain works and the things it does which are “abnormal”, because I know that they are not abnormal.
In Australia, where I live, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of the population will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.
In any one year, 2 million Australian adults will suffer from anxiety. In their life-times, one in three Australian women will suffer an anxiety disorder.
What I am going through is not unusual, and what I’m feeling is nothing to be ashamed of.
And so, I’ll work through this Monday morning paralysis, and I’ll get something done today, and I’ll go home feeling proud of that fact. Tonight, I’ll go to sleep, and I’ll start afresh tomorrow, and I’ll know that I am not alone, and that I am coping.
And I hope that you will, too.
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