I’ve documented here before that I struggle with anxiety and to be brutally honest, I’ve painted at times a rather romanticised view of what it’s like to live with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. One of the main reasons that I tended to post the rose-tinted view rather than the more realistic experience is because whilst I wanted to share my story, and needed an outlet, I was scared of the stigma attached to mental health issues. I didn’t want to be labelled as crazy, abnormal or crucially an unfit mother.
Whilst I stand by my previous posts, because there is a certain amount of strength required when you’re battling your own mind before you even tackle the day, anxiety is more than that. It’s not always easy for me to see the strength it gives me and frankly, sometimes anxiety wins the battle in my mind. That’s why, in the interest of presenting a balanced and more truthful account of my personal experience with anxiety, I thought I’d explain where I am with it today. Because the last few days have been extremely challenging, and if they have been challenging for you too, I want you to know that you’re not alone.
What anxiety feels like for me
Anxiety is an ever-present part of my life. It’s the reason I don’t sleep very well. It’s the reason that I double, triple and quadruple check arrangements. It’s the reason that I need to be told things umpteen times because when my head is full of worry, I forget much of what I’ve been told. The Boy can attest to this, he’s incredibly patient to give me constant reminders for almost everything.
Anxiety is the reason that I don’t focus. I can never do just one task at a time. To explain, two days ago I was working during my lunch hour, which for teachers is far from unusual. What was unusual was that I was doing one task on my laptop, another on my iPad, whilst writing notes in my diary and using my phone to check on my girls. All 4 tasks were bothering me, and because in my head they were equally important, causing me anxiety. I wanted to get them all completed but because I was in a fog, I was unable to prioritise and focus my attention. Therefore, I was unable to complete the tasks sufficiently and creating more panic because I hadn’t completed them.
Anxiety for me often looks and feels like inadequacy. I worry that I haven’t done enough at work, my kids aren’t dressed well enough, my flat isn’t tidy enough. The list goes on. I’m the person that can hear 99 compliments and chose to focus on the 1 development point. And obsess over it long after the person who said it has forgotten it. Inevitably, this has implications on my relationships, because there’s only so many times that people can tolerate having their comments and compliments rebounded and thrown back in their faces. Then I’m alone and the cycle of anxiety worsens.
Ignore the stigma around mental health
Until today, only a few people in my real-life knew that I suffered with anxiety, simply because I was embarrassed. I was ashamed that it made me less of a person, less of a mother. Somehow I must be weak.
Conversely, most people I know are aware that I have SVT. I had to ask myself why a heart condition seems less embarrassing than a mental health issue. I didn’t make either of them happen. Nobody did. And yet one I hide, and one I’m quite open about yet it’s the one that I hide that probably impacts on my life more on a day-to-day basis.
I am completely convinced that the stigma surrounding mental health is the reason why I have battled it on my own for so long. I’m not the only one. This is why I’m telling you, if you wouldn’t battle a chronic physical disorder like diabetes on your own, you shouldn’t do so with your mental health.
Say How You Feel
I’ve felt quite alone with my anxiety battle for quite some time. As I’ve stated in my previous posts, I am the queen of saying I’m fine and a lot of the time presenting as if I am actually perfectly fine. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman or I’m hiding behind the famed ‘British stiff-upper lip’, but everything is always fine in my world, regardless of the truth.
Someone told me today that they would never have guessed that I have anxiety as I’m usually so bubbly. She’s right, I am quite good at acting like I don’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders. (I have to say that I’m waiting for my Oscar and starring role with Ryan Gosling because clearly I can act.)
The façade is tiring. It’s hard having to remember the part of happy, normal person when you have had very little sleep and your mind is making you worry and panic. Eventually the tiredness and the act gets too much to bear and inside you’re begging for someone to help but are too scared to drop the happy face. Again, this is where the disparity between mental and physical health come to play. I wouldn’t hesitate in telling people that I had a migraine or a tummy bug to explain why I was feeling sub-par, yet the thought of telling people that I was feeling particularly anxious to the point where at times it is debilitating, horrified me. Anxiety, like all issues concerning mental health, needs to be discussed openly.
It’s more common than you’d think
Another thing that I’ve learnt today is that I am not alone. Nearly everyone that I have spoken to today in my pursuit of remedying my anxiety and healing myself, has experience of dealing with mental health issues, either their own, or helping loved ones. At a time when I felt isolated and alone in my experiences, this was comforting to know.
As my doctor said, it’s not normal. but it is common with 1 in 4 of us in the UK suffering at any given time. With this in mind, I am going to start asking people how they are and actually listening more carefully to the answer as often it’s what we don’t say that gives us away. But if you are struggling right now, you are not alone. I want you to know that.
Help Is Out There
This is the most important step that I have realised today. Help is out there if you want it. Everyone around me today has stepped up to offer emotional and practical support. I will be eternally grateful to the colleague that asked me if I was okay and stayed with me when I cried and helped to reassure me that I would be okay. My employers have been equally supportive and in lots of ways the support of others, including my close friends, family and The Boy, have almost given me the permission to speak to mental health professionals, something I was scared to do.
And I am so glad that I did, the therapy has been arranged, as has the specialised bereavement counselling that I personally need. Medication is an option too, and whilst at the moment I remain unsure about it, simply because of conflicts with my heart medication, I realised that I’m not less of a person for taking medication to get better. One thing I’ve learnt today is that I need to do what is best for me. Simple as that.
What’s next for me?
At the moment, I’m off work and taking the much-needed time to regulate my sleep and eating patterns in order to ensure that I can tackle my anxiety issues with a clear head. I want to beat this, not only for me, but for my girls. I do not want my daughters, particularly my sensitive eldest, to become susceptible to mental health issues if it can be avoided. I want to set them the right example of sorting health issues, whatever they may be. I’m also going to be taking the time to address some of the questions in my mind around losing my mum, and I think that will be especially difficult.
I’m going to explore the link between diet, exercise and anxiety. This is something that I have dabbled with, but like most things I struggle to actually commit to because I’m always moving onto the next thing to worry about. I’m intending to focus on my mental and physical health and hopefully improve both.
I’m also going to continue blogging. Writing for me, even about highlighter and foundation is an outlet. It helps me to feel like myself. I will be continuing my beauty posts and reviewing products because that’s my passion. I don’t want to lose my sense of self amidst the healing that I need to do. I want to live my life in a different way, I don’t want to become a different person so I’m pretty sure I’ll be rocking Kat Von D on the school run and Jeffree Star in talking therapy.
Alongside my usual posts, I’m pretty sure that I will be writing about my anxiety and sharing my experiences of the journey that I’m on, because I want to end the stigma and think the best way to raise awareness is to be open and honest. Whilst I will still be blogging, I think I will significantly reduce my time on social media, simply because I need time and space to process all of the last few days if I am going to heal. The biggest hurdle has been recognising that I needed help and going out to look for it and for that, I’m proud of myself.
Has your life been touched by mental health issues? How have you managed it?