As I’m writing this, it’s 4am and I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because my mind is regurgitating conversations that I’ve had during the last couple of days. Literally repeating them in my head. Nothing urgent has been said. Nothing life-threatening, crucial or in fact majorly important has been said, but yet I am replaying conversations and questioning every word.
For me, this is part of the struggle with anxiety. I fixate and obsess about things that probably don’t matter to other people. That others don’t even think about. Yet these insignificant things replay over and over in my mind and I find myself searching for hidden meanings when often there is none.
It’s for this reason that I have decided to make sure that my words are precise and implore others to do the same. I say exactly what I mean and mean exactly what I say. This is hard for someone who has anxiety. The inner need to people-please often niggles but, I have to be precise as often people battle anxiety silently and you don’t know the impact that your words may have on others.
However, whilst I stress the need to be precise and clear, there are some really obvious things not to say to someone with anxiety and believe me, I’ve heard them all before. Not all of them are meant to cause offence, mostly people want to help, but few people understand mental health issues until they’ve personally experienced them, so lots of what they say offends and inevitably makes living with anxiety harder. I think the more open we are as a society about mental health, the happier a lot of people will become. Anxiety is already quite a lonely thing to cope with, let’s not isolate people further with misjudged words.
“I Need To Have A Chat…”
This often puts the fear of God into me and I start imagining all of the things that I have obviously done wrong. Those 6 words have had me convinced I’m being sacked, dumped, seriously ill or deeply offended someone. None of those events have been warranted. My brain just goes into overdrive.
The lesson to take from this? If you need to have a chat with someone who has anxiety, try to give a blurb about what the chat is about. Let them know the gist of the conversation so as not to send them into panic and conjure up all manner of reasons for the chat.
“Just Don’t Worry…”
Have you heard that? Don’t worry. Just stop it. Whilst we’re at it, asthma sufferers stop having difficulty breathing. Before you tell me that is ridiculous, asthmatics have about as much control over their lungs as someone with anxiety has over their brain. It’s really not as simple as stopping worrying. If it was, don’t you think we’d all do it. Nobody wants to have anxiety.
“Calm down! Why don’t you relax? Just chill.”
Yes ok, I’ll just do this. Thank you so much for informing me of this genius master plan that I hadn’t ever thought of. Believe you me, when my anxiety is at its worst, all I want to do is relax and calm down. Which then becomes damn near impossible because as well as fixating on whatever I’m anxious about, I’m also worried about appearing crazy, about not being relaxed and then it becomes a vicious cycle.
Having said that, relaxing is one way I do manage my anxiety. Taking time away from the source of my anxiety, practising self-care and focusing on something else does help. I just haven’t quite managed to do it in demand just because you tell me to.
“There are people with actual problems, you have nothing to worry about,”
I know I’m lucky. I have two beautiful, healthy daughters, a job I love and supportive family and friends. But just because on the surface, my life looks great, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own private worries. To be fair, I honestly don’t think it would matter if my life was perfect, anxiety is the problem. A very real and challenging problem that affects all kinds of people. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
“You shouldn’t take medication,”
There have been two times in my life when I have been actively discouraged to take medication: childbirth and anxiety. I don’t understand it, especially as my doctor would happily encourage medication for acne. Let’s be honest, there is no extra medal awarded for dealing with either without medication and with anxiety, it might make the recovery harder and longer. Personally, I think medication has helped me. It has taken away the physical side of anxiety, meaning that I now have the time and space to deal with my feelings and use all of the strategies that I’ve learnt through CBT and talk therapy (which I think are also a huge part of managing anxiety.) If you feel that medication will help you, talk to your doctor about suggestions and don’t be afraid to use it in conjunction with other strategies.
“It’s all in your head!”
Well obviously it is. Mental health issues by their nature are in your head. That doesn’t mean they are made up or imaginary just because others can’t see the torment that you might be in. A broken arm isn’t a more valid problem than anxiety. Any illness, physical or mental, that impacts on someone’s life is valid and should be treated as important.
As I am becoming more open about my anxiety, I’m also discovering that there is a long way to go before the stigma around mental health is removed. Even people who know I suffer with anxiety have looked at me, rolled their eyes and sighed when someone else is open about their struggle. I’m dumbstruck and unsure of what to say.
Instead of ridiculing people, we need to show empathy and understanding. I guarantee that by the time a person reveals to you that they have anxiety, it will have been bothering them for months, years even. The more supportive we are, the more open people will be, and hopefully seek help sooner, because we mustn’t ever forget that mental illness causes deaths. That’s how serious it is. Show empathy and compassion by being precise with your words and you could be saving a life.
Is there anything you wish people wouldn’t say to you? Let me know in the comments.