‘What have you got to be anxious about?’ Ahh, my favourite question to get asked. One that, for a long time, stopped me talking about my issues with anxiety. Okay, I do have a pretty good life, granted. I have a job I love. I have a nice home, a good family, loads of friends, the cute little dog. I’ve had a nice childhood. I’ve never really experienced any real trauma or grief. Nice holidays. Nice clothes. A good education. I look okay. I have a decent personality. So why on earth would I struggle with, sometimes crippling, anxiety, right? Wrong.
Anxiety is a strange illness. It doesn’t care how pretty you are, how popular you are or even how happy you are. I’ve found that I have a kind of two-toned anxiety. The anxiety is there. Loud, life-shattering, segregating and stubborn. One day, about three years ago, it was just there.
Anxious about being anxious
Then there is a secondary anxiety, brought on by the question, ‘What have you got to be anxious about?’ I have obsessed over finding the source of my anxiety, to no avail. And I mean obsessed. OCD is now also a big part of my life. Not the hand-washing, flick the light switch 8 times kind. But the kind where my thoughts are continually infested by thoughts of ‘If you don’t get your cleaning done today, you are a failure’, or ‘If you don’t finish that pile of work before 6 pm, everyone will hate you’. That kind of OCD is crippling, as many of you will know. The question ‘What have you got to be anxious about’, increases the anxiety.
I have never self-harmed but I’ve been tempted. I’ve never considered suicide but I’ve reached a point before where I’ve understand why people do it. It’s not selfish: it’s an escape for people. Because sometimes it feels like there is no escape. I feel guilty most days, because I know that I have nothing to be anxious about. And I am happy. Never mistake anxiety for someone not being happy.
I feel guilty most days
Sometimes I wake up anxious. Sometimes I can wake up in a fabulous mood. Then, at some point of the day, an overwhelming sense of dread just washes over me. Other days, I have a day without anxiety. But typical of anxiety, even when it’s not really present, it still is present because I get anxious about when the anxiety will return. Tomorrow? Next week? The irony of anxiety. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve had dozens of panic attacks. I’ve made myself physically ill. Talked about it. Not talked about it. It’s trial and error isn’t it?
On the surface I am confident, self-assured and strong. And some days, I am those things. I can stand up at work, talk to 60 to 80 people about really difficult topics and not be anxious about it. Yet, on the same day I can go home and have a panic attack because I dropped a spoon and the noise made me jump. Again, the irony!
Anxiety doesn’t make you a failure
I am passionate about work, sociable and often seek out adventure. Anxiety doesn’t always take those things away, it just makes them more difficult. I know that many people have suffered so much more than me. Probably to the degree of it changing their personality. That must be difficult.
What helps? Exercise. Talking about it. Crying. A hot bath. Walks. Reading. Accepting that anxiety doesn’t mean you are a failure. Or that it doesn’t mean you’re not happy with elements, or all, of your life. Accepting that anxiety does not choose its victims based on age, class, life experience, personality or anything else. It just is sometimes. The more I accept that, the more forgiving of myself I am. Which helps. Sometimes. Not all days.
I know I need to carry on working on me. But also, we all need to carry on working on other people by talking about mental health and reducing stigma and increasing awareness. Then maybe one day, people will stop asking ridiculous questions like, ‘What have you got to be anxious about?’ 🙂