By Marié-Louise Bellivent
Smile. Just keep smiling. Don’t stop smiling. That’s the theme I function under although inside, I am anxious and hurting.
Most days I can almost pass as a ‘normal’ human being. I can carry out all my roles and responsibilities as a parent, partner, adult etc., without having a meltdown or needing a bottle of wine. Like everyone else, I get up, get the kids dressed, make breakfast, turn on the dishwasher, and get some laundry sorted. I may even find the energy to straighten my hair or put on some make up. To almost everyone I see that day I will just appear as another person going about their business, with the same worries and hopes as everyone else.
Except I’m not the same.
My Days Are Full of Anxiety Laden Thoughts
Even on my best days, my head is buzzing. From the moment that I am awake, I am inundated with anxious thoughts and feelings, and the depression I experience is always there waiting in a dormant form, waiting to strike. Every look, and every word anyone says is scrutinized in my mind. I question the tones of voices, the body language used and the turn of phrase within an inch of its life. The questions about other’s motives inundate me.
Are they saying what they really mean? Do they even like me? They keep looking at my chin, do I have a spot? Do have food or toothpaste on my face? Should I try and wipe it away or will they notice and then feel guilty for staring?
I don’t want them to feel guilty, even if they don’t like me. I’ll wrap the conversation up and leave, but I always keep smiling, whatever I do I don’t stop smiling.
My Anxiety Doesn’t With the Conversation
My anxiety doesn’t end when the conversation is over, that will stay with me for the rest of the day. I will continuously be checking the mirror for any abnormalities on my face, I will avoid talking to others, and I will look at the floor when I’m walking around a busy place. Occasionally, this may stop me from leaving the house, the car (my safe places), for a day or two, but then I will let my phone die and not bother to charge it so I don’t have to talk to anyone. My partner will do the shopping and school runs for me, as. the slightest interaction can zap my energy for hours. After a day at the university surrounded by 300+ people I so am mentally exhausted, I can barely hold a conversation together some evenings. After 17 years of this, it now impacts on me physically as well in the form of the discomfort of fibromyalgia. This pain is constant and has several dimensions.
Clinical Anxiety Isn’t Just Panic Attacks
The point I’m trying to make in this piece, is that clinically diagnosed anxiety isn’t just severe panic attacks. It is a constant, happy or sad. It’s a pattern of thinking that is exhausting and at times, can be destructive. It is not like depression that comes and goes in differing severities dependent on circumstances, it is as much a part of me as my morals and values. Over time I have stopped it from controlling me and my actions, but it is still influencing my feelings every day and will do I so for the rest of my life.
But, somehow, I won’t stop smiling.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here