“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe
Anxiety is a topic that I struggle to talk about. But I do believe it is an important one because so many people in our society suffer from anxiety disorders. It is estimated that 18% of the US adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can be so destructive and disruptive. They can completely paralyse a person. I struggle to talk about it or face it because I feel like I would be stigmatized or shunned. It makes me feel weak and pathetic. Yet, I would never think somebody else was weak or pathetic if they were to talk to me about their mental illness. So I decided I would write a post about my experience with anxiety just to put it out there.
I have been suffering from a bout of Anxiety – or an Anxiety Attack- for the past two weeks. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which means that I am constantly anxious but it varies in severity and the past two weeks have been horrible. It has been so difficult to keep my routine and even more difficult to stick to things outside of it. And every time I have not been able to live up to my inevitable expectations of how things will go or how they should be or how I should just be able to deal with it, I have felt like a failure. This perfectionism was driving the anxiety even more. I was struggling to be mindful of what was happening and I just wanted to escape it all. So I have been struggling to work. My house has become a disaster zone. Some mornings I couldn’t even get dressed and driving anywhere became almost imposable. Yet I had to do it. This is a very frightening and debilitating feeling.
You can easily end up comparing yourself to all the other people who don’t find it difficult to do these things. I have been sitting in my studio but nothing would happen. Nothing would come. And if I did work I would just immediately destroy it. I couldn’t even look at it. I have written many blog post attempts in this past week and then deleted those. I tried to write about other topics. Topics that weren’t Anxiety related but this was impossible.
How Anxiety feels:
It started with an ominous feeling. Something in the atmosphere seems to vibrate at a high frequency, never ceasing. This annoying buzz that seemed to be outside of me was interfering with my mind. My stomach started to churn and then it was as though my mind started to search for the reason for this feeling. My body seemed to start the fight, flight or freeze response before I had consciously recognized that I had something to worry about. I can’t place the trigger and then I start searching my mind for it: for some rationalization for this feeling of impending doom.
This means that I often end up making up reasons for this feeling. Or I can’t place it and so I end up feeling very paranoid about every little thing. Every response from other people is weighed. Can they be trusted?
I was so frustrated because I was exercising and meditating and even taking my medication. I was doing everything ‘right’ but this state wouldn’t go away and I started to feel as though I might slip deeper and deeper.
Six things I have learnt to be true about Anxiety:
After so many years of dealing with this I have realized that I always make the same mistakes and then it spirals out of control. So I decided to focus on the things I know:
1. I am being irrational. The fact that I feel incompetent and mistrustful is just a symptom of the anxiety. It does not mean that it is true.
2. This feeling will subside. It will inevitably feel better after time and being a perfectionist and getting depressed about it will only aggravate it.
3. I must keep my routine. Even if I get nothing done it helps to just sit in my space and just be. I need to keep the structure otherwise things spiral into a feeling of instability. But it is ok if nothing actually is done during this routine. I just need to show up. This is incredibly difficult and that is ok.
4. I must not isolate myself. I tend to become a hermit when I feel like I am a huge burden to other people. But this can easily become a situation where I become so lonely and focussed on ruminating that it leads to a deepening of the Anxiety and even switches into Depression.
5. Anxiety will always be there. It is not something you can fight or suppress. Sometimes it will bubble up stronger and sometimes it will be somewhere under the surface. But will show up and it will always be there.
6.Mindfulness is not a cure. Meditation, Mindfulness as well as exercise, medication and other stress relieving ’tools’ are there to help manage the Anxiety. They help a lot but Anxiety will still show up every now and again. In my experience these attacks are less frequent and less severe and I have a different view of it because of the lifestyle changes I have made.
I focussed on these and just tried – sometimes successfully and sometimes not – to keep my routine. And it calmed down. I always feel somewhat anxious but right now it is manageable.
If you have somebody in your life who suffers from an Anxiety Disorder remember that they are aware that it is irrational. They are aware of how they come across.
The best thing to do is just to be understanding because then you become a safe space. This does not mean enabling or indulging avoident behavior. It just means that this person will be able to relax a little bit and break the cycle a little. Don’t shun their experience. They know how it sounds.
Do you or someone in your life have an Anxiety Disorder? How do you deal with it? I would love to hear about it.