Monday, 21 April 2014

111. The Anxiety Diaries - My Relationship with Anxiety

Today's post is somewhat more personal than usual, but it's something that I've been wanting needing to share for a long time, I just couldn't quite think of the words. 

For the last 5 years, or perhaps even longer, I've struggled with anxiety and - as I know that anxiety affects so many of us, especially in the blogging community - I wanted to share my experience with you lovely readers to help raise awareness and, potentially, help someone out there (even if it ends up just helping me, by expressing myself, surely that still counts?)

Anxiety is feeling nervous, worrying and/or panicking; it can affect your sleep, concentration and - in the long run - your whole life can suffer as a result. Although everybody suffers from anxiety from time to time, in some people it can be more extreme, affecting certain people each day and, on occasions, resulting in panic attacks.

Although I've only suffered from a handful of panic attacks in my lifetime, anxiety is something that affects me almost every day. For me, anxiety can be defined as an overwhelming fear and intense feelings of panic. A lot of the time I can't work out why I'm anxious or what's triggered it but, some recurring causes are arguments, where I'm left feeling vulnerable and upset, and social situations.

Anxiety is at it's worst for me when I'm faced with a social situation; this can be anything from going to a party with new people, meeting a close friend for coffee somewhere familiar or joining a new a club or course. I begin to worry that people won't like me, that I'm boring, that the other person doesn't really want to come... and then, boom, I've locked myself away in 'anxiety-land' where nobody can do anything to coax me out of it.

On days where my anxiety is at it's worst, I feel it coming on the night before - I'll be having a normal night; watching tele, cooking with Shane, texting, whatever, and then I begin to think about tomorrow, or the day after, or the week after, and gradually I shut myself down until it becomes obvious that none of the plans I've made are going to happen: because I won't let them. By the time the next morning rolls around, I'm bed or, at least, house-bound and unable to do anything.

I've lost so, so many friends as a result of my anxiety. Mainly because people don't understand - or rather that I don't want to tell people - about anxiety; when I text someone cancelling our plans for that day, week or month, it's met with 'oh that's okay, don't worry about it' until it starts to happen every time and then, after a while, people stop making plans with you because they know that they'll never actually happen. They think that I'm just unreliable, or that I can't be bothered, or that I've found something better to do... when, in reality, I feel as if I'm living in some sort of sh*t bubble where I so desperately want to go ahead with our plans for meeting for a coffee, catching a film or heading out for drinks, but only if it involves not leaving the house, not having to speak to anyone and nobody seeing me.

My relationship with Shane has been put under a lot of strain through my disorder too. Along with my anxiety comes paranoia too. If he goes to the pub, I convince myself he'll meet somebody else within 5 minutes and leave me... If he doesn't answer his phone, I think there's been a terrible accident... I'm not as bad with this as I used to be at the beginning of our relationship and I think that's because we've built up trust and I now feel secure in our relationship, but it doesn't mean that these illogical and irrational thoughts don't happen anymore - of course they do. I'm just more aware of them now which helps me to control them.

I'm a planner, organiser and list-maker by nature; I always have been, and this can both help and hinder my anxiety. I'm one of those people who very rarely 'lives in the moment.' I have a one month plan, a one year plan, a five year plan, a life plan. And when even just one thing slips out of place and doesn't go the way that I had meticulously planned it to, it shakes everything up for me and I'm back to square one.

But, on the other hand, I've found that simple and manageable to-do lists can really help to ease my anxiety. If I set myself achievable goals such as 1) Tidy bedroom, 2) Buy ingredients for dinner, 3) Text Penny to catch up, etc, each day I don't feel overwhelmed by 'all this stuff that I need to get done!' and, instead, I feel a great sense of achievement when I've ticked them off.

This is a little self-help trick that I'm going to try and incorporate more into my daily life, as well as breathing techniques (such as meditation before bed each night) and reducing the levels of stress that I'm exposed to each day through work, family life, etc. Unfortunately, at the stage I'm currently at with my anxiety, I don't feel that I am in a position to give out advice on how to cope with anxiety as, despite being in a better place with it than I was a year or two ago, I'm still not 'there' yet.

I'm not sure how helpful this post has been for readers, to be honest, but it feels good for me to have got it off my chest and even if one person can read this and say 'hey, that's exactly how I feel too... at least I'm not the only one... I thought I was crazy!' then, as far as I'm concerned, that's another goal achieved and ticked off the list.

I'm always here to talk if you're going through something similar.

Do you have any advice for anxiety sufferers?
Have you found this post helpful or insightful at all?