i live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). which means that anxiety presents itself to me every day throughout the day. as much progress as i have made in therapy i still find myself getting sucked into what i like to call the anxiety vortex. part of my recovery has involved recognizing when i start to head down into the rabbit hole and using tools to take a step (or a lot of steps) back. i hear from more and more people that it’s a challenge to identify anxious behaviors for what they are, so today i am going to talk about some of my own red flags and what i do to help myself when they come up.
develop body awareness. an important place to start recognizing my anxious behavior was my own body. many of us perceive that anxiety is all in our heads when in reality it is also very much physical. when my thoughts start to race and indecision kicks in i turn my awareness away from my mind towards what is physically happening to me. when my breathing has become faster, when i start sweating, when my palms tingle and when i sweat, i know that my anxiety level is increasing. our physical reactions to anxiety are highly individual – some people experience headaches, stomachaches or backaches, while for others the breath becomes quick and shallow. beginning to notice what happens in my body and how it feels has given me a powerful way to spot anxiety symptoms. even if i’m not sure what is making me become anxious, taking note of my physical changes helps me to slow down and…
take deep, slow breaths. the first time i learned about deep breathing was in the psych hospital. yes! i thought. i’ll just breathe and the anxiety will stop. it didn’t work. i was still panicking. while i doubted if it was helping me at all i stuck with it for months and months. mainly because every therapist and psychiatrist told me to do it so i figured there was something to their advice and at that point i had nothing to lose. it took a lot of practice for breath work to make a difference. while taking deep breaths in the midst of a panic attack will help to a certain extent, i have found that the real power of deep breathing happens every day. when i am thinking ahead about my day, or driving to work, or at my desk or cooking dinner. i don’t wait until i am in a full-blown anxiety crisis to breathe deep. as soon as my thoughts start racing or i feel any of my physical symptoms, my deep breathing kicks in. sometimes i leave my desk for a few minutes and stand outside and breathe. or i pull over and inhale, exhale. it’s something i can use anywhere to help me hit the pause button and reconnect to my body.
examine the everyday. for me, anxiety isn’t as focused on major catastrophic events. rather it’s hidden in my daily activities. from choosing what to wear to planning an event to buying a gift i become obsessed with finding the perfect solution. from small decisions to big ones, i will compare and check every and all options until i have exhausted myself. before my episode of major depression and anxiety in 2014 i didn’t think that i had an anxiety problem. shopping, overachieving, people pleasing, fear of failure – now i can look back and see that anxiety defined many of my personal and professional habits. becoming educated about anxiety disorders has helped me a lot. now i know what to call it. i know what the symptoms are and can connect them to my own behavior. as frustrating as it can be at least it makes more sense. and i’m not afraid to get professional help or take medication. it sure beats trying to deal with it on my own.
intervene in the moment. anxiety is like a snowball – once is starts rolling downhill it’s very difficult to stop it. body awareness, breathing and knowing my symptoms are only one side of the coin. the other is actually changing my anxious behavior, which in the moment is extremely difficult to do because the momentum is so powerful. whatever need is driving the anxious behavior feels urgent and dire – and for me that is usually an underlying fear of rejection or not being good enough. over time i have found that i can almost always look back and see that choosing the perfect dress or arranging the decorations just so wasn’t so important in the grand scheme of things. often times anxiety isn’t really about what we are anxious about.
there are a few tools that help me intervene with myself in the moment. one is just walking away. if i am getting sucked into indecision and keep checking, researching or going back and forth, i gently encourage myself to drop it or just leave it for now. or i set myself a timer on my phone – ten more minutes to check different options and then i need to stop. i keep a bottle of lavender oil in my purse so that i can pull it out and smell it at moments when i feel the anxiety rising. it distracts me and engages my senses in a different way. i talk to myself, sometimes out loud, and recognize that i am feeling scared and ask myself what else i can choose to do to help me feel safe. exercising, going for a brief walk or even just standing up and stretching helps me to reconnect with my body and takes me out of the intensity of the moment. having some backup activities handy helps – cooking, crafts, watching a movie or cleaning can help me choose a different path.
don’t be afraid to ask for help. i have come to realize that anxiety is common. in fact it’s the most common mental illness in the united states. so very many others experience symptoms of anxiety, even if they aren’t diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. while i don’t wear a sign around my neck that says ANXIETY PROBLEM, i do talk to family, friends and even some colleagues about it. i can’t underscore how much this has helped me. it has shown me that i am not alone. i learn from how other people cope with it and i help them by sharing my own experiences. and i feel less isolated when things get tough. those who are closest to me can help me recognize when my anxiety is becoming stronger, and while that isn’t always easy to hear i do appreciate it. they wouldn’t know how to be there for me if i didn’t share.
getting to know my own anxiety has been the key to help me unlock it. i used to gloss over behaviors that concerned me and didn’t tune into how my body reacted to stress. while it has been difficult to face, it’s almost a relief to understand how GAD impacts me from day to day. the more awareness i develop the less often i find myself sucked down into the vortex. without that knowledge i couldn’t get the help i needed from others and most importantly i couldn’t get the help i needed from myself.
During my 3 weeks of work experience, my cousin invited my 2 sisters and I to her birthday dinner. It was at a restaurant in central Edinburgh, and she’d invited about 20 people. My youngest sister couldn’t go because she was working. I initially didn’t want to go as I didn’t know anyone who was going except my middle sister and my two cousins, and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to go out clubbing (which is what was planned for after the meal). However, I decided that I would go along to the restaurant in an attempt to face my fears.
Unfortunately, the entire evening, and the conversation going on around me, reminded me of the song (if one can even call it a song) that I took the title from (I definitely wouldn’t choose to listen to it, but I was subjected to it). I was really anxious throughout much of the evening, but my sister is the only person who knows about my anxiety (my cousins know absolutely nothing about my mental health problems), and isn’t usually particularly helpful/ supportive. I didn’t want to mention that I was anxious in front of everyone, so I texted her. She looked at her phone, gave me a couple of (probably condescending) pats on the shoulder, and then went back to talking/ boasting to our cousin’s friends. My two cousins were also obviously busy talking to other people, so I was pretty much sat twiddling my thumbs, wanting to leave, and trying not to have a panic attack, for most of the evening. My cousin’s boyfriend’s sister sat next to me at one point and attempted to have a conversation with me, but I was obviously too awkward for her, as she soon moved her chair over to a group of other people. So on one side, I had no one sitting next to me (which made me feel even worse about myself, and like an extremely weird and unlikeable person), and on the other, I had my sister constantly boasting to my cousin’s friends about university life, her boyfriend/ sex life, clubbing/ drinking, and so on. The weird thing is that my sister told me before we got there that she didn’t really like that particular group of people, yet she spent the entire evening trying to one-up them.
Maybe this is just me being really bitter and grumpy/ weird, but all the conversations going on around me seemed to be very superficial and vapid. Like I said, it seemed that most people were talking/ boasting about their social lives/ nights out, and about various things they did while drunk. Now obviously, as someone who has a virtually non-existent social life, perhaps I just interpreted it this way. But with my sister at least, she certainly did seem to be trying to make herself/ her life appear better than the lives of the other people she was talking to. I just found it all rather odd. Then there was the guy who kept loudly boasting about the fact that he’d once managed to take over a hundred selfies on another person’s phone without them noticing. I felt like saying to him: “What do you want, a medal?” I felt like a complete alien, being there.
At the end of the evening, people were trying to convince me to go out clubbing with them, but by then, I had had more than enough anxiety for one evening, and just wanted to go home. Thankfully, I had work experience the next day, so used that as an excuse for leaving early. I didn’t enjoy the evening at all, and spent most of it just waiting until I could go home. I can’t tell if I wouldn’t be able to get on with most people my age, or if I would be able to get on with more like-minded individuals. What I quickly realised is that I didn’t have much in common with those people. I feel so alienated when it comes to most people my age. And I think that most of them see me as being very weird/ antisocial. Oh well…at least I’ve learned (I think) not to force myself to go along to social events if I feel that I probably won’t enjoy them, and don’t have much in common with the other people there.
I’ve already wrote about explaining your anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it but we’ve not yet heard it from the other perspective. My lovely boyfriend Shay offered to write a guest post for us, so we can learn more about what it’s like on the other side of the coin. I’ll just cut to it and leave you in his capable hands…
“Hello, my name is Shay, Kel’s significant other. She’s let me have a go on the ole’ typewriter to give you an insight on what it’s like living with someone who has anxiety and to share some of the pointers that I’ve picked up along the way.
Since being in a relationship with someone who has anxiety, I’ve learned to think differently about certain situations. It’s not just me anymore, we’re a team. Something I might be perfectly comfortable with, Kel might find extremely difficult. I think things through a lot more thoroughly and view it as if I have anxiety myself, I wouldn’t make her do something I wouldn’t want to do if I had anxiety for example.
Here’s some of my tips if you have someone with anxiety in your life…
Living with someone who has anxiety
Limit surprises. I’m not talking about the kind of surprises where you buy her flowers and chocolates or leave notes on her desk because those are nice, welcomed surprises. I’m talking about turning up with half of the Wu Tang Clan at 5 in the morning. Give as much prior notice to your plans as possible. Bringing unexpected visitors to the house without warning isn’t fun for someone who suffers with anxiety.
The same goes for limiting changes to plans. She’ll have probably been up all night going through every shit scenario that could happen and mentally preparing herself to tackle the situation, so changing plans last-minute puts a spanner in the works. In some situations, not having time to over think and get worked up about it can be a good thing but that’s not always the case and most of the time changing plans on someone with anxiety can bring on an anxiety attack.
You might have to be flexible on where you sit in a restaurant. She’s most comfortable with her back to the wall so she can see what’s going on around the room. If she has her back to the whole restaurant, she feels a little bit paranoid and doesn’t enjoy herself as much. This means I always let her pick where she feels comfortable sitting before I sit myself down. There may be times where the waiter/waitress sits you on those fucking awkward bar stools and you have to be part of the travelling circus to get up on the fucking things, when this happens I always ask if we can be seated somewhere else because if she’s sitting somewhere that makes her anxious, she’s not going to enjoy herself.
Walk into places first. Being a true gentleman, this wasn’t standard for me, I always went to open the door for her and let her walk in first but now I walk into places first, especially new places. Usually when you walk into a pub or restaurant, people always notice you coming in out of the corner of their eye and automatically have a look, so if you walk in first and have 50 faces glaring at you it’s bound to make you anxious. Now I always walk in first to take the hit! I also scope out the toilets when we get in there so she doesn’t have to walk around in front of people to find them.
Be okay with leaving places early. Just knowing that she is able to abort the situation and get the fuck out of there if she wants to is often enough to make her panic less about going there. If we can leave whenever we want, it makes her feel less trapped.
Not leaving them with new people. It’s hard enough for someone with social anxiety to meet new people as it is, without being abandoned. So definitely don’t introduce her to your family and your friends, then leave her with them to go check the football scores for an hour. It will not go down well, trust me. P.S. sorry babe
Find things to help them relax. Whether it’s cuddling, brushing her hair, giving her a hand massage. Something that doesn’t take too much effort for you to do, might mean the world to them. If it helps to take their mind off the anxiety and keeps them calm, it’s worth it. Plus, extra brownie points can’t be bad!
Don’t ever make them feel guilty when they’re having an anxiety attack. You never know, it could even be your fault!! Seriously though, anxiety attacks are confusing, mentally and physically draining. The last thing you need to do is go and make them feel guilty for something that is out of their control.
Let them handle it their own way and in their own time. Making them feel rushed is only going to heighten their anxiety. No one needs a deadline for overcoming their mental illness. Chill your balls and let them take their own pace.
Not to completely contradict myself here but whilst trying to protect them from things that make them anxious, you don’t want to go overboard and wrap them in cotton wool. Kel has a number of techniques to help her overcome certain aspects of her anxiety, including exposure exercises and things she learnt in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I let her decide when she wants to face her fears, like when she orders my food for me… and not just because I’m too nervous to order it myself, or because I struggle reading English, let alone French or Mexican! It’s not only about helping them not to feel anxious but also about being a support network for them when they want to tackle their anxiety. Sometimes just being there for them and cheering them on is enough.”
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hello. my name is amy and i have a shopping problem.
for me, shopping isn’t shallow. it runs deep, deep, deep into my past. underneath appearances and right into the heart of how i coped with pain.
aside from the night before he died, my last memory of my dad is in a store in santa barbara, california. we were on a family vacation and he offered to buy me something new. i picked out a bright orange polyester dress (that was totally cool by nineties standards). when i thanked him, he said to me, “that’s what dads do for their daughters.” and i felt loved.
one month later he died. and my whole world fell apart.
in the months following his suicide there was so very little pleasure in my life or in the life of my family. it seemed that the only weekend activity we could come up with was shopping. so at fourteen i began making my weekly pilgrimage to tysons corner. for a couple of hours i got a break from the bleak and shitty reality of life after my dad’s suicide. i got to walk around a world that was bright, organized, friendly. (to this day, the smell of the mall makes my brain flood with dopamine). salespeople approached me, asking how they could help. i felt taken care of. i could pick out something new that would make me feel temporarily put together, temporarily ok. and i could put that item in a bag and take it home with me to wear the next day. a little bright spot, a little present for a sad little girl whose father went away.
the habit sunk in – my solitary teenage coping skill. when i was a sophomore in high school my mom had a bizarre health scare where she lost her short-term memory for 48 hours. i was scared out of my mind but i had no parents to console or reassure me – one was dead and the other was in the hospital. so i went to my room and took the several hundred dollars i had been saving for a trip overseas. i drove myself to my safe place – the mall – and spent it all on whatever i wanted. giving myself the gift of momentary relief from a chaotic and frightening reality.
i kept it up, through high school, through college and as an adult. my need for shopping grew and grew from a teenage passtime into an adult problem. i was drawn to it as a means of coping with mental illness – it was an outlet for my anxiety and offered some relief from the persistent sadness of depression. by looking good on the outside i could mask what was happening on the inside.
but i began to realize just how much time and money i was spending on shopping. how i frequently invented reasons to buy something new. i purchased more clothes than i could ever wear. i felt compelled by a gnawing anxiety that kept me hunting, searching for that sense of completion that i felt when i would buy. and the “high of the buy” didn’t last very long – i almost immediately moved on to the next thing that i had to have. addiction is a vicious and unrelenting cycle and i found myself sucked in.
i have often asked myself, “what are you looking for? what is it that you really want to buy?” because i am a smart girl. i know deep down that no outfit will give me permanent satisfaction. so what is it that compels me to spend hours and weeks and months and years searching online, wandering the aisles and driving around in circles?
i don’t think it’s about the stuff. i think it’s about self care. i was so young when my dad died – just 13. i didn’t have an adult set of coping skills or an emotional and mental framework within which to process his suicide. at the time of his death, i was a teenager and shopping made me feel good. i knew how to do it. and not too long before he died, he told me that buying things was one way to show someone that you love them. maybe i have been chasing that connection with him. maybe i have been trying desperately to take care of myself, trying to create a moment in which i am loved.
so what do i deserve? on the surface i feel like i deserve to shop and buy what i want. i fight giving it up – i want to hold on to it. after all of the pain and loss i have experienced i wonder what is so wrong with shopping? i could be shooting up heroin or have failed out of school. things could be worse. but what do i deserve? is shopping the best i can do for me? for my marriage? for my life? is shopping giving me the care i deserve? does shopping produce results that i deserve? is shopping the best way to cope with depression and anxiety? i know that the extent of my shopping denies me time, resources and connection with the people i love. and connection with myself. this behavior is hard, so very hard, for me to change. it’s my oldest refuge, it’s my instinct. “let me have it,” i think. “just let me have it.”
isn’t it frustrating to watch yourself acting out an old pattern of behavior that just doesn’t work anymore? like an old sweater that is too tight or an old shoe that is too small, it is squeezing the life out of me. it’s time to turn the conversation around. instead of “why can’t i have it” i try to ask myself what can i have, what do i need. what do i really need. and i look at what i feel. what i really feel. it’s so hard to sit with feelings of fear, or abandonment, or sadness. but maybe that’s what i need to do. to stop and acknowledge what is painful and then offer myself a loving response.
yes, i have been through hard times. life hasn’t always been fair to me. and yes, i deserve to be loved. i deserve my time. i deserve my relationships. i deserve financial security and a hopeful future.
can i give myself that moment? what i really need is love.
The post what i really need is love appeared first on blue light blue.
A new study from the U.K. finds that living in a neighborhood with more birds, shrubs, and trees may help to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Researchers studied hundreds of people and found that being able to see birds, shrubs, and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighborhoods.
University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland study involved a survey of mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes, and ethnicities.
Researchers also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.
After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon of three communities, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon.
Researchers studied afternoon bird numbers — which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning — because are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighborhood on a daily basis.
In the study, common types of birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits, and crows were seen. However, the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see from their windows, in the garden, or in their neighborhood.
Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low, suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.
University of Exeter research fellow Dr. Daniel Cox, who led the study, said, “This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being. Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”
The positive association between birds, shrubs, and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighborhood deprivation, household income, age, and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.
The current study expands an earlier which found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature.
Source: University of Exeter
Itâ€™s â€œthe most wonderful time of the year.â€� Christmas trees, Santa and pretty, bright lights. How could you possibly feel anything but happiness? Wellâ€¦ because you have depression or anxiety. As much as Iâ€™d like to think that mental health conditions vanish during Christmas break, Iâ€™m afraid they donâ€™t. In fairness, neither would a cold or a broken bone. Can you imagine? â€œshit its Christmas, I best get my arm […]
I want to write about about a dream that I had a while ago. Now I’m not usually one for analysing my dreams, but in this case, I think it’s obvious what the different aspects of the dream symbolise.
I dreamt that I had been imprisoned by a totalitarian government (again, I read too many dystopian novels), for being ‘different’ to other people (in terms of being unable to behave like a socially ‘normal’ human being). There was a viewing area on the other side of the bars of my cell, which people could get into by going down a staircase. People looked right through me, and didn’t even seem to see me as a person. It was as if they were viewing something like a slug or a snail, and not another human being. It was as if these people had been told “Come and see the socially awkward freak!” I looked at their faces but there were no signs of compassion or recognition of another human being, simply an unwavering stare and dull, vacant expression. Then, suddenly, a guy walked into the viewing area Â and held my hand through the bars of my cell. He looked at me like a person, rather than like some kind of alien specimen. It was…nice. I wanted to keep holding his hand, but he pulled away after a few moments. It speaks volumes for my loneliness/ lack of a love life. Even in the dream, I realised I would soon have to wake up and go back to my lonely day-to-day life, deprived of human contact/ love/ close friends.
I don’t think a relationship is something that I truly NEED (after all, I’ve made it 21 years and counting without one), but it is something that I intensely want. I don’t think that it will magically solve all my problems. But loneliness is the worst and I would love to have a special someone in my life. Social anxiety makes everything concerning relationships an impossibility for me though. And I’m convinced that no one would ever want to be in a relationship with me, especially if they knew everything about me. I can’t bear the thought of being alone and unloved for the rest of my life. I can’t bear the thought of having no real connection with anyone for the rest of my life.
Long time no blog! My final year of university has so far kept me extremely busy (and stressed out), and the Christmas holidays have been the last time I will get a break until May, so naturally, I havenâ€™t been in much of a writing mood. I have really missed my blog though. I still have loads of things that I want to write about, but unfortunately – as I will have to start work on my honours in just a couple of days (eeeeeeeek!) â€“ most of those future blog posts will have to be postponed by a few months.
Things arenâ€™t great at the moment. I now have no close friends as my online friend has stopped talking to me. He was very depressed and made some nasty comments towards me despite me doing all I could to try and help/ support him, and stopped talking to me not long after that. I know that none of it was really my fault, but I canâ€™t help but feel bad about myself for all of the times that friends have abandoned me throughout my life. It certainly doesnâ€™t help my self-esteem or my mood. But if someone wants to treat me badly when Iâ€™m going out of my way to help them, they arenâ€™t really my friend. Iâ€™m quite used to giving more than I get back in return from close friendships, but if someone wants to be ungrateful and rude towards me, Iâ€™ll try to find people who will treat me with the respect I deserve. I have no idea how to do this though. I always seem to make the mistake of only making one close friend, so it hurts a lot when they abandon me. This probably has a lot to do with my social anxiety, but when I look back on the friendships Iâ€™ve had throughout my life, I valued the friendship far more than the other person did in the vast majority of cases. I imagine that this is a common thing in people with severe SA. Most people without SA usually donâ€™t have too much trouble making friends, and usually have multiple friendships, but those of us with severe SA may only have one close friend (if we are lucky). Therefore, each friendship is much more precious to us than to people who are not socially anxious.
I do still have three non-close friends, but I only see two of them every few months (and Iâ€™m not even sure that one of those people is really even my friend, given the way she treats me sometimes). I havenâ€™t seen my other friend since July, and she wonâ€™t be back in Edinburgh until May, so Iâ€™ve been communicating with her exclusively through email.
I started talking to someone from an online dating site back in September. He seemed understanding when it came to my mental health issues (as he had to deal with the same things himself). We had a lot in common, seemed to be getting on really well, and both wanted to make a relationship work. Then a lot of really difficult things in his life happened in a very short space of time. I wanted to do whatever I could to support him, but he dealt with the difficult things he was going through by shutting me out/ not communicating with me at all for a fortnight. Given my issues around rejection, it was difficult for me to be completely ignored for 2 weeks by someone who claimed that they wanted to be in a relationship with me. He then stopped talking to me altogether. We didnâ€™t even meet up with each other. I still feel bad about the way I left things with him, because there were so many difficult things that he was going through and (despite not taking kindly to being completely ignored/ shut out for two weeks) I really did just want to help and support him. Ultimately though, I think both of us were/ are too unstable and not in the right state of mind to have a healthy relationship. Iâ€™ve recently thought about trying online dating again, but I probably wonâ€™t have the time/ energy to dedicate to a relationship until university is over. Or maybe Iâ€™m just making excuses. Perhaps Iâ€™m wrong, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s possible to have a healthy relationship if you donâ€™t have any friends that you see on a somewhat regular basis/ are close to. What does everyone else think? The trouble with that view, however, is that I canâ€™t be in a relationship until I make some close friends, and it seems that friends are usually a prerequisite for making new friends. Given this, and given my social ineptitude, it seems like a bit of a Catch-22 situation.
What scares me is that when I was talking to that guy from the online dating site, I was the happiest that I have been in a very long time. I canâ€™t rely on another person for my happiness because itâ€™ll destroy me when things end. Am I too reliant on other people? Or not enough? Why give another person the power to destroy me?
I mentioned a few posts ago that Iâ€™d hardly seen my befriender, despite the fact that we were supposed to meet up with each other about once every two weeks. I actually met up with her again earlier today. I hadnâ€™t seen her since September, and before that, the last time I met up with her was back in May. To be fair to her, she has had a lot of very difficult/ stressful things going on in her life this past year, so I donâ€™t blame her. When the woman in charge of befriending at the mental health charity found out that weâ€™d been meeting so infrequently, she looked into getting me a second befriender who would be able to meet up with me more often. Iâ€™ve met up with my new befriender a couple of times, and she seems really nice. Ideally, my new befriender will be able to go along to meet up groups with me and support me with meeting/ attempting to befriend new people. I donâ€™t really hold out much hope though. I find it so, so difficult to open up to people, and I donâ€™t know how to tell her about my anxiety and lack of close friendships. I also struggle to make friends face-to-face, and would have to somehow overcome the negative â€œvoiceâ€� in my head that tells me I wonâ€™t be able to make friends because Iâ€™m so socially inept and weird that no one would like me. Thereâ€™s also the fact that I may not have the time to go along to many meet up groups, given the hellish onslaught of university coursework that awaits me. Weâ€™ll see how it goes. Iâ€™m feeling really hopeless and miserable about my lack of close friendships and of a relationship but Iâ€™m doing the best I can to distract myself from thinking about it too much. I can bury myself in university work soon. My old befriender and I have finally arranged to go to a meet up together later this week, and my new befriender and I may be meeting up again next week, so at least I do have a couple of (hopefully) positive things to look forward to.
Work is probably the thing that has helped me the most in recent times, despite the near-fainting, awful insomnia, and other ailments that my anxiety around work has caused me (SA is such a lovely condition!) The insomnia is probably the worst of these. In the week leading up to Christmas, work started at 4am. I averaged only about 3 hours of sleep per night for the whole week. This definitely didnâ€™t help my mental health, and I was very stressed out and irritable. Strangely though, I seemed to function better socially for much of that week. Maybe I was so tired that I didnâ€™t care as much about what other people thought of me, or perhaps it was just the long shifts and the fact that I was working every day that helped me. I still suffer from pre-work insomnia, even though weâ€™re back to 6am starts now. Some nights I donâ€™t get any sleep at all before work, which, again, definitely doesnâ€™t help with my mental state. I really hate all the side-effects of anxiety, but I am so lucky to have gotten this job, and it has helped me so much, so I will keep on soldiering on through it all. Iâ€™ve learned that itâ€™s better to just be with the anxiety rather than trying to control it. I usually find that the more I try to control my anxiety, the more it controls me.
Itâ€™s amazing how high-functioning I can be at times. I donâ€™t know if any of my colleagues would guess that Iâ€™m a nervous wreck on the inside (though Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ve realised that Iâ€™m very awkward and weird, and that my behaviour can be a bit odd at times). I think my social skills have improved slightly but people attempting to converse with me probably still find it very awkward and stilted. Some days are better than others. Iâ€™m definitely less anxious when it comes to talking to/ helping customers. As soon as a customer approached me, my initial thoughts used to be something along the lines of: â€œOh shit. SHIT! Theyâ€™re talking to me! What do I do? Why canâ€™t the ground swallow me up?â€� Obviously, I still get anxious, but itâ€™s somewhat more manageable now. Iâ€™m also a bit better at actually getting my words out/ responding to people, rather than my anxiety causing me to completely freeze up. Itâ€™s amazing to think that less than 4 years ago, my anxiety in supermarkets was so bad that I struggled to be in one on my own for any more than about 10 minutes. Now I can stay in one for 8 hours or more, with relative ease, even during the week leading up to Christmas. I could quite easily do a full supermarket shop now.
I feel that I have matured somewhat in some areas, even if I am still well behind most people my age in many areas. I still donâ€™t have any friends at work (again, the main reason for this is probably my fear of opening up to people/ letting others get close to me). Despite knowing full well that no matter who you are, you are always going to have people who dislike you, and despite knowing that this may be more to do with the other person than a reflection on me, and that what other people think about me is none of my business, I still see being disliked in any way by another person as a failure on my part, even if they only dislike a part of me, such as my awkwardness, or how quiet I am at work. (Sorry, that one shouldâ€™ve had a â€œlong sentence warningâ€� on it. Hope no one fell asleep half-way through it). Perhaps this is why I am so reluctant to open up to others.
Something that worries me is that lately, Iâ€™ve been having intrusive thoughts, which mostly centre on bad things happening to me or to family members. I mentioned earlier that my anxiety around work often prevents me from sleeping when I have work the next day. The intrusive thoughts always seem to be worse/ more frequent when Iâ€™m sleep-deprived, and my brain also seems able to make just about anything disturbing (re: intrusive thoughts) when Iâ€™m in a sleep-deprived state. In the past, Iâ€™ve had occasional intrusive thoughts during times of stress, but not quite as bad as this. I feel awful about having such thoughts, even though I know I shouldnâ€™t. Iâ€™m hoping that this is just a temporary thing and not something that will become more of a permanent feature in my mental landscape. Thankfully, Iâ€™ve slept reasonably well for the last few nights and the intrusive thoughts have been less frequent. I am so, so grateful that OCD is not something I have to deal with, because even the relatively infrequent and mild intrusive thoughts that Iâ€™ve had to deal with recently are disturbing and upsetting to me.
Last term at university was horrendous but Iâ€™ll cover that in another post, seeing as how Iâ€™ve already typed up an essay for this post. One positive thing that happened not long after my last post on this blog is that I went along to a womenâ€™s cycling group. At the time, I was feeling quite hopeless, as I had gone along to a nature meet up group not long before that, and felt miserable/ like an outcast the whole time that I was there, and spent the entire meet up wishing that I could go home. I was really nervous about going along to the cycling group, especially as I seemed to be the youngest person there. Things didnâ€™t seem to be going well at first, as everyone else already knew each other and I wasnâ€™t able to join in on the conversation. I once again started to wish that I hadnâ€™t bothered going along, but as soon as we actually started cycling, I began to enjoy it. At one point, we all stopped at a cafÃ©, and I managed to talk to a few of the women in the group. I also managed to eat in front of them without too much trouble. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. I havenâ€™t been along to the group since (mostly due to being busy with university and work), but hope to go along to the group somewhat regularly once university is over.
Another (supposed) positive is that I FINALLY started Interpersonal Therapy last week. As I had been on the waiting list since June, the psychologist who referred me has sent me information on how to make a complaint against the NHS. Iâ€™m still undecided as to whether or not I will make a complaint. It seems like more trouble than itâ€™s worth, and I doubt it will do anything whatsoever to change the deeply flawed and failing public mental health services.Â Has anyone reading this blog ever gotten any positive results from making a complaint about mental health services?
Itâ€™s always difficult for me to start seeing a new psychologist/ psychiatrist. Iâ€™ve grown to somewhat dislike/ distrust the profession due to my previous experiences of the mental health services. The psychologist I saw seemed nice enough, though she recorded the wrong scores for the PHQ-9 questionnaire that I filled out (always encouraging!) She said that unlike with CBT, I could have up to 20 sessions of IPT. I feel that I probably do need more long-term therapy if Iâ€™m going to make any significant progress, so thatâ€™s good to know. I want to eventually do group CBT once university is over as well. (Have you noticed the common factor in terms of what is currently impeding my recovery/ generally ruining my life at the moment?)
I am absolutely dreading my honours project. As is typical of the (complete lack of) organisation at my university, we have only two weeks to write the proposal for our dissertation, and many people donâ€™t even know what topic theyâ€™re doing yet. The deadline for the proposal is on my birthday, so this should be fun. We had an introductory session earlier today and I am freaking out at how much work needs to be done between now and May. As I said earlier, itâ€™s annoying, because I have so much I want to write about, but itâ€™ll just have to wait. Anyway, Iâ€™ve nattered on for more than long enough. Thanks for reading if youâ€™ve made it this far without falling asleep like that squirrel monkey.
“But you don’t look sick”
“You can’t have social anxiety, you’re way more confident than me”
“I saw a picture of you on facebook, looked like you were having a good time. You can’t be that depressed”
They are called invisible illnesses for a reason.
Whether it’s a mental or physical illness, if it’s not as obvious onÂ the outside then there are always people who will try to diminish what you’re going through. ‘Cause it’s not like you can laugh at a joke when you have a broken bone or anything and it’s not like you can tell people that a bruise doesn’t hurt when it actuallyÂ does.
It’s called putting on a brave face, not just because you want people to think you’re okay but because sometimes it’s hard to talk about, sometimes people just don’t understand and because flippant & hurtful comments sometimes make you feel like you have to conceal even the worst of days.
I’ve been around groups of people, trying to laugh and joke and act normal while going through severe endometriosis pain, losing crazy amounts of blood at the same time (not even gonna sugar-coat it) and enduring the lovely chronic fatigue that comes with it.
I’ve been in many social situations where I’ve pretended to be confident to mask how I really feel. I also joke around a lot when I’m nervous but I’ve spent years trying not to show how anxious I am… The physical symptoms I get from having anxiety only make my anxiety worse, so I’ve mastered the art of not looking like I’m dying every time I’m in a social situation.
I’ve held my head up high in front of everyone I’ve known, while dealing with depression in the dark. I’ve smiled and even enjoyed myself at times during those dark periods but that feeling wouldn’t last because I’d still have to go back to my life and deal with what was causing my depression, even if that was nothing at all.
I don’t wear my illnesses on my face everyday of my life because they don’t define me as a person and I shouldn’t have to justify being sick to anyone.
More importantly, if having a chronic or mental illness means I’m not allowed to smile, laugh or have fun once in a while then what is the point of struggling through the bad days?
Just because I look fine, it doesn’t automatically mean I am fine.
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