This post was originally published in July, 2017.
Urgh. Anxiety. So much has been talked about it I imagine you probably didn’t blink when you saw the title of this post. I get it, every celebrity seems to be chatting about their mental health and it’s covered in oh so many magazines too. That’s a good thing, a really good thing. But I understand why people now probably don’t totally understand how hard life can be living with a mental illness.
Don’t worry folks, I’m here to tell you.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression so many years ago I can’t even remember how, or why I went to my GP. I don’t really remember when I developed an eating disorder or why, and I honestly couldn’t pick apart what ‘triggered’ it all.
But from the gazillion years of therapy, I’ve now gone through I’ve discovered only very recently something a little bit shocking. My anxiety is the overriding mental illness I live with, and that has caused my depression. To say this realization floored me is an understatement. I never linked my persistent and aggressive worrying with the periods I felt really low.
But it makes perfect sense really.
Anxiety is more than just the state of worry. It’s a perpetual myth-building exercise whereby you cling to a ridiculous thought, and let it simmer so long it sticks in your mind. That irritating thought does more than simmer and stick, it stews. It builds to a crescendo of hideous thoughts that hold you back from doing the most mundane of tasks. Or, you push through and do these tasks with the constant fear of ‘what you know will absolutely happen,’ happening.
Often, those with anxiety have seemingly ‘normal’ phobias. The fear of flying, the fear of a partner cheating, the fear of getting fat. Yet these are not ‘normal’ fears and, anyway, alongside all of these socially acceptable fears one might also add fear of tripping and falling on a tube track. Or fear of every single human connection you make becoming toxic because you’re the absolute worst friend and OMG so annoying and how do you even function in this world anyway.
My specific anxieties are as seemingly simple as my fear of driving (I don, and being driven: I NEVER sleep in the car because I can’t trust anyone’s driving and everyone knows that if you stay awake and hyper vigilant you can control the car……
I have a very specific fear that everyone I love will die. Of cancer specifically. But of anything really. When Oli goes out, I’m convinced he’ll get so drunk he’ll trip over and hit his head in that film-specific way you die instantly. Or that he’ll get into a fight and die. Or fall on a tube track.
Yep, none of these have ever happened. But they could, right? And if I worry hard enough I can protect everyone.
The stat: ‘one in three of us will get cancer’….or: ‘be affected by cancer’ (or whatever it is) becomes my mantra. I cling to that stat and apply it with ruthless efficiency. ‘Okay, so my dad died of cancer…..my mum had cancer, my granddad died of cancer too…..what are my odds now?’
Oli and my mum have to point out the very obvious fact that we are living longer, so much older people getting cancer are skewing the stats somewhat.
A few nights ago, Oli had to break down why it was highly unlikely Anaïs would drop dead from Leukemia. I had to hear stats, and reasons why, and understand the headline I’d read about infant mortality being the worst in Europe (I’d transformed the headline from fact to fiction in one bold move).
I worry Anaïs will be kidnapped daily. Every time somebody tells me how cute she is (because that’s what everyone says to every single baby in the universe) I decide she is now at a higher risk.
After her jabs, I thought she would probably get meningitIs. And after a particularly heavy Eastenders session I think she’ll be bullied just like the crap actors in the school bullying storyline, and maybe take drugs, or become a prostitute one day.
What if us living in London means she’ll end up in a gang? A scary one where they take drugs and mug people. OR a bullying gang of bitchy schoolgirls wearing Topshop clothes and drinking cortados (schoolkids in coffee shops are NOT okay).
And don’t get me started on the very, VERY specific fear I will trip while holding Anaïs and drop her out of a window. That one goes through my head hourly.
I worry about money, constantly. I worry about Brexit, and Trump and the DUP and what is happening to the world like everyone else but I worry about what that means for me, my baby and what we’ll do when a nuclear war erupts.
And I really worry I’ll pass this onto my daughter. Because living with anxiety is exhausting, and scary and upsetting and depressing. And I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
- The Pressing Pause podcast by my friend Gabrielle Treanor is brilliant for helping you take time to breathe, pause and start again.
- I don’t use the Headspace app nearly as much as I should but honestly, when I do take time to meditate daily I see a big difference in my state of mind.
- Exercise always helps me, although it’s not quite as transformative as I’d like! In the summer I run, but all year round I practice yoga here in Brighton and at home with Yoga With Adriene.
- THERAPY. There really isn’t a substitute for this and I speak with some authority; I’ve been having therapy on and off since I was about 18. I often hear people say, “I went to therapy once and hated it. The therapist was annoying.”, to which I’d respond, “Find another one!”. Find a therapist via the BACP website or think about online counselling; you can check out an in-depth Talkspace review here.