My anxiety is not something I put on when the shoe fits
I’m sick and tired of being made to feel that my anxiety is a show, something that comes and goes when I will it. If anything, it’s far from that. The cloud of anxiety and depression always hangs around regardless of what I am doing and despite how well put together my life looks at any given moment.
I have so many fears – fear of people I love dying, fear of getting on tubes, fear of eating and choking, fear of being abandoned – the list is endless and sometimes living feels like the worst place to be. To be in a state constantly paralysed by fear is not something I’d wish on anyone let alone my worst enemies. It’s debilitating and horrific for someone who has to go through that every day.
I’m a high-functioning depressive who is nearly always anxious. This works well for me because I have a demanding job which I love and it always means that I try my very best at whatever I put my hand to. However, the downside of this is that I care too much about what people think, how I look, how I’m performing and I am nearly always trying to be a perfectionist. When my depression and anxiety is at its worst, I forget to take care of myself in ways I know work. This ends up in all my self care habits going down the drain and in me becoming hyper vigilant and constantly triggered for days on the trot – causing anxiety and frustration to those around me. I am trying to work on it, but it’s a journey – one that’s long, windy and downright tiring. I recently started intensive treatment for depression – attending sessions three times a week and whilst that really helped, the guilt of taking time out of work to do this, was too much for me to bear. I hope to go back soon now that a big project at work has finished, but I do feel having the right structure and dedicated support in place helps.
For me, something as small as going out for dinner which is anxiety-inducing for me anyway can become a full-blown evening of hell governed entirely by my thoughts and how I might look chewing a tiny piece of bread slowly or swallowing soup at a snail’s pace to other people. Ensuring I don’t choke when eating is something I’m so careful of because it’s happened before, at my music school on a piece of mozzarella. It was absolutely mortifying and thinking back to the day and countless other experiences when similar issues have happened makes me shudder. That feeling of being out of control and fearful your life is about to end is scary and possibly a reason as to why I like everything to be planned to the nth degree so that I am in control.
So anyway, back to my point, when I go out for a meal in a group or even just in a foreign environment, not only is it one of the most fear-inducing situations I allow myself to be put in, but to counter it, I have to force myself to chew profusely, focus on that fact it’s only food and imagine one of my old therapists talking me through eating some spinach as I chew what’s on my plate little mouth by little mouth. As you can imagine, just doing that expends a great amount of my mental energy, but trying to shut down the negative voice in my head telling I’m going to choke so be careful is more than I can even begin to explain. It often leaves me feeling unable to continue and therefore hungry having watched everyone else devour their food with no issue.
Whilst my issue around eating is not something you’d typically call an eating disorder – I actually want to eat and enjoy food – it’s still an illness of sorts that makes doing ordinary things like spending time with family and friends or even going abroad, really hard. I’m not a picky eater by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I ungrateful for the food I do have, it’s just that me and food have always had a somewhat strained relationship. I can’t pinpoint the exact time at which it reared it’s ugly head but believe me when I say this, I’ve been trying to fix it and I’m still trying. My Dad has suggested I try hypnotherapy so maybe I’ll give that a go – who knows? Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and be a changed person!
My eating issue has destroyed relationships, caused unnecessary arguments and left me feeling more isolated than one might imagine. In writing this post, I hope I can help people better understand the demons we all face; either silently and unnoticed or publically and prominent. People with poor mental health aren’t acting a certain way to get sympathy, garner pity or get a rise out of you, they’re being vulnerable with you because they trust you.
So, the next time you see someone struggling, instead of shouting at them, snapping at them due to your own inability to deal with a difficult situation, take a deep breath, calm down and ask them what you can do to help. There’s always something and I can guarantee you, what they’re feeling is hard to explain and feels 10 times worse than it actually is in their head. And above all else, they’re the ones living the hell. But, it’s also important to note that the thing with mental illness is that at times, it is completely irrational and a silent killer. It can make people feel like giving up when life gets too overwhelming or pop a tranquilizer to help them gain some perspective. You walking away, cursing them and being angry, only does more to exacerbate the issue.
With World Mental Health Day having only just passed, remind yourself that tomorrow, it could be your mother, father, brother or sister who is suffering from an illness you can’t seem to understand. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you knew that someone they loved treated them so inhumanely and belittled their struggle by telling them it’s all an act and they’re having a tantrum. That might just be the thing that knocks them over the edge. Why take a tough love approach when you can just be compassionate and show love instead?
My message to you therefore is that whoever you encounter, however put together they might seem in one instant, behind closed doors the story could be entirely different. Have some compassion, try to understand and above all, be kind. You’ll be helping them more than you might even know.
Spread your wings and fly,
A tired, but still Confused Butterfly
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended for educational purposes only. Nothing found on this site should be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it a substitute for therapy. Therefore, please seek the advice of a Doctor or Mental Health Practitioner if you have any concerns about your wellbeing. These views are personal to me and are in no way a representation of other individuals or organisations.