Naturally since starting this blog I have worried about what people will think. I’ve had thoughts like “Is this the right thing? Am I exposing too much of myself?”, “Will people think I’m just attention seeking”, “Am I boring them?”, “Do people even read it? Do they even care?”, “what if they read this, but think it’s a load of crap, as I’m up every day, at work, out socially etc. They’ll never believe what I have to say”. Again, with the negative thoughts. But I must remember why I’ve started this blog. I’ve done this for myself, to get out what I’m thinking/feeling, but also to help those around me and even strangers facing the same struggles. These worries are what has inspired tonight’s post, as I need people to understand that I do appear ok on the surface, but inside it’s a very different story.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with G.A.D (Generalised Anxiety Disorder). Meaning, I don’t just have one form of Anxiety, I have a bit of everything; I worry about absolutely everything from social situations, health, money, family, friends, work etc. Yes I know, everyone worries about these things, but for someone like me, It involves anticipating the worst, and overthinking the scenarios of how the worst can happen. This level of worrying and overthinking, is what rears the feeling of being scared and can induce a panic attack. In the beginning, I found it overwhelming and I really struggled to cope. When you go from being ‘normal’, to essentially fearing life, it does take its toll. In the first few years of learning to cope, I was completely erratic and I had many more bad days than good. These days, it’s a different story. I can go weeks having good days, before I have an episode where my Anxiety can take over.
What is a good day, and what is a bad day? Well a good day to me is one where I’ve not let my Anxiety take over. It’s always there, in the pit of my stomach, like a dull ache, but on good days I can ignore it. I can let the feeling wash over me, and I will pull through and do what needs to be done. A bad day, is one where that feeling cannot be ignored, and I let it consume me until it’s grown bigger than I can handle. This doesn’t always result in a full-blown panic attack, these days it usually manifests as depersonalisation. You will find that over time, you find your own ways to manage your fears. You become accustom to what can set you off and you can choose to avoid it completely, or, find a way to get you through it. I wouldn’t recommend avoiding your fears forever, as you will only isolate yourself, making you feel worse. I would say that you should understand what your triggers are, and work towards better managing them. My way of coping is PMA, and in my blog about this I explain how I have to reinforce positive thoughts in my head, or completely distract my thoughts to get me through things that make me feel anxious. I would love to sit here and say that I’ve mastered all my fears, I have not, but I have mastered most and like to think this attributes to me being able to get up each day, go to work, go shopping in supermarkets, and be there for my family.
I’m someone who is classed as having ‘High Functioning Anxiety;’. What is high functioning Anxiety? Well, it’s pretty much what it states; it’s someone who is high functioning, but still lives with the inner struggles of an Anxiety Disorder. If you have read my blog, ‘You don’t look anxious to me!’, I do explain, that just because someone isn’t cowering in a corner shaking, doesn’t mean that they don’t have an Anxiety disorder. Remember watching Tom & Jerry, when the Angel & Devil would appear on Tom’s shoulders? Having high functioning anxiety is a bit like that. Naturally the Devil is your Anxiety, and the Angel is your rational thoughts. It’s a constant battle between the two. I get negative thoughts, rationally I know it’s my anxiety, but this doesn’t always stop me from doubting myself or letting the feeling of being anxious overwhelm me. I’m pleased to say my rational thoughts triumph more these days, and I appear like I’m a ‘normal’ person.
Despite me appearing normal to those around me who don’t know any better, I do struggle with:
- Never feeling good enough – Every single day of my life I feel like I’m a bad mother, bad wife, bad at my job, bad friend and just an all-round bad person. I worry about every little decision I make, how it will impact others, and will this cause the people I care about to hate me. If you are outwith my circle, I care about what you think, how you are, how my actions affect you, but, if you are in my circle (someone I care about), my feelings of not being good enough for you are magnified. I fear that I will be seen as a fraud, and that you will see the terrible person I am and leave me.
- Rejection – Yes, I just love to be rejected! Said no-one ever. No-one likes it. Probably one of the worst feelings in the world. For someone like me though, this ties in with never feeling good enough. If we take the chance to put ourselves out there, exposing ourselves, only to be told we’re essentially not good enough, that hits us hard. I will doubt myself in every way. I will sit and scruitinise every single moment of our encounter, and tear myself up inside. A job interview for example? Wow. I will over play every possible outcome of this interview in my head, then when in the interview, I’m just a wreck. Looking at the interviewers faces thinking “Why are they not smiling? Oh, my god they hate me. I shouldn’t have worn this outfit, I don’t look smart enough…” These negative thoughts will go on. I will then leave the interview and over play the whole scenario again in my head, hating the answers I’ve given, beating myself up for missed opportunities to say something funny/positive. Queue a bout of panic, depersonalisation, and the need to go home and curl up in bed. That is exactly what happened after the last job I went for. Thankfully I got that job, but that didn’t stop me from being in bits until I got the call to say I had the job. I don’t think I slept or ate a full meal for a week.
- Change – Small progressional changes I can just about cope with, as these I can prep, plan and make lists for. Big changes that are progressional, are a little more nerve wracking, but again manageable if I’m given time to prep, plan and make a list. Sudden change can set me off into a downward spiral. This is throwing me into the unknown, unprepared, and I will freak out. Sometimes I’ve done so publicly, others I’ve had a quiet eruption beneath the surface.
- Being let down – I am someone who has had to learn to cope with things on my own. I pride myself on this and will never ask for help, unless it’s completely necessary. If someone has said they will be there for me, or help me, and let me down, I take this particularly hard. It sends my thought process down a negative path of wondering things like “Do they not care?”, “Am I not worth their time?”, “Is this because they hate me”, and before you know it I’m doubting my relationship with this person. Sounds dramatic, and it very much is, but it’s how my brain operates.
- Stress – No-one likes feeling stressed. It’s hardly a pleasurable feeling. We all deal with it differently; there are those of us, that very rarely get stressed and when they do, they understand they need to slow down. Then there are those that find the smallest situations stressful, namely me, and do not cope well with high stress situations. I deal with high stress situations every day, that others may hear about and think “wow, you need to calm down”. Just a heads up, never tell someone who’s stressed to calm down, you’ll only turn the stress to anger. When things get too stressful for me, I need to take a deep breath, walk away, clear my thoughts, then come back to try again. Doing this allows me to look at the situation more objectively and assess things properly.
- Health Concerns – I worry relentlessly about my health. All it takes is a chest pain (usually wind. Must be all the hot air), and I’m convinced I’m having a heart attack. A headache is a stroke/brain tumour. Sore stomach is an ulcer/stomach cancer. You can see the pattern here. I know this I not rational, but in the back of my mind I then worry that one day I’ll blame it on the anxiety and it will be real and I’ll die. That will be that. I will have ignored obvious signs of being unwell, put it down to being in my head and I’ll just die.
Ok so to anyone who has just read my list and is thinking, “Well, I can relate to all of that and I’m not anxious. We all don’t like these things”. You are totally right. The things I have mentioned are things that no-one in the world likes to have to deal with. My point here is; whilst no-one likes to feel stressed, be let down, go through change, be rejected, or never feel good enough. To someone like me, we cannot cope with these situations, as well as someone with a more rational mind. That is the difference.
How do I manage to be high functioning, when feeling anxious?
- Planning – I like to plan, plan, plan! I swear the people close to me are driven around the bend with this. The unknown is a daunting place, and I like need to be prepared. If I’m ever in a situation where I do not have time to plan, my panic will start to surface. I do not cope well with not at least contemplating how things will work out. I need to have at least one scenario in my mind.
- Lists – Once I have planned something, I will then list the tasks in hand. This is so that I know nothing will be missed, but also so I know I’m on the right track and can see my progress.
- Distraction – I need to keep my mind busy all the time. One of the reasons I love my job, is the fact that I can completely submerge myself into work. When I’m working, I don’t have to think about the house, the kids, my partner, bills, family, health, friends etc. I get to just worry about the task in hand. I need my work to be able to cope, and even on what may be a bad day, I’ll chose to go to work, as I know staying at home would be worse, as it would give me more time to think. There have only been a few occasions where going to work wasn’t feasible, but this was because the physical symptoms were so bad, that I just would not have managed.
- Space – I need space! Lots and lots of space. Me time is a must. I need to be in a room where I’m not expected to answer 101 questions, or even just have a conversation. I’ll often just crawl into bed and put on a movie/TV show, something I can get totally lost in, that allows me to completely detach for a couple of hours. I always find that my brain is racing at 100mph, but chilling with a good movie, allows my brain to switch off.
- My Circle – My circle is small, and purposefully so. I need to surround myself with people who understand why I am the way I am, but also those who are a positive influence and who can keep my spirits up. These are also people who I trust implicitly and who I know would never let me down, reject me or make me feel like I wasn’t good enough.
- Music – Everyone listens to music, whether it’s when you’re getting ready for work, in the car, when you’re cleaning, cooking etc. All of us listen to our music. I listen to music all the time, every opportunity. Why? Because it helps to calm my thoughts. If I put music on, then I tune into the rhythm or the lyrics and it helps to keep my negative thoughts at bay.
There is nothing to say that because you suffer Anxiety/Depression, you cannot be high functioning with it. For some people, they can’t, either due to still learning how to manage their disorder, or the fact they’ve got an acute form of Anxiety/Depression, that prevents them from being able. I have found a way to manage my anxiety to the point where I can do things like go to work, go out socially, and have a life that would appear to be ‘normal’, but this doesn’t mean I don’t find it hard. For those of you reading this that don’t suffer from mental health issues, I do hope that it’s given you some understanding of what it’s like for us. For those of you that can relate, or are just learning how to manage your Anxiety, I hope this helps you to see you’re not alone. If you have any of your own coping strategies you’d like to share with me, I’d be happy to hear them.