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February 2018 - Freedom of Mind

In this piece, Anna talks openly about her experience of Anxiety and what people don’t always get about living with it.

One thing I worry about with anxiety (part of an infinite list) is being understood. I can’t speak for everyone with mental health difficulties but I often wonder if other people feel the same way. Do they have the same yearning for everyone to see their point of view, to understand why they do what they do, and to hold judgement until they have explained?

My need to be understood can lead to a conviction that no one will understand and everyone will judge me, which makes me feel that I have to constantly explain myself and apologise.

It’s exhausting.

I wonder if it would be easier if I came with a manual, which explained all my unnecessary, negative thought processes and how they affect my actions, so that everyone I meet could understand. I’ve probably offended quite a few people over the years due to my anxiety and the things it leads me to do, or to not do.

Recently I’ve seen various articles about things that anxious people want their loved ones to know. I want to add my two cents from my personal experience, for those who already know me, and those who I may meet in the future – so here are the seven things I want you to know about my anxiety.

1. If I flake on you, it’s not because I don’t care or I don’t respect you.

One of the main ways I’ve upset people over the years is by cancelling on them. I can understand why; it seems incredibly rude and that I’m wasting their time. The problem is, my anxiety can be unpredictable, so I sometimes feel overwhelmed and startled by my own fear of a plan that I was previously excited for. I do WANT to see you, but I often expect the worst and doubt my ability to cope if something goes wrong.

2. It’s the same with texting.

I can be bad at replying to friends’ texts quickly and I know that this can come across like I don’t want to talk to you. It’s often the opposite. I feel that I need to be interesting and entertaining all the time when I talk to someone. This is exhausting, and means I can spend a lot of time and energy trying to think of ‘good’ responses to what you’re saying. When I’m not feeling so bubbly I can end up putting off texting back, because I don’t want to be boring or a downer. If I don’t reply when we are planning an activity together it’s normally because I am concerned that I don’t know how I’ll feel on the day and don’t want to let you down by agreeing to go and then cancelling.

3. Please don’t stop inviting me to events!

I know I sometimes don’t turn up, but it means so much to be invited. Sometimes I just need to listen to myself and stay home, but when I can come, I will, and still being invited when my anxiety is bad lets me know that I’m still involved and can return when I’m feeling better.

4. If I suddenly go quiet and withdrawn, or irritable and tense it’s because I’m feeling panicky.

It’s common with anxiety and panic issues for people to have particular triggers that can set them off, such as crowded or enclosed spaces, public transport, social situations etc. My main trigger is feeling hungry, and if I feel too low on sugar my anxiety levels can rise quickly, causing me to appear angry or distracted. I am not bored of you or upset, I just need to get some food and calm down. The same goes for many others with anxiety or panic issues; it’s nothing personal.

5. Things that you never normally think about can be a monumental challenge to people with anxiety.

Did you get the bus today? Go to work? Meet up with friends? Do some supermarket shopping? These things can be incredibly daunting when living with severe anxiety and a huge source of worry and embarrassment. I have often decided against opening up about these ‘everyday anxiety challenges’, for fear of others not understanding or laughing at me. This is why I try to encourage people to celebrate any achievement, however minor it may seem and to measure success by their own progress, instead of comparing themselves to others . Remember that you never know what someone is dealing with day to day.

6. Living with anxiety can be EXHAUSTING.

I used to wonder how other people could do a full day at work, go to the gym, go out with friends, cook dinner and even practice their hobby, when I felt like I needed a good sleep after making lunch and going for a walk. I thought about how much of my energy anxiety uses up and realised that it was no wonder I feel so tired. My anxiety is characterized by endless worrying. You name it, I worry about it. It isn’t just worry about important issues or organising my day. It can be about anything, and it’s almost constant. Getting a good quality sleep can also be difficult, when it takes me a long time to  fall asleep, and then stressful dreams and nightmares fill my night. So although it may seem like I’ve had an easy, laid back day, I’ve often given myself a mental workout that leaves me feeling completely drained.

7. Anxiety can change all the time.

Living with anxiety isn’t always about fear and uncontrollable worrying. People often tell me that I don’t seem like I have anxiety at all, as sometimes I’m relaxed and full of confidence (though I do often wear a ‘mask’ of confidence and calm in social situations). In my experience anxiety can change day to day. One day the world is a terrifying, foreboding place and the next it’s friendly and full of opportunity. The strange thing is, I actually feel GUILTY sometimes when this happens, because I feel like I’m a fraud and that I should be panicking or worrying about something, when really I should be enjoying the good days and accepting of my own fluctuations. Luckily for me, the good days are coming more often than the bad, and I’m beginning to understand that it’s ok to be ok. The knowledge that my anxiety can change has also made me realise that it’s possible to make progress towards a calmer, happier mind.

There are many more issues I could cite about anxiety’s effects on behaviour, but these are the seven that I have experienced the most misunderstanding over. These are not intended to be ‘excuses’, but to help people to better understand those in their life who experience anxiety, though of course everyone’s experience is different. You have the right to feel understood and accepted regardless of your mental health difficulties, so if you sometimes feel anxious and are comfortable doing so, try talking to your friends and family about any misunderstandings. If you’re not sure how to begin the conversation, maybe share this list and use it as a starting point.

Is there anything you would add? What do you want people to know about anxiety, or any other mental health problem? Reach us on Twitter at @FOMCIC or on Facebook, or even write your own blog post. We’d love to hear from you!

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

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