I’ve never thought of myself as someone who suffers from anxiety until this week which, on reflection, is a bit ridiculous. It’s something that goes hand in hand with physical pain for many fibro sufferers, and today I feel like addressing it. In order to write this post, I’m going to have to forget that people I know read this blog and just write for ‘the internet’.
In 2013 I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and I remember thinking it was an incorrect diagnosis. It seemed accurate for what I was going through at the time, because things were particularly stressful so I was bound to be a bit more anxious than normal. To me, the anxiety was a result of a difficult time, nothing more. For some reason it didn’t strike me that it could have been the other way around.
When I was about 10 years old I started to suffer from migraine. When I was 12 I started receiving an alternative therapy to try and ease them – they were a weekly occurrence and I vomited with every attack, sleeping in a dark room for 24 hours until it passed. It was at this time someone first started talking to me about ‘worry’ and it’s been a never-ending topic ever since. My parents are pretty good at talking to me about being stressed, and my dad’s a worrier (warrior) too so I think it was something they felt they understood. My mum’s a very calm person, unlike me, and she would give me relaxation massages and sing me lullabies long into my teenage years, whilst my dad would quiz me on my thoughts and stresses. These habits haven’t really changed as I reach my thirties; my dad ends every conversation with, “Is there anything you need to talk about?” and my mum will start relaxation massages over the telephone, calmly saying “Relax your head, relax your arms…” working her way from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. They’re a good pair. But, even though they recognise I’m an anxious person, I don’t think they – or anyone else for that matter – understands what my anxiety is like. In fact, until today, even I didn’t realise it.
In the year that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia I was prescribed a lot of diazepam. Too much. As anxiety took over every inch of my being for a period of time that I can barely remember, I was convinced it was the fault of the medication. I was too scared to leave my house and see my best friends and I blamed the drugs for all of it. Obviously, to calm my nerves, I took more diazepam and it’s a cycle I don’t care to repeat, ever.
Last year I was referred to a clinical psychologist, not for the first time, to discuss coping with chronic pain. I’d had an awful few weeks, one of which included a pretty serious panic attack in the early hours of the morning whilst my boyfriend was out. What started as my heart racing and a feeling of nauseousness at about 10pm soon became a tightness of breath, dry retching and blurred vision. At 1am I was in tears, with the radio on and the hoover going. Don’t ask me why; I hate cleaning at the best of times.
It didn’t take long for the GAD diagnosis to come and when it came I distinctly remember thinking he was spot on. I was anxious, anxious to find a relief for the physical pain. Nothing more. I remember telling my sister about the diagnosis, expecting her to be shocked and appalled. She wasn’t. In fact she said, “Didn’t you get diagnosed with that year’s ago?” I wonder now if she knew I was anxious because she’s my sister, or whether it was obvious to everyone.
This week I had a similar panic attack. It didn’t lead to cleaning but I did naught to panic in under two hours. Left to my own devises I dread to think how long it would have gone on for. Today, to try and rid some of my nervous energy, I went swimming. (I’m kinda just throwing that in to brag about the fact I went swimming again, but it’s also a bit relevant.) The whole time I was in the changing rooms my heart was pounding. When I got in the pool I dunked my head under the water expecting to feel that wave of cool, relaxing relief. I didn’t. I came up for air and I still felt anxious. I swam, just me and my thoughts for 16 lengths. (Another humble brag, I know, but I’m quite chuffed.) When I got out of the pool I went into a cubicle to change and for the entirety of the five long minutes it took me to get dressed, I wondered how I would fight off someone who climbed over the locked door to attack me. My heart pounded, my mind raced.
It was only in the car on the way home that I had an epiphany: I am an anxious person. This feeling is normal. I was driving along, twitchy and feeling like I was being chased. I was nervous, but I was also aware that it was a nervousness I have been used to feeling for as long as I can remember.
I have arachnophobia, and when my family and I moved to South Africa for a year my dad referred me to a hypnotherapist that a friend of his recommended. The purpose of the session was to help me cope with the increased likelihood of seeing big spiders around the house, but we ended up using most of the time talking about my fears in general.
When I got home this evening I tried to pinpoint situations when I commonly notice an increase in anxiety. Getting in the lift at work is one of them, but only a small amount of that fear is about the lift breaking. Most of it is about being attacked, and I always look up to check for shadows in case there’s someone or something hiding in the lift shaft. Sometimes I imagine spiders, other times a masked man… Christ, you’d think I was in some awful Hollywood blockbuster with Liam Neeson.
Here’s another one; whenever I come home from work at an unexpected time like the middle of the day or because a late meeting has been cancelled, I always walk in to my house expecting to find my boyfriend in bed with another woman. In fact, I’m often surprised when I find that’s not the case. For a while I’ve wondered whether that fear is about trust/jealousy, but in the context of all these other panics, I’m starting to think it’s just another thing on the list of fears.
Those of you of a similar age may remember the first form of social media: MSN messenger. My screen name was ‘Fear of the Unknown.’ I’ve only just remembered that as I’m typing.
I’ve chewed my lips for as long as I can remember, and spent my adolescence biting my nails until my fingers were red raw. Up until tonight I thought this was common behaviour. I mean, it’s obviously common because loads of us do it, but the loads of us who are doing it are people with nervous dispositions. I thought EVERYONE did it.
I don’t know where I’m going with this post any more. I’m just throwing random fears at you. Here are a few more…
I have a really vivid imagine, and often ‘see’ things happening in a daydream that feels very real. I frequently fear I’m going to trap my cats’ heads in the door and behead them, even though I allow enough time for 20 cats to come into the house before closing the door.
When I was younger, I used to have a recurring nightmare where a Betty Boop look-a-like would just stand in the corner of a white room and laugh at me. She cackled hysterically all through the night. It was horrifying.
Okay…I think I’m at a danger of over-sharing now.
The main reason I wanted to write about this is that mental health, particularly depression and anxiety, is becoming more widely talked about but it’s still not addressed in the way it should be. Everyone’s experience of every illness is completely different, and I know my anxiety will be very different to everyone else’s. Same goes for depression, fibromyalgia, asthma, cancer. But, although the details may be different, the overriding feelings are the same. I don’t know many people who haven’t dealt with one form of mental/emotional challenge at some point in their lives, and it’s my own personal opinion that those who ‘haven’t’ are just better at hiding it. They don’t blab about it all over the internet like some…
I don’t know why I’ve done this. I suppose I wanted to share my experiences in the hope somebody gained something from it. I know I did, just by writing it down.
End note – I know there are many things that can help ease anxiety, such as exercise and mindfulness and deep breathing. I’m on it.