….but we are all fabulous.
I have just read a very good book – much talked about currently: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. It is a blend of his account of experiencing depression and anxiety, interspersed with facts about both and lists of symptoms, helpful things to try etc.
If you are a person with depression and/or anxiety, you are likely to know much of this already but it is perhaps comforting to know it’s not just you, although one reviewer on Amazon cautions that it may act as a trigger for thse currently experiencing depression. If you are a person who knows a person with depression and/or anxiety or one of those people who is sceptical about people with depression and/or anxiety, who thinks they should pull themselves together and stop being self-indulgent, then this is for you.
I am fortunate that I do not suffer from depression. I am familiar with anxiety however.
Anxiety is not my constant companion: it tends to visit when I am stressed, out of my comfort zone, pre-menstrual or otherwise overloaded. An unwelcome guest at the best of times, it tends to arrive in time to kick me when I am already feeling down.
What is anxiety like? These days it is a twinge, a ghost of its former self. But at its height (depth might be more appropriate) a few years ago it was like a constant soundtrack playing in my head. A soundtrack that went something like this:
“Hmm, I wonder what that mark was on the towel I just used. I wonder if it was blood. It looked like blood. Could I have caught something from the towel. No, don’t be ridiculous, people don’t catch things that easily or we’d all be wiped out. And anyway, blood borne diseases are only problematic in fresh blood. But what if it was fresh blood? It was bright red. I wonder if I should go back and check the colour to see if it was fresh or not. No, that would look crazy – what would a ‘normal’ person do. I’m going mad, what’s wrong with me? Nothing, I’m alright. Lots of people are scared of blood. It probably wasn’t fresh anyway and even if it was it is unlikely it was infected. But what if it was fresh….” And so on, until something occurs to resolve or dislodge the idea.
When anxiety strikes for me, it’s usually related to a fear of dying. No great surprise there, my father died when I was 9 years old so this is pretty textbook stuff. Fear of death is like fearing a trip to the dentist, except you don’t know when it’s going to happen so that the dread feeling that you get when a visit to the dentist is imminent, ebbs and flows depending on how you feel.
Not a comfortable way to live when it’s happening but it gets easier, or at least that has been my experience, especially when you get used to it and recognise triggers and take care of yourself and have supportive people around you. It has never stopped me from doing my job, from travelling or from any other activity, although it can take the bloom off to say the least.
So what helps? For me – a holistic approach to my own wellbeing which includes drinking less alcohol (particularly challenging sometimes as alcohol has the delightful short term effect of switching the soundtrack off – unfortunately it tends to make the soundtrack louder and more persistent the next day), early nights, meditating, exercising and self-distraction (taking a break from thinking anxious thoughts via reading an engrossing book or watching a comedy programme can provide welcome relief and sometimes be enough to shift my thoughts). It also includes being gentle with myself and avoiding those people who say such things as “if you had children you wouldn’t have time to be anxious” as though it were a luxury I had chosen for myself.
Observing improvement helps as well although it’s hard to see in yourself and it does take time. Reading Matt Haig’s book and writing this post have both made me realise that the anxious thoughts I am sometimes troubled by now are a pale imitation of my experiences a few years ago.
I imagine that most people have experienced anxiety even if only infrequently – feeling anxious before the dentist or a job interview or giving a talk or skydiving are pretty common experiences. They can provide insight into the churning, swirling discomfort that anxiety can cause. Adding depression into the mix must make anxiety all the more challenging. Matt Haig does a great job conveying this.