When I think about how long I have been struggling with anxiety, I often say it started in the middle of last year. But in reality I had probably been struggling for a lot longer than that. Initially without realising there was a problem and then slowly transforming in to denial that there was a problem.
Life was difficult, and at times it was really really difficult but I just thought that was how it was supposed to be. After all I was a mother to two young children, working a 30 hour week in a taxing job, juggling childcare with a self-employed husband in a high pressured job and my own social life and hobbies on top. Of course life was going to be difficult. But I genuinely believed that I was coping, I had things under control and I was managing everything. In reality I was in denial and it was mega tough but it did all balance and that was what mattered. Then an issue at work arose and then it spiralled, all of a sudden I had been knocked off balance and there was no going back.
It started by feelings of sickness and that anxious rumbling in the pit of my stomach every time I went to work. Then I was on the verge of tears all the time. Then I couldn’t concentrate, I became a bit paranoid. Then I started jumping every time someone came in the office door, the panic attacks kicked in when I drove up the ramp to the car park. Meanwhile, although I was struggling, I had absolutely no idea that this wasn’t normal. I knew it wasn’t enjoyable and I knew I had changed but I didn’t really get it – or more importantly I didn’t really want to get it. I didn’t want to get what it meant. The trigger point was when I had a huge panic attack whilst working from home just because of an email I needed to send. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t talk or write or function. I was petrified and alone and I didn’t know what to do.
Luckily I had watched enough Casualty and medical dramas in my time to know that it wasn’t a heart attack or anything more sinister. My rational brain was still alert enough to know it was a panic attack. I didn’t know how to make it stop but I knew what it was. So I rode it out, and it did eventually come to an end. At which point I called my husband who eventually convinced me that it hadn’t been a “normal” response to the task in hand and that I needed to speak to a doctor. He forced me to call and I made an appointment for the following week. From that point forward I recognised that I had anxiety and sought treatment.
Seven months on and I still have anxiety but to a different degree. Luckily most of the time I don’t have panic and I have developed strategies to keep panic at bay when it tries to raise its ugly head. But unlike some physical illnesses, it has not been straightforward to treat and it hasn’t been cured. In honesty I don’t know if it will be cured ever or whether it will become a part of who I am and my character make up.
Things are very different now, whereas I was in denial this time last year about how I was feeling I am now probably a bit too far the other way. I am now more prone to over analysing every response and feeling, often mislabelling something as anxiety when it could be seen as normal behaviour.
Neither of these are healthy approaches, but anxiety feels a bit like being dropped in the middle of the ocean and being expected to make your way home. Like many of the most difficult things in life, it doesn’t come with a manual or a definitive cure all prescription. Instead you have to make your way through the best way you can, making mistakes and developing survival techniques.
It’s easy to get so caught up in the self-analysis that you lose perspective and start to think that you are more unwell than you actually are. That can then spiral in to belief that things are slipping and that you are taking a backwards step. That is incredibly disheartening and consequently rational thought is lost again. Bingo – that’s exactly what the anxiety wanted, it wanted you to give up and succumb to its power.
When I take a step back and recover enough to restore the rational thought, it is easy to see that it was just a blip. But when you are caught up in it all then it can become quite overwhelming and often destructive. It could easily go the other way, but I feel that I have managed to keep something in my reserves which stops that from happening. Will that always work? Who knows, but it’s the best I have at the moment and its good enough for me.
And you never know, maybe someday there will be a manual to help us all!!