The fifth post by Rosalind links to her others can be found at the bottom of the page.
It took me a good 20 years to realise I’m an anxious person. When I thought of anxiety I thought; nervous, nail biting, self-doubting- and that just didn’t compute with my experience.
My anxiety is certain, it’s a head clearing, “you are not doing this”, absolute bitch. My anxiety is a self-assured monster; it’s smug and self-satisfied. If I follow my anxiety back into the hermit cave where it wants to live, it’s happy as fucking larry.
While that’s all very well and good for my anxiety, it means I don’t eat, socialise or look after myself; which is not a good combination for adult life.
I tried suppressing my anxiety; this didn’t work very well, as it takes up a large portion of my brain. One of its main moves is to affect my thinking; it slows down my ability to process information. You know when you get to that level of drunk where you are almost out of your body and it’s on automatic?
It got to the point where I was so disconnected from my life, feeling normal things was difficult; which leads to crying in public and generally withdrawing from life (which is what my anxiety wanted in the first place damn it).
This is when I went on anti-depressants (I may expand on this experience later) for 6 months, and started to discover the world of women with Autism. From this point I started managing my anxiety better (I still didn’t call it anxiety.) I started to look at what situations made me feel, I realised I process things differently and that physical environment can have effects on my anxiety (being diagnosed Autistic also helped a great deal).
For example walking past this wall (see gif) makes me feel dizzy, lightheaded and puts my whole body on edge. This was the sort of thing I wouldn’t notice before and would try to attribute to the situation/person I was with, or the thoughts I was having.
One of the things my anxiety does is wipe my brain of all the useful information. It’s like the pilot of the plane has passed out and all you’re left with is a passenger who has played a lot of video games (yeah not going to cut it). If I take my time I can access some of the useful information, but if I’m in a pinch, I got nothing.
The passenger in my brain also happens to be a nutcase (you know that voice that ponders things like ‘what would happen if I just punched that stranger/jumped in that fountain/said this inappropriate thing’). This nutcase passenger can sound sane, sensible and also very similar to the pilot (which makes things interesting).
I wish there was an easy way to manage my anxiety and I could smile (and wave my arm around in that knowing way) and tell you I’ve figured it all out, but that would be bullshit.
So instead here is some questionable advice from someone that has spent most of the last week sleeping, but has still managed to go to work and socialise because even though I’m a mess, I’ve still got it together (or at least I’m holding something together and making the most of it).
The zen art of breathing– oh hey didn’t you know if you just focus on your breathing your anxiety will float off into the ether, well that’s not true but I find focussing on my breathing and counting to ten (sometimes again and again, I get so sick of counting to ten) can give my head enough time to jump back into gear, or it gives me enough space to be able to figure a way out of the situation.
Soothe your soul with music– and I’m not talking about relaxing whale sounds, I listen to all sorts, something with a bit of movement can get me out of bed and dressed (Arctic Monkeys was the go to at one point), slower stuff can calm my racing brain (I favour Tom Rosenthal). I have a tendency to forget music because I find it difficult to find new stuff, as I like music from across a whole spectrum of genres (if you have any recommendations I am trying to collect more, any genre, send them over).
Finding some space– moving into a more restful place is the ticket, or more likely I find myself sitting on a toilet with my head between my legs until I can assess clearly, it’s always okay to sit on the toilet for ages. Although if your uncomfortable about the idea of people thinking you’re taking a hefty shit, just walk out, take a call, find a quieter space.
Grab a friend– I find it calming to speak to people who know me, as my anxiety can make me feel very separate from myself (dissociation). It’s grounding to talk to someone who knows me, just hearing a familiar voice can be helpful, the phone can have less pressure than a face-to-face interaction. Just hearing about someone’s day can calm the noise in my head.
Let’s get physical– that was slightly misleading, but I’m not sorry, I love to dance even though sometimes it’s the last thing I feel like doing, linking it with the music, I put on something with the right rhythm and I can’t stop myself. On this note I realised sometimes I purposefully make myself late, so I have to half run, having a reason for an elevated heart rate can make it less overwhelming and reduce my anxiety (also I can find it easier to say I just ran here than saying I’m anxious and fluttery). This can backfire if I’m thrown into a more stimulating environment immediately, as my heart rate is already raised, something I would not find stressful can send me into a ‘panic attack/utter headblank’.
No seriously lets get physical– still not talking about sex (I know I’m a tease) but physical affection is important; I like holding hugs a little bit too long, playing music on friends arms/shoulders, my family likes to lie on each other. If I feel super comfortable with someone (mostly this is my sisters) I like to do things like find the strangest way of holding their hand or share a t-shirt sleeve, hold an ear.
Fuck it all– just take some time off, the more productive way I do this is by structuring my week to have a bit of me time; nice food, coffee shop, bath etc. Less productive version is to fall in a hole of binge watching some series, buy myself easy to cook food (if I’m sensible) and not really leave my bedroom except for essentials (which now includes work and socialising, well done me). The even less productive is taking every opportunity to sleep struggling with the idea of getting out of the house even for food, cutting into my socialising for sleep.
Get the fuck out of here– I’m still waiting for my Stephen Fry moment where I fuck off to Belgium for a week (considering I’m comfortable on public transport now, getting better at handling new places and enjoy throwing myself into stuff this is coming). Currently I take long walks, go to friends houses (this is not limited to my immediate area, the world is my oyster).
Check yourself– anxiety can cause spiralling thoughts and paranoia; it’s easy to let yourself believe things that aren’t true (or are half true) and keep seeing signs that support your conclusion. I’ve had moments where friends I’ve introduced to each other have hung out without me… need I say where my brain goes? I find trying to supress a thought just builds it, so I go full researcher on it. I examine the situation from different angles and perspectives; I look at all the possibilities until there are so many options I’m no longer convinced I know something. But if still having trouble I ask someone I trust or I clarify; ‘did I hear it right?’, ‘did they say it right?’ more often than not the answer to one of these is no.
Don’t assign blame– it’s very tempting to tell yourself that people around you or the environment you are in, is what’s causing your anxiety, and you could be right. However it could also be your insides responding to something you are not aware of. Assigning blame can also mean you create a link between someone/somewhere and anxiety that wasn’t there in the first place (isn’t the brain a clever thing). Acknowledge the thought let it drift past, come back to it later when you’re not in a heightened state.
This may all feel very specific to me and you may feel like you’ve gotten nothing out of it (except realising what a together person you are, well done you, no seriously I’m impressed, any tips?) maybe your anxiety doesn’t manifest itself in the same way, but from my extensive reading it seems to me like it’s coming from a similar place. My coping mechanisms have come from trial and error and figuring out how to read myself better (and having people around me who are gently or brutally honest).
I now understand the metaphors of making friends with your depression; though I still think they’re a little shitty and limiting. I think it’s more realistic to say treat your anxiety like a baby, sometimes you can figure out the source of the crying (hungry, tired, cold, just shit themselves), other times it’s just about singing yourself mad, rocking, crying until you both wear each other out.
Just like when you have a baby, letting someone else give you a hand does not mean you’re weak, it also doesn’t have to mean someone dedicating a set amount of time to focussing on your issues (that’s what therapy is for, maybe I should get some). I enjoy going with friends to do shit they need to get done (this can be mutually beneficial if I also get something done) or making dinner for a friend (or visa versa) etc.
So look after the baby that is your anxiety, it’ll get older and you’ll figure out more things about it then puberty will happen and everything will get fucked up for a bit, but hopefully it will leave home (although considering the economic state maybe not)… that metaphor went a bit far (not sorry though). To end this here are some video’s I have found useful in my search for sanity?…/peace of mind…