Anxiety and me...and you...and us all.
I want to write about something very difficult today. It’s difficult because we are all anxious about the future and worried about how to manage in the present. On top of this we are all struggling to find ways to keep going now we are one step removed from many things that comfort, help and distract us from our concerns.
I want to write about what it’s like to live with ongoing and overwhelming anxiety. My aim is not to compare worries, add to yours or claim Anxiety as my own, but to establish some common ground if I can.
Long before the current Coronavirus crisis, I walked around carrying the weight of the feeling that the world as we knew it, or as I knew it, couldn’t last and would somehow end imminently. No matter how I tried to rationalise it away, this groundless feeling of dread has dogged me for years and I could never really put my finger on why. With the dread, would come intrusive thoughts and ruminations lasting days about all the terrible things that could happen to people I loved
and all the mistakes I made that may lead to this ruination. Looking back as a child and teen the ongoing nausea, withdrawal and other maladaptive ways I had of coping, should, and I hope these days would have been noticed as requiring intervention of some kind, regardless of how good I was at my school work.
I used to think everyone carried the dread and worry around with them and could just cope better than I could. This still comes back to bite me every so often when others even those close to me struggle to understand my daily struggle, as I can't share the nature of in particular certain intrusive thoughts and the despair that results.
Insidiously the dread is made worse by good and positive things that happen, almost as much it's reinforcement when difficult and negative challenges occur. Dread, panic, worry and then worry about the dread, panic and worry controlled my life for many years. I kept this all to myself for around 25 years, convinced that I would be locked up for being mad or rejected because I was just weak and sad.
I have in recent years learned that this symptom of feeling a daily groundless dread is shared by many others with a condition, or set of symptoms, called Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety is hardly ever pleasant, but for some it can be helpful warning of risks, or gut reactions to situations or people. It can be motivating as in performance anxiety and it can help us take care of ourselves and others if we feel it proportionally with other emotions. On it’s own left to rule however, it is demoralising and paralysing and has no time for reasoning, common sense or platitudes.
At the moment the whole of humanity is dealing with some level of life-changing circumstances, threat and loss. For those out there already struggling with their mental health, it can feel like the whole world is out to get us and our external world is now reflecting what has been going on inside.
I saw this article published as the crisis was looming in the UK and in Europe in the first few days of the crisis and you could have knocked me over with a feather. It does feel like our anxiety was right all along. But that’s all it is, a feeling. As any anxiety warrior will tell you from their exposure therapy or CBT practice – feelings and thoughts are not facts.
What am I trying to say by relating all this? I guess that there are ways to live with anxiety and things you can do to find new ways to find calm and the strength to cope. For me this has involved decluttering relationships, taking medication, therapy, psychoeducation, and ultimately taking responsibility for streamlining my work and my life.
Up until this crisis, which I have to say has knocked me for six and put me a few steps back on my recovery, I had learned so much that I was able to gathered enough strengths to train as a volunteer Crisis Counsellor for SHOUT, the UK’s Crisis Text Line. Through that I interact with people as they reach out for help during a mental health crisis and I can tell you that the one thing they all have in common is their strength to reach out for support when they feel the world, or their mind, is against them.
I hope you forgive my humble understanding of my experience of anxiety. I don't claim to be worse afflicted by anxiety than anyone else is, but I am lucky enough to have found a way to transform my experience of it and even craft a vocation talking about it.
I hope my words enable at least one person out there to feel less alone with their anxiety in these unsettling times. Remember anxiety is a jealous companion and wants you all to herself, but she is not in charge as you can see her and label her for what she is.
So you are in charge.
Useful websites and for further support:
SHOUT Crisis Textline, Text 85258 or visit