I have anxiety. I am not ashamed, afraid or alone. I’ve sought and received help on several fronts. I have chosen to fight back. I’ve decided to share my story as it’s Time To Talk Day and while I realise for some it’s far more difficult to do what I’ve done, I hope it might resonate with others and hopefully help them find a way through it.
It’s said moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do. However, Claudia Hammond suggests there’s not much evidence to back this up and it depends on how a person reacts to a situation:
[Life event] scales also come with the assumption that a particular event will have a similar impact on you, regardless of the situation […But] no two people’s responses to a situation will be exactly the same[…] It’s not just the event itself that matters, but how you view that event and whether you feel you have the personal resources and support from others to allow you to cope. Both emotions and cognitions play a part.
A case in point is my husband and I. While we’re in the same situation he’s less stressed than I am (although still feeling the pressure) whereas I’ve reached the end of my resources, tipping me into anxiety. Why had I reached the end of my resources? Because the situation isn’t straightforward:
- Moving house doesn’t happen overnight: currently it’s been going on for about six months;
- We were all set to move but the deal fell through spectacularly: we had to start the long process all over again;
- Thanks to the stress I lost interest in learning things and creativity (see how long it’s been since my last blog);
- I’ve lost my link with the natural world and the seasons as I’m giving up my allotment (long story for another time). This is huge as being outside and growing stuff is really important for helping me to stay in balance.
On the positive side this is a period of stress with an identifiable cause and, with a bit of luck, a set time frame. It’ll take a bit of time to heal after the move but it will end.
The symptoms worsened
While I’ve had anxiety before I’ve never experienced it like this: it got to the point where I could no longer tolerate the physical symptoms. The change in bowel habit wasn’t a welcome addition to the day with an existing bowel condition. Insomnia was causing several issues, including an inability to keep things in perspective and unwelcome thoughts which then feeds other symptoms. The lack of concentration was in danger of affecting my work: something I didn’t want to happen. I like my job. The final straw was the unpredictable episodes of racing heart and breathlessness, which was distressing.
I chose not to accept feeling awful
In the past anxiety has led to depression, a place I really don’t want to go again. Previously I’ve had good results with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) so used that as a model to analyse what was going on and the help I needed. CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are all connected; you can be trapped in a vicious cycle by negative thoughts or feelings. It helps you break problems or current situations into smaller parts, making them easier to deal with. For me if you disrupt one element of the negative system you should be able to sort out the rest of it.
Below is a shorter version of my mind map that breaks the situation down. In addition to thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions (symptoms and behaviours in my version) I like to include “Steps taken” to show myself what I’ve already done and help me work out what else is needed. For me the act of deciding to and then taking back some control helps.
I get by with a little help from my friends
I’d foreseen something like this could happen so I’d already spoken to a trusted friend and she agreed to be my rock, someone I could lean on when required and offer a different view point or thought when my own weren’t being helpful. She delivered in bucketfuls and I’m very grateful: I owe her a lot. My husband is also very good at providing balance to thoughts. Other friends also provided viewpoints and distractions, some helping without realising it.
Upping the training. Literally.
I wanted to replace some of the bad chemicals from stress with some good ones from exercise. I also find that when I train I have no choice but to be in the moment, focusing completely on what you’re doing. In addition to my usual Pilates and personal training I found a trampolining fitness class taking my exercise to about three hours a week. I have a strict rule that I only do exercise that makes me laugh and all these are frankly hilarious in a good way: the trainers have a good sense of humour, have shown me I can do things I didn’t think I could, and we have a laugh at the same time.
Three cheers for my GP
I made an appointment to see my GP, unfortunately it was a three week wait; in hindsight I should’ve insisted on a more urgent appointment. We went through my detailed mind map, he saw the steps I was taking (including counselling, see below), realised I reached the end of my resources and listened to my request for medication, prescribing Sertraline for anxiety. I didn’t realise how bad I’d been feeling for so long until I started taking it: I’m me again. It doesn’t stop the anxiety completely but brings it to a level I can cope with, a review appointment may change the dose to deal with it completely.
Support at work
I spoke to my line manager as I was aware the concentration issues could affect my work, outlining the issues and action I’d taken. He was very supportive and happy to take further steps with me if required so I’ll update him on things every few weeks or more often if necessary. So far further steps haven’t been needed and I don’t think they will be.
Learning and creating
I’d stopped doing anything creative or learning new things so I’ve started some free courses on Future Learn and developed an interest in astronomy. I’m not sure what to do about the creative side but writing this has felt good so hopefully I’ll get back into blogging, I’ve got a few ideas.
Counselling didn’t help this time
As previously mentioned counselling using a CBT model has helped in the past but this time it wasn’t useful. That’s OK, the circumstances are different and I think they key issue was the counsellor and I didn’t gel which can sometimes happen. By this point the medication had given me the breathing space I needed so I’m not concerned about not doing it and it doesn’t mean I won’t try it in the future.
Call to action
Every blog post should end with a call to action (did you know that?). As the situation is ongoing I couldn’t think of one so here are some tips and sources of help:
- Your feelings are as valid as anyone else’s. A situation causing you anxiety when others seem fine is not a sign of weakness.
- It might feel like the hardest thing in the world but please ask for help. It’s not always easy to find but it is there.
- What works for one doesn’t work for all.
- What’s worked in a different situation might not work now but that’s OK, you can find something that does.
- My favourite online source of help is the Blurt Foundation. Their emails and Twitter posts really resonate with me, as does Black Dog Tribe.
- Other useful websites are, SANE, Mind and MQ Mental Health.
I can and I will get better.
I won’t receive anything for linking to Cardiff Pilates Studio, Aspire Fitness or Go Air Cardiff.
With thanks to Laura for her superlative proof reading skills and editorial suggestions.