So… here goes.
I’m not really sure how to start this, but equally I have always been someone that doesn’t plan what I’m going to say on a blog like this, I just kind of, well, let it flow on to the screen from what’s going on in my head.
I suppose this was prompted by a few things… writing helps me get my feelings out when words can’t express how I’m feeling, the current stigma, albeit one that is slowly becoming better, surrounding mental health issues, that at least 1 in every 4 people suffer from, many of them in silence, and I suppose the other thing that prompted this was the absolutely amazing support that I have received from my line manager and current employer regarding my anxiety, which I won’t lie, I was astounded by as I expected a sort of ‘meh what do you expect me to do’ and leave me to deal with it on my own.
At the moment, I am almost 7 weeks into my new job, and so far I’ve had several, shall we say “skirmishes” with my anxiety. Sometimes there’s a trigger, like I’ve fucked something up and I know I have and am aware of potential consequences, and sometimes there isn’t, or the apparent trigger is something that ‘normal’ (whatever that is) people just brush off, like a meeting about coming back to work after sickness, which is nothing really, however my anxiety manifests itself from somewhat irrational things. This is what really fucking pisses me off about my anxiety, I mean I KNOW that it will be fine, but it doesn’t stop my stupid anxious brain from going… ” she seems too calm and in control here, lets add a bit of chemical imbalance to fucking make her freak out”. At least, that’s what it feels like. If anyone is wondering, I am currently taking medication, which works most of the time, but I suppose I’ve been a little stressed with things lately so it’s not as effective as perhaps it could be. It is perfectly fine to rely on antidepressants/anti-anxiety drugs – its really important to remember that we aren’t all the same, different things work for different people. For me, I need my medication so I can function at a reasonable level, and I’ve come to accept that.
I suppose that I could be have what is termed ‘high-functioning anxiety’ because despite the daily battle against the demon that is anxiety, I can still do my day job and basic stuff, like commuting and shopping. That said, it doesn’t mean I suffer any less than those who are extremely debilitated by mental illness to the extent they struggle to function – it’s not a competition about who suffers most. One of the best things I find that helps my anxiety is travelling.. which can seem odd, but last week I went on a domestic flight and it was the calmest and least anxious I’d been for at least a fortnight, despite a little turbulence on landing, and I always find that standing at a train station platform and listening to the noise of the trains is really grounding and calming, and travelling on them is the same for me.
One thing I have learned is that some days, I’ll get to a point where I’m just absolutely done with interacting with other people for the rest of that day, and it isn’t the fault of anyone else, it’s my hormones (I also suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS), and my anxiety saying to me “couldn’t give a shit if you’ve had a good day, you’ll be in a mood for the rest of it”, and manifests itself as snapping at people I love and people that don’t deserve it, and for that I am sorry. I do try to keep a lid on it but sometimes a tiny thing will just flick the infamous switch and I’ll fly off the handle for what appears as nothing significant. It’s almost like a have a social interaction o-meter or something and when it’s full, that’s your lot!
Another experience I’ve had with anxiety is.. well I suppose it’s hard to describe, but I seriously struggle with eye contact – I feel extremely self conscious, more so when I am in a highly anxious state and it becomes very difficult to make eye contact or interact with others. This is something I’m really trying to make an effort with and I hope people understand.
Now.. the subject of something that is pretty synonymous with anxiety – panic/anxiety attacks. I wonder how many of you reading this have either had one, or how many of you wonder what its like to have an attack. I’ll try and describe one of mine, but not all attacks are the same. It usually starts with what I’d call a feeling of your stomach ‘dropping’ and then in my case, my arse falls out (sorry TMI), which basically means I get a spot of diarrhoea and usually have to rush off to the ladies for obvious reasons. Sometimes I feel a bit sick. Then I get palpitations and a racing heart and in some of the bad panic attacks I’ve had I get full on trembling all over my body, usually my hands shaking, and I get this sudden ‘awareness’ of my surroundings – by this I mean everything seems so far away, like you’re watching from a different room to where you actually are at the time. I lose focus and struggle to concentrate on whatever task I’m doing. One thing I have recently noticed is that I’ll ‘go quiet’ when I’m mid-attack, which means I won’t seem like my usual self, I will stop making my usual quips or banter in conversation with friends or colleagues, which is probably the most obvious sign. I also do something called ‘desensitising’, which is where I appear to be on another planet, and is a bit like the ‘awareness’ I described, but more severe – I pretty much zone out into the anxious cloud, as I like to call it.
A lot of the time, you can’t really tell if someone is having an anxiety attack, as sometimes they will take themselves off to somewhere quiet, in an attempt to remove any further triggers or to do something which is called grounding, and sometimes you just can’t tell. Grounding is a technique where you bring yourself back, if you like, from the anxiety ride or brink, by using 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. It’s also great for coming out of desensitising. It doesn’t always work but personally helps to lessen the anxiety. I have a wonderful little thing called a ‘fidget cube’ which also helps, and in particular helps when I become seriously anxious, as I have an unfortunate tendency to pull the skin off my fingers/fingernails, which is obviously not the best when I’m working in a lab! The way the cube works is that it has different textures or sensations which are calming in different ways and certainly in my case, keeps my hands busy and distracted enough to stop me picking my skin. The way I try getting around anxiety in general is keeping busy, but doesn’t always work.
I was diagnosed with anxiety around this time last year, triggered by an unfortunate situation where I was on the receiving end of psychological bullying from someone I trusted. To be brutally honest, it fucked me up for a long time, and is sometimes still raw, but I am a lot stronger mentally now, however nothing excuses bullying but I will not go into that situation on here because there’s no real point to it. I have come a long way from who I was then but I will not be defined by my anxiety. It is a part of me and without this struggle I would never have found the strength to fight it.
An unfortunate effect from my mostly effective anti-anxiety drugs is a pretty well known but not talked about much to my knowledge, side effect. This side effect is a bit of an odd one as side effects go, but basically I’ve had some quite frankly frightening realistic dreams, which leave me grinding my teeth during the night, meaning I wake up with a terrible tension headache and usually I’m struggling with low to medium level anxiety for the rest of that day. That said, the positives outweigh the negatives of citalopram.
Now, I’m coming to the end of this now, but there was something I wanted to talk about – anxiety and work. Now as I’ve said not everyone’s anxiety is the same and some people want to keep their ‘problems’ to themselves, which is fair enough, but I believe that should people want to talk to others, colleagues, line managers, managers, occupational health etc, that somewhere there needs to be a listening ear that is sympathetic, understanding, without feeling like they have to keep it all in. You just have to listen, or just ask ” are you ok?”. Sometimes listening is enough. I realise that in the majority of my academic career, and at my current job, that maybe (but I hope not) I am incredibly lucky to have had more support than I could have asked for, and a lot of that support within my academic life was just from someone listening to what I was struggling with. In terms of my experience at work, it was a daunting prospect initially to speak to my line manager about what I was going through, but she was absolutely amazing, 100% supportive with my anxiety, and my other shit that I’ve got going on, and going the extra mile finding me anxiety resources and she’s pretty much seen me at my worst, but somehow she still believes in what I can do, and I can only hope to live up to my potential, so I have to say a massive thanks to her for actually listening to me.
I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I’ll always tell the truth about my anxiety – that it fucks me up sometimes, how it can ruin a perfectly great day with its fucking chemical imbalances, it means sometimes I struggle with social stuff like after work drinks – the little fucker winds me up about nothing to the point that I’m an absolutely exhausted sweaty mess, emotionally drained from the anxiety attack and the battle going on within my head all the while, so sometimes I just can’t do it, which I hate, but sometimes I have to fucking deal with my shit on my own. I’ve always felt that it’s good to talk to others rather than keep it inside your head, which is why I was open and upfront with my boss about it and will continue to be so.
Anxiety isn’t the end of the world but sometimes it feels like it. Personally I find that the fidget cube helps, writing helps, sometimes I’ll do a short spurt of exercise if I feel up to it. One tool that has been absolutely incredible find is mindfulness, which is pretty much meditation – I use an app called ‘Headspace’ which has the first 10 sessions free, they’re 10 minutes each but if you persist with it, as I have, you can find new coping techniques and there are short sessions which are good for panic attacks, they help to slow your breathing down without you noticing. I also do mindfulness colouring which has a similar effect as it distracts you from the anxiety and focuses your mind on colouring.
So that’s about it from me really. Feel free to share this, it’s a small insight into Me and my anxiety. I probably don’t look like have anxiety or am anxious but I do. It forms a part of my character and is a part of my life, but see beyond that, and you see who I really am.