Today I was told that I must be really strong and brave to keep getting up and coming to work even when I’m having a horrendous anxiety day. Truth is, I don’t feel either of those things most of the time. I feel exhausted in the battle, like I need to adjust my ‘mask’ each day, put it on ready to go to work and seem ‘normal’ to everyone else. I often feel very alone in a room full of people, I really struggle to make eye contact in conversation and then basically it cycles so I get anxious that people think I’m being rude when they probably don’t think this at all. I’m currently starting to work through some CBT provided by work and part of this is learning to recognise your thinking patterns . I’ve started to recognise that I’m often in ‘mind-reading’ mode where I imagine what people are thinking of me or about me and the vast majority of the time this really is not the case as I also do something called ‘catastrophising’ which is again a negative style of thinking where I always think worst case scenario when a teeny tiny thing goes wrong when it’s extremely unlikely that this will ever happen.
Writing is something that’s always come easily to me when I’m in the mood to do it. It’s a great way, when I’m not feeling up to speaking about my feelings. And as I’m writing this I am feeling the tension releasing a bit. Speaking about how I feel is something that understandably isn’t easy however when I feel strong enough to do it I do feel a lot better like someone’s turned the pressure down. I think one of the reasons I don’t speak about anxiety and feelings/emotions is the fear of being judged by others that might not understand why I feel like I do or what I’ve had to fight. Bottling stuff up by not speaking about it doesn’t help in the long run and I’ve not spoken about my struggle much at work. I sometimes feel like I’m putting too much on my boss and burdening her with how I feel. I have got an appointment with occupational health which may start to address some problems I’ve been having. Work have been great with all the shit that I’ve been carrying with me and sometimes I just wish the anxiety would pack it’s horns up and go so I can get on with my life. However sometimes I feel like the anxiety makes me a better scientist in some aspects, like when I’m focused I’m really on it and I actually check check and check again whatever I’m doing. Other times it’s not so good and it’s hard and the days feel so long and I’m constantly criticising myself.
Also in the past week I’ve found that I’m not alone in my struggle with my anxiety demon. Others at work share the same issues , with a similar mask that they wear. Anxiety is something that comes in many forms and frankly is a fucking little shitty wanker bastard that clings to any miniature insecurity, minor problem or thought. It’s a horrible little bitch sitting on your shoulder sniggering at all your problems.
As I’ve just mentioned, the mask is probably something many many people have heard of. This mythical mask is something I feel like I need to wear to work, like my glasses. It’s something that anxiety makes me feel like I have to wear everyday, to look normal at work, whatever that is. I’m scared I will look weak in front of colleagues if I don’t mask up, I’m scared I’ll let my boss down if I’m not encased in this mask.
The really really fucking annoying irrationality about this is the fact that I myself know that this is not the case, people will likely understand, because the fact is a) we’re all a little bit fucked up in some way, and b) you can never tell what someone else is going through or has been through from their exterior. This is why it’s so so important that we aren’t scared to talk about mental health. It’s not a curse word, we don’t need permission to talk about it.
I originally made this blog as a form of therapy for myself to express how anxiety affects me personally and now, although this has not changed, it has grown to become something, a tool perhaps, to tell others in a similar boat that it’s better to talk about anxiety and mental health, it needs to be talked about, the horrid fucking stigma that you’re weak, that you’re less of a man/person if you’re unfortunate enough to be affected by anxiety or depression , needs booting in the arse frankly. It’s wrong. So wrong that people judge others for mental health issues. You’re still the same you, it hasn’t made you less clever or less skilled at your job or sport or hobby, it’s just a little extra something. So many intelligent people have anxiety or mental health issues. It’s ok not to be ok.
The photo that’s attached at the top of this post is something I found while scrolling through Twitter. I can seriously really relate to this. Subtle things change when I’m having a bad anxiety spell. I get quieter, i get considerably more cynical in my opinions of myself, sometimes I can be quite blunt to be brutally honest. Eye contact is something I have struggled with for a long time now. However, again through CBT, I’m starting something called an exposure diary, doing something called exposure therapy. Basically you set yourself an end goal and work up to it in steps to become less anxious while doing at. The first goal I’ve set myself with no real timeframe, is to maintain eye contact while in conversation. The aim of exposure therapy is to ease in little by little and wrote down how you felt, when you did it and how anxious you were before, during and after. This is going to be a real challenge for me, however I need to stop avoiding things that cause me anxiety and start living. It’s going to be a long journey but I’m in this for the long haul. I have an increasing support network both at work and home so it’s now time for me to take the stage.
One final thing. It’s been quite a while since I had a anxiety attack. I must be getting something’s right.