I’ve had this post as a draft for months. Held back hitting publish because even I think I’m ridiculous, and dramatic.
One of the things that has been said to me many times is “but your life is lovely, you’ve got nothing to worry about!” and I know. I know things are lovely. I know there’s nothing real to worry about.
But try telling that to the seventy three personalities living inside my mind, who all have an opinion, and all think they need to be heard.
The thing with anxiety is that it isn’t logical. Or useful. Or in any way something you can just opt out of having. Anxiety isn’t something I have because it fills the time. It isn’t just that I worry a bit, and should calm down. It’s nothing to do with how well my life is going (and if anything, things being nice in my life is far more frightening than things falling apart, because there’s more to lose from here and I’m BOUND to cock it all up!)
Anxiety just IS. It has a life apart from mine, it is a monster that lives in my body, that whispers in my mind, telling me all the ways the people I love are either in danger or don’t want me around. It tells me that there is danger everywhere, meaning I am always flooded with adrenaline. It makes my heart race, my hands sweat, my chest tighten and my body throw food back out violently when even the smallest thing happens.
My logical mind knows that there’s nothing terrifying happening. My logical mind knows that going to a networking event for work is not only not in the least bit frightening, it’s actually really good fun, and I like the people I see there. But my body is still unsure, and so I have to throw up before I go into the room – and because I’ve lived with this kind of anxiety for so many years, that is just something I factor into my timekeeping, and I tend to arrive first to any business meeting (even friendly coffee meetings with people I adore, actually!) because I’ll probably go and be sick in the bathroom and get a drink before anyone else arrives.
This has the added bonus of making me look like someone who is efficient and good at timekeeping – never a bad reputation to build as a freelancer!
The worst thing about anxiety is that it gets in the way of doing things – and often, I’m anxious because I need to do things – but then so frozen by the anxiety that I can’t do things, and then I’m even more anxious, because I’ve not done the things that needed to be done, and then it builds and builds.
I am then so anxious that I can’t sleep, instead lying awake thinking about a thousand scenarios that aren’t even going to happen, but which I can’t stop picturing – and then I’m exhausted, and that makes me even more anxious.
All through this process, there’s a very sensible voice inside my head (which, incidentally and not at all incidentally, sounds exactly like my Grandmother) saying “but what’s the worst that can actually happen?” and “But you know this is nonsense, and you’re spiralling” and – peak Nanny voice – “stop catastrophising, Child!”
Unfortunately, that one voice has very little chance of being heard and agreed with, because drowning it our are all the others, telling me what a failure I am, that I’m cocking everything up, that I’m crap at all the things I want to do anyway, that I’m going to fail so there’s no point in even trying, that I’m unlovable, unlikeable and unworthy, that I’m just a blob of negative energy making life harder for the people around me, that I’m just a selfish little vampire who doesn’t deserve to be happy, that nobody wants to be around me, including myself, and that I should just leave already and let them get on with life without me spoiling things.
And to each and every one of those voices I have a small voice of my own saying “this is just the anxiety speaking” and a Nanny voice who says “don’t be ridiculous” to each of those statements – but there are more of them than there are of us, and it is EXHAUSTING having to give myself that pep talk every moment of every day.
Every decision is a battle, every step is a war, every time I leave the house I have to bully myself into it, every time I see someone roll their eyes because I am being ridiculous and I KNOW I AM BEING RIDICULOUS but I can’t help it, I feel just that little bit more broken and things get just that little bit more difficult, and I can’t follow a conversation because I’m distracted by twenty others that are happening in my head all at once.
One is about that time I dropped ten pounds when I was 14 and a boy shouted “stupid skinhead bitch” after me as he scooped it up, laughing, and I told my Mum I’d spent it because I was too ashamed to say I was too frightened to ask for it back, but I couldn’t tell her what I’d spent it on, so got grounded.
One is the things I wish I’d said in defence of myself, at a time when I was afraid and instead I said nothing at all.
One is a conversation I think is coming, which I dread, for which I have no indication or evidence, because it’s a scenario that will never come about, with a person I’ve not had contact with for over a decade, but who still has a loud enough voice in my mind to matter.
One is the list of things I should have done, and haven’t, which repeats on a loop, berating me for failing, even though many of the things on the list are things I couldn’t do or which aren’t my responsibility anyway.
Another is the voice who laughs at me when I want to call my friends, because I don’t have friends, these people tolerate me, but don’t want to carry the burden of my angst.
All of these, and more from my youth, my imagined future, and the mess I think I’m making of right now, are always happening. Add to them that every time I drop my babies at school I spend the day imagining the flames that burn it to the ground with them inside, and I’m not there to save them. Or someone walks in, pretends to know them, and steals them before I go to wait in the playground to pick them up at half past three. And every time I get in the car, I feel the crunch of metal against metal as I crash and die. I hear the words of the doctors telling my partner that I didn’t make it. I see the children growing up without me, because I took my eyes off the road just for a second and a second was all it took. When I walk down any pavement I see myself trip, and fall into the path of a lorry, which hasn’t got time to brake, instead crushing me beneath its wheels. I cook knowing that I will somehow set the house on fire. I wash dishes knowing that I will fumble a knife and slash my wrist, bleeding out before help can come. Each time I go up or down the stairs, I know I’ll slip and fall and break my neck, because Laura Ashley tripped at home on just three steps, and died.
I check my children each night before I go to bed, to be sure that they are sleeping and breathing, and through the night I often check again, just to be sure.
I lock the front door and check it again, and just once more, to be sure I didn’t make a mistake.
I answer each call knowing that the phone is ringing with the news that someone I love has died. I answer the doorbell knowing it is the police telling me I’ve broken a law and am being taken away.
I concentrate on what is being said to me by anyone having a conversation, but have to concentrate harder and harder to follow it because I’m distracted by the voices telling me this person wishes they were talking to anyone but me.
I work, knowing that I’m terrible at what I do, and will doubtlessly lose every client after this job, because they think the same.
I jump inside at every sound, knowing it is some approaching danger. My heart is pounding, my vision is blurred, my hands clammy, my hearing alert but also muffled, and I remind myself to breathe because I’m dizzy with the fear of it all, when there is nothing here to fear.
I am suffocating, in this wonderful life, happy with my family and friends, building a successful world, and terrified, every moment of every day, of my own happiness.
That is anxiety. Not a little worry. Not a choice. Not silly. Exhausting. Always. Relentlessly.