Coming out with Anxiety
25 July 2018
I must begin this blog with an apology.
Most of my blogs so far have been about mental health. So is this blog, but this blog differs from the others in that it is very personal. In the past, I have written about the role of stigma and language and love more generally, today I am writing about myself.
I am coming out.
Now I have already, many years ago, “come out” as a person with lived experience of schizophrenia. Today I am coming out as a sufferer of anxiety.
I suffer anxiety. It is a very significant feature of my mental health.
The world is not a place designed for people with anxiety. Our stressful, hectic, fragmented lives both encourage anxiety and punish those who cannot interact “correctly” as a cause of that anxiety.
I know different people may suffer anxiety in different ways. For me, it is a beast, a demon. It raises its head when I am faced with too much stress. Particular stressors include times of social performance, of speeches, of angst-inducing surprises and of worries about stressors in the future. When this demon surfaces, it does so quickly, and intensely. I may go from a 5 or 6 out of 10 straight to a 8, 9 or 10. When I am in its grips, my ability to socialise and interact goes right down. I start to “catastrophise”- a process where moderate anxiety-provoking situations in the future seem to be immense and insurmountable. My tummy tightens. My breath becomes more shallow. I am hesitant to drive or go out. I need to escape.
My escape space is my room. I set up some pillows on my couch, sit down and try to calm down. Most times I start to play my guitar, I write songs. This creative process seems to temporarily take my mind of the anxiety, expresses what I am feeling and allows anxiety (in time) to pass. However, this can take a while. Sometimes it’s half an hour. Sometimes it can last three to four hours before my mood lightens and I experience relief.
I must admit that I also use valium from time to time, but I am wary of the fact that it can be addictive and I attempt to get by without it when I can. This is not always an easy thing to do, especially when I know I have an anxiety-provoking experience coming up, such as a speech or interview. I also meditate a great deal, usually between an hour and an hour-and-a-half every day. This generally helps me keep my mood stable, but I am unable to meditate when I am acutely anxious. I guess to some extent I get “anxious about being anxious”. The thought that I may be somewhere socialising or acting in a professional capacity and the beast will surface causes me fear. Of course, this anxiety reinforces the very anxiety it responds to.
With that said, I have become much better over time at managing this beast. I know the triggers and can avoid them. I know that, if necessary, I can bluff my way through social occasions and most often people will not realise. With the help of a great psychologist I am learning to reduce the “anxious about being anxious” feeling. And I am getting better at recovering in my escape space.
So with all that said, I have decided to come out for the simple reason that it may help other people with anxiety. I hope that other sufferers of anxiety may take some comfort in knowing they are not alone. I encourage sufferers to seek help from their GP or a psychologist. I hope that it is possible for us to manage and perhaps hopefully, conquer this demon.
Dr Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health firstname.lastname@example.org.