Anxiety – what it’s like and how to help

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I suffer from depression and anxiety, and although this blog doesn’t focus on this, I’m having a bad day from it all and thought that maybe if I write some of it down, it may help. So here’s a handy guide to MY anxiety and how to help ME. It’s so individual from person to person, sometimes even from day to day. But maybe this could help.

What it’s like

There’s no real way to describe what my anxiety feels like. Sometimes it’s like this massive weight on my chest, and I can’t breathe except in small gasps. Other times it’s insomnia because I’m worried about something. The other day, when my boyfriend asked me how I had slept, I told him honestly that I slept awfully because I was so worried about Donald Trump becoming president (this was after the election results) and there was nothing I could do about it. At other times I shake uncontrollably. Others I can’t move for fear. Sometimes it’s a panic attack. There are so many different ways to feel it. All I can say really is this: it’s constant. It NEVER goes away. It’s always there, eating at my self confidence and waiting to pounce.

I have several key triggers. These include, but are not excluded to:

  • Food: Where is my next meal coming from? Will my breaks at work fit around when I’m actually hungry? What if I eat too much? Is this bingeing or just being really hungry? What if someone cooks something I don’t like and I can’t eat? What if I get stuck in traffic without food? What if I get hungry for no reason? What if I can’t function because I’m hungry?
  • Sleep: What if I don’t sleep tonight? What if I need a nap? If I’m tired, will I be able to go to work? What if I can’t drive somewhere because I’m tired? What if I fall asleep at work? What if my bed breaks? What if I have bad dreams? What if I can’t get to sleep and then have to go the day without any sleep at all? Will I die from lack of sleep?
  • Money: Can I afford shopping? What if I can’t? What if I don’t get enough shifts to pay rent? What if my car breaks down? What if I don’t have a mortgage in 5 years? What if I owe someone money? Why can’t I budget for three year’s time? Why can’t I control every expense in advance? Can I afford this?
  • Social Situations: What if no one likes me? What if they call me names? What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if I don’t fit in? What if they aren’t all going to be my friends? Will I know what they’re saying when I’m not in the room?
  • Work: What if I can’t do what I need to do? Will my breaks fit in around how tired I am? Are they annoyed because I can’t lift and need sit down breaks every now and then? Am I even good at my job? What if they find someone better and replace me? What if my managers don’t like me? What if that person who was a little short with me really hates me and is going to report me? What if I have a break down at work?  Did I give  out the correct change? Have a written a good talk? Am I doing enough to be valued during times of change? Did that customer want ketchup or BBQ sauce?
  • Relationships: Do I lean on that person too much? Are they fed up with me? Are they bored of me? Will they be mad if I am myself? Will they help me? Do they have other relationships they like better than me? Is this a reciprocal relationship or am I just a blood sucker taking and not giving? Did I remember their birthday? Is it too early to add them on Facebook?

The thing is, everyone asks themselves these questions. The problem with anxiety is that I am asking myself a mix of about 6 of these questions at any one time, and that’s on a good day when I can actually function. I can’t compartmentalise the anxiety, or put it aside.

For example, as I write my boyfriend is sitting in the other room. I told him I wanted a nap, but I didn’t, but I was too scared to tell him that I actually just needed some time alone. I don’t know when he’s going to start cooking dinner and I’m starting to get hungry and I don’t want to annoy him because he eats on a different schedule to me. Is he brooding on how annoying I am because we cancelled a cinema trip because I was having a bit of a break down? Did I eat too much today? Will I manage the drive tonight to a meeting? What if I get really tired? Or lost? What if I can’t manage my Teach First training that’s starting in July? Oh, can I afford rent in January? Did I forget anyone for Christmas? Have I done all the Christmas stuff I need to do for church?

That’s literally all happening in my mind RIGHT NOW! And when you have anxiety, there’s never a break from it. It doesn’t stop harassing you because you need some head space. In fact, the more stressed or tired or worn out you are, the more it attacks you from every side.

How to help

You can’t ‘fix’ me. No amount of reassurance will stop me from worrying tomorrow about whether you love me or not. But here are some tips:

  1. Don’t make me go through a door first: First time social situations terrify me. Don’t think you’re being chivalrous by holding the door open. Just go through and let me follow.
  2. Give me time: Sometimes I can’t answer something quickly because I have to process every inch of worry that comes with the question. Don’t make me rush to answer, as that just adds to extra stress.
  3. Be patient: I get tired really easily. I get down really easily. I can be fine at 5pm and at 5.01pm I can be having a break down. I don’t plan it. I can’t help it.
  4. Tell me it’s okay: My boyfriend is amazing at this, and I never get tired of him holding me, or talking down the phone, saying things like ‘it’s okay honey, I’m still here, I’m still with you. It’s okay.’
  5. Don’t tell me not to worry: Seriously! If I could help it, I would. There is a difference between a worry, which I can control, and an anxiety which just frequently heads out of control.
  6. Be kind: My workplace is kind. They’ve made shift and break arrangements for me. They’ve been patient and supportive. I literally wouldn’t have survived without them.
  7. Remember, it goes on for ages: I can have a non-anxious week (well, I hope I can, I haven’t yet). And then I can spiral for 2 weeks. Don’t expect me to always be okay because I seemed it on one day.
  8. Understand that sometimes I have to go OTT to manage the problem: Yes, I’ve shown up at work with 3 people’s worth of food, an extra pair of trousers and a request to finish early. Yes, I know that I have literally planned out the next 5 months expenditure penny to penny. It helps, sometimes.
  9. Tell me when I’m being too much: My boyfriend is incredible. My family is supportive. My best friends check on me regularly. But I understand that it’s not easy maintaining a relationship with someone who is like this all the time. Tell me when I’m being too much, don’t suffer in silence. I’d rather keep your friendship and feel offended for a while than drive you away.
  10. And finally, if you want to know, ask: I am sick. I have an illness which can debilitate me some days. I am on medication and progressing through it slowly. But I am able to tell you what it’s like. If you’re suffering, I can help you. If you’re interested, I can tell you lots of stories. If you just want to know what you can do to help, ask. It’s my favourite thing about my boyfriend. When he’s at a loss what to do, he says ‘what can I do to help?’. That in itself is often enough.

It’s not easy

Writing this blog isn’t easy. Admitting I have a problem isn’t easy. Every single day is a difficult struggle. But I persevere through. I’m already feeling my heart beat faster at the thought of publishing this, but I will do it. The one thing that defeats my anxiety over things like that is the fact that I’m pretty spontaneous. If I think I won’t do it in a minute, I’ll do it right now. Which is happening.

Thanks for reading and please, if you have any questions, just ask.

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