I’ve written about my struggles with anxiety on the blog before but inspired by Marc (I wrote an open letter to him here) I’ve decided to revisit the topic and write about my reality of living with it.
Lately, while awake in the middle of the night having a panic attack, I saw a tweet that really resonated with me. It stated that mental illness is not glamorous, cool, trendy or any other positive adjective. It is hell. At the time when I was reading the tweet I couldn’t stop shivering and was freaking out because I felt slightly nauseous and had convinced myself I was going to be sick. I was up for a few hours as a result of this and had to go to work the next day having had 2 or 3 hours sleep. Oh the glamour…. In reality I probably should have stayed at home. I wasn’t much use to anyone at work. My day was filled with typos and blunders, but despite how much I believe in breaking the stigma attached to mental illness I don’t feel able to take time off sick because of it. If it ever got to a point where it was truly necessary to do so I think I’d feel it necessary to invent a physical reason for my absence and that’s not a good position to be in. (Please note – I’m sure my employer would be nothing but supportive and I’m very lucky in that respect, I’m just in a place still where I have an internalised stigma connected to my own mental health.)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder is exactly what it says on the tin – general. In other words EVERYTHING is fair game to be worried about. My days are spent worrying that I shut my cat in a room all day even though I checked on her and she was sleeping soundly exactly where she is supposed to be when I left. Or being convinced I’d left my phone charger switched on and my flat will be burned to the ground when I get back even though the charger I’d used the night before is in my handbag. And as if all these little niggly worries weren’t enough G.A.D interacts with my emetophobia so when I get a little anxious and worked up about a small thing, before you know it I’m in full-blown panic mode about the possibility of being sick.
I recently went on a site visit for work. I was the only woman there and mid-way through the preliminary meeting I started to panic. My boss is lovely and maybe if I’d told him we would have been able to leave but there wasn’t really any way to do so without drawing attention to myself. [Another worry is that I will be taken less seriously in my career, in a male-dominated department, if I’m open about my mental health at work.] So back to my story, after the meeting we were walking around a half built hotel, climbing scaffolding to get in and as we got further and further away from the exit my panic got worse and worse to the point that I ended up telling someone what was going on. He didn’t seem to judge me but even thinking about it is mortifying. Eventually I managed to get my boss’ attention and remind him that we needed to get back to the office before the traffic got bad thus getting myself out of the situation but it was awful.
Panic attacks like the one mentioned above are not an everyday occurrence for me anymore but for a lot of anxiety sufferers they are. They feel a very real threat in normal situations. It’s not something that they can “just not think about” or “take a deep breath” in order to feel better. And it’s certainly not something that anyone would choose experience. Often people who have never experience true panic react in such a flippant manner it makes it difficult for sufferers to come forward and be open about how they are feeling. It’s definitely a goal of mine to take time to explain to people who are dismissive towards me what it’s actually like but often it’s easier to just let it go and pick your battles.