My name is Nicola and I have a mental health issue. I have GAD – generalised anxiety disorder. In my case, it’s the little things in life that trigger my anxiety. As my therapist once put it, “You would cope with being prime minister, as long as someone else did your grocery shopping”.
You may not notice someone’s anxiety
People rarely believe me when I tell them how shy I am and how hard I find socialising. That’s my own fault because over the years I’ve become quite good at feigning confidence. One of my go-to tactics is asking people questions, so that they talk and I don’t risk making it all about me. The downside of this is that most people tend to forget to ask questions back.
Another tactic is humour. Humour is a shield, but it’s also a tonic. It angers me when humour and humorous people are dismissed. Many of us make jokes because we care so deeply, the bad things in life affect us so much that we need to laugh or the anxiety and the darkness would swallow us up. I make jokes because my unhelpful mind tells me that people will notice that I’m stupid and vapid if I try to be serious.
It’s very rare for anyone to see my anxiety, because I hide it by withdrawing. If I go quiet, more often than not I’m busy being consumed by anxiety.
Dealing with anxiety in stressful times
Why am I writing about this now? Recently I’ve noticed that many of my friends are more anxious than usual. There are terrible things happening at the moment, so of course people are anxious. However, I’ve noticed that friends who struggle with social anxiety have been struggling more than usual recently.
During the pandemic lockdowns there was a lot of attention to, and talk about, how people’s mental health was deteriorating. For many people having to spend most of their time at home, unable to see friends and family, was an awful experience. For people like me, it wasn’t.
For many people with anxiety, the lockdowns and social distancing were a break from the daily struggle to interact with others and appear ‘normal’. Now that we are ‘living with Covid’, a lot of those of us with anxiety have to return to that struggle after a period of, quite frankly, bliss.
At a time when the anxious are having to go back into the office and socialise major things have started happening. The government is doing little to nothing to mitigate the cost of living crisis, energy prices are soaring and there’s war in Europe. No wonder my private messages are full of people who are depressed and anxious.
How it feels to live with anxiety
Anxiety feels awful. It’s not just thoughts; there are physical symptoms, too. An extreme bout of anxiety can last for days. For me that means being unable to focus on anything else, pacing, shaking, tension headaches, insomnia or constant tiredness, tight chest, nausea and an inability to make decisions. In the past, I’ve described it as crippling, because you can feel as if you literally can’t do anything. It can give a person some very dark thoughts.
If I were able to stop feeling anxious, I would – in a heartbeat. But I also see some positives toin my anxiety. Anxiety is the reason I became politically active. It led me to Twitter, which in turn brought me into a social circle that, in the main, understands about mental health issues, usually through personal experience, unfortunately.
What is ‘normal’?
I still wish I could be ‘normal’, while at the same time wondering whether ‘normal’ actually exists.
Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that ‘normal’ is different for different people. There is no right or wrong, no one-size-fits-all. What makes one person happy could makes another person desperately unhappy. It’s not wrong to hate lockdowns, but it’s also not wrong to like them, without liking the cause of them.
If someone you know has anxiety, please don’t tell them not to worry. They literally can’t switch it off. Take your lead from them, if they want to talk, listen. Try not to ask questions, unless it’s to ask if they would like a hug or a cup of tea.
The more pressure you put on the person the worse they will probably get. If it was just about pulling our socks up, we would be wearing sock garters.
If you have been affected by anything in this article, you can visit the MIND or NHS websites for help with mental health. If you know someone with anxiety, here is a resource to help you understand how to help them.
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