My GP says that anxiety and depression are the same, that they’re on the same spectrum. My psychologist specialises in this area, and he describes anxiety and depression as “best mates who like to hang out together”. Well these best mates of mine behave differently, and they’re both bastards. Here I’m focusing on anxiety.
Anxiety – What If?
When I’m feeling anxious I’m almost overwhelmed by a mass of non-specific “What if…” questions. It feels particularly strong when I’m about to leave the house or look after our kids. It’s not that I actually think I’ll crash the car, or forget to take my phone, or make a lunch that the kids won’t eat… it’s all of these and more. These thoughts gather, not fully-formed, and combine to make me feel on-edge for no specific reason.
My mild anxiety attacks feel exactly like having low blood sugar. Sometimes I even check my blood sugar level during a mild anxiety attack to see if I need to eat some jelly beans or not. I feel shaky, like the opposite of standing on solid ground – imagine a small earthquake or tremor. My hands tremble visibly and I become clumsy. I feel like everything around me has sped up, or like I’m moving in slow motion. My thoughts become foggy – a bit like having a head cold. I can’t carry on a conversation, complete a train of thought or focus on anything. When I can, I try to remember these things: Take a deep breath, relax, it’s just a hassle – nothing more, it will last less than 15 minutes.
Sometimes using common sense can help to get me through these feelings of anxiety. I try to articulate the thoughts which are making me anxious and replace them with logic. Other times I genuinely can’t work out why I’m anxious so I try to “fake it till I make it” by pretending I’m fine, which works surprisingly well.
Prior to seeing a psychologist I had a few major anxiety attacks and the worst one felt like a heart-attack. Strong, sharp chest pains, shortness of breath, accelerated pulse… It was extremely scary, which only made the symptoms worse.
What’s the cure?
I wish there was one… My main tools in this ongoing battle are medication and therapy. The medication allows me to feel more like myself in the short-term. Therapy helps me to understand my condition in depth; it teaches me how to cope and move forward; it helps me to be comfortable with discussing difficult topics and makes it easier for me to be honest and open with my friends.
Once I relocate my willpower I’d like to add exercise and a healthy diet to my toolkit. I’ve heard that they can also help a lot.
Help and Support
This post describes specifically how anxiety affects me, other people suffer in their own ways. The only advice I have for others is to find a doctor you trust and talk to them openly. It might help to practice what you want to say, or to write down some key points. For example:
I get nervous about leaving the house.
I’m not looking forward to things which I used to enjoy.
I’m dreading doing [something] next week and I don’t know why.