You can’t do it.
You’re going to make a fool out of yourself.
Everyone is going to judge you.
Worse, everyone is going to laugh at you.
You don’t know what you’re doing.
You’re going to fail.
We’ve all experienced these thoughts. Every single one of us has had a moment of indecision due to fear of the unknown, a moment in time where you’ve had to stop and take a breath because for just a minute you started to doubt yourself. What if, instead of reassuring yourself that you can confidently walk down the road ahead of you, the single negative thought that slowed you down multiplied into thousands of voices in your subconscious screaming negativity until it consumes you? What if in that minute, you couldn’t take a breath, you panic, you search and struggle for oxygen and find the air around you has suddenly vanished? Your chest tightens so that even if the air was there your lungs have no room to move. Panic.
This is what happens to me.
I am one of the many faces of anxiety.
I am writing about my personal experiences with anxiety, as I have previously done when sharing my battles with bulimia and depression because I know how the stigma that society places on people with mental health issues can effect the individual. How, because of the fear of judgement and persecution that you carry with you everyday can stop you from seeking the help that you need. Let me tell you, that amongst my group of friends, I know not one of them who doesn’t or hasn’t previously had some form of mental struggle. We all stand by each other and support each other through our darkest hours because that is what friends are for and I would not be here without them.
I have an anxiety disorder. I am not anxious, there is a difference. For the most part I am ‘normal’ (or as normal as any of us can get) as a twenty-five year old. I get up, I go to work, I come home to my partner, I hang out with my friends… See? Normal.
However, upon closer inspection it has become apparent to me that everything I do is fuelled by a deep seeded fear of other people’s perceptions of me, of a need to be loved and fear of persecution and exclusion. So basically I want people to notice me and I wan them to like me. You maybe think that this is slightly narcissistic of me, but until recently I was completely unaware of why I behaved the way I did, why I put on a show and felt panic stricken if I ever left the house without makeup on.
What if I saw someone while I was out?
What would they think of me if they saw me with no makeup on?
I feel that the last few years of ‘Eldiese’ where I have been completely absorbed into the life of my creative and extraverted alter-ego have only served to fuel such concerns to a point where I now experience levels of anxiety in areas other than my physical appearance including my house and worst of all, my work. Unwarranted concerns really, why should I care what people think of my house as long as I am comfortable and happy with the woman I love?
You might be thinking to yourself that you too get flustered when expecting guests and the house isn’t clean but I get so flustered and so anxious to the point where I can’t breathe, where the voices in my head tell me that the house is a mess and I am a terrible partner and housekeeper. For those of you who know me and have seen my house, it is spotless, I know this, I am a rational person and I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of and that I keep a tight ship, but I am still the person who says “Excuse the mess” when there is not a single item out of place. It is in this moment of anxiety where I can’t breathe, the uncontrollable negativity engulfs my every thought and there is no room for rationality let alone positivity. This moment of expecting house guests (particularly my own or my partners’ family) when the fight or flight mechanism kicks in and I just want to lock the door and cancel the event for fear of how they will judge me and my house.
My safe haven used to be my work and still is to some extent. Depending greatly on the hospital that I am working at, it is the fear of the unknown that triggers that anxious fire inside of me. When working at a hospital which I am familiar with, I am fine, I am confident and quick on my feet. I know my job and love it. However, when faced with an unfamiliar hospital that terrible and overwhelming feeling of despair returns. Fear of not being able to perform my job to my high standards and people judging me is all consuming. But that’s exactly it, they are my high standards, no on else’s.
This is what happened to me this morning. I was booked for a shift at a hospital that I have only worked at once and laying in my bed, mentally preparing myself for the day to come I found myself unable to break free of the negativity that filled my head. I was faced with the fight or flight battle and on this occasion I fled. I called in sick and stayed in bed. While what I experienced this morning was not an anxiety attack (thanks to the presence of my partner, who’s soothing words kept me from teetering over the edge), I found that I was unable to move, unable to anything except stare at the ceiling and spin around and around in the endless whirlpool of negativity that told me that if I were to go to work then I would make a fool of myself and would have to leave, never being able to go back again. So I stayed in bed with my reputation intact, my bank balance dwindling and my fears still well ingrained in my subconscious.
When faced with choice to fight or flight I know that unless it will be dangerous to your health you should fight. Fighting strengthens your resolve, makes you stronger and in the long run facing these fears helps you to move past your anxiety. You to prove to yourself that the things that you are most afraid of are all in your head. This morning however, the thought of stepping into that hospital, into a theatre full of people that I had never met before and doing an unknown operation, it froze me to my very core. I was so terrified of what other people think of me that I could not lift my head off my pillow without a wash of fear engulfing me. No, this is not simply narcissism.
What about those times where my partner is not there to talk me back from the metaphorical ledge of anxiety and hopelessness? When I am alone and my deep breathing exercises and positive thoughts have failed to release the ever tightening band around my chest and subdue the infestation of termite-like defeatist thoughts scurrying around my brain?
Last week my partner and I moved into our new apartment, our first home together outside the incomparable mid-twenties experience that is the share-house. You may have noticed that I have been away working for a few months and as such I had not seen our little ‘Love Nest’ prior to signing the lease. I entered the property for the first time alone as my girlfriend was working. Realistically I know my triggers, so I should have seen this coming. I entered the apartment and was distraught. It was not what I wanted. It was small, there was no storage, the bathroom was never going to fit my make up in it. What would people think when they saw this tiny, golden-walled nest? Because I had no one there to point out the positives, the balcony, the gas stove, the great lighting etc, these negative thoughts swirled around in my head and I crashed to the floor in a sobbing, hyperventilating heap.
I cannot explain to you how it feels to be so out of control, to be so lost in the negativity and desperation that is filling your head like black, sticky tar. You can’t break through that. Well, I have not yet reached a point in my cognitive therapy that I can break through that by myself. So I did the only thing that I could think to do… I called my mum. My mum is well practiced in these types of phone calls, but I can’t recall ever calling her mid-anxiety attack but she was great. She knows exactly what to do. I go everything off my chest, what I perceived to be wrong with house, my hopelessness and despair and then she changed the subject. I don’t know if this method will work for you, but it worked for me.
I do see a psychologist, who helps me not only with coping mechanisms to help me deal with my anxiety, but is also helping me get to the root of my issues. Why I am I so afraid of what people think of me? I don’t have an answer for that yet. I also take medication which helped me to get through what was quite possibly the most challenging part of this whole battle. Starting a new job. I don’t know how my girlfriend coped with all of the tears and mood swings but she is a saint and I am so grateful to have her in my life. As well as my friends, because I know that if I need them they will come.
If you leave me with any advice today please don’t be afraid to ask for help! It takes so much courage to admit to people that you are struggling, but in my experience, as zoo at that veil has been lifted the road to recovery becomes that much easier.
So I guess the lesson is this, you need a good support network around you no matter if you have mental or physical health problems. You can’t do it alone and you shouldn’t have to. Seeking professional help and medication does not make you ‘insane’ everyone needs help from time to time and we all need to fight to get past the stigma that has been built up around mental health issues. And finally, you need to be kind to yourself because nobody is perfect and every single person around you has problems of their own.
The only person who is judging you, is you.
So reach out and take my helping hand.