Hello, my name is anxiety.

As I sat in my car the other morning after driving somewhere I have been more than 20 times (never alone), my hands shook, my heart thumped and I felt like something was blocking my windpipe to stop me from breathing. This is my version of a panic attack and the most common, but not the only, trigger is driving to an unfamiliar place. Actually, scrap that, it’s not just familiar places, it’s pretty much any place outside of a 5 mile radius from my house. Apparently this is a real phobia (Vehophobia) which I only found out today. This, combined with geographical dyslanxiety girlexia (i.e. Zero sense of direction. Zero. I get lost in large houses) and Mazeophobia (fear of getting lost) = intense, and often irrational, panic.

 

I am cautious to talk about anxiety, as it’s a word that is thrown around a bit too much nowadays (a bit like Balance and Mindfulness). I am wary about sharing my own experience of it on social media and I even avoid talking about it with my friends and family. I’m pretty sure the only person who really knows the half of it is my boyfriend (who I make come with me on pretty much every car journey, picks me up so I don’t have to drive and has experienced my panic when spontaneous events happen or things don’t go according to plan), but even then I try to hide it as best as possible. Why? Because it’s embarrassing and irrational and it just doesn’t make sense. Some (most) of the time I don’t even understand what’s triggered it. But it’s something that’s actually quite a big part of my life and after watching a Ted Talks video by Brene Brown about the price of invulnerability, I sucked it up and here I am. Vulnerable and authentic, which I suppose makes sense as these are the two things I’ve been working on a whole lot over this past year.

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So even though even my closest friends and family would never know from my outside demeanour, I am a highly bloody anxious person. And  for me, this means a lot of different things:

  • It means that, on occasion, my body has the same reaction to leaving the house, even if it’s just to go to the gym, as entering into a life threatening situation, such as an encounter with a bear or a tiger. It means thumping heart, sweaty hands, shallow breaths.
  • It means an intense pressure building up inside my chest, a hot face and feeling like I’m going to burst into tears at any minute.
  • It means that being spontaneous is a very rare occurrence. Google calendar is my best friend and if a social occasion goes on for longer than planned I start to feel the panic rising in my throat.
  • It means being completely drained after a few hours of being in the company of people who I’m not completely comfortable with, and needing a good 24 hours alone to recharge my batteries.
  • It means trying to talk to someone with a voice on repeat in my head screaming “they don’t like you, they think you’re boring, they think you’re a terrible human”.
  • It means waking up some days and being convinced that today is the day I’m going to die and being absolutely terrified (morbid but true).
  • It means on occasion feeling so uncomfortable in my own body and having such a heightened sense of awareness that sometimes I genuinely cannot function like a normal human being.
  • It means having to excuse myself multiple times during social events just so I can sit in a bathroom and breathe so I don’t explode.

For the best part of 7 years I used 3 main coping mechanisms for my anxiety: excessive alcohol to help cope with social situations (I was a terrible date), food restriction to help me feel like I was in control of my life, & finally self harm to relieve the intense pressure & to help me come back to reality. Not one of these helped me in the long run. Over the past couple of years, however, I have been working on replacing these with much more helpful and healing methods. Now, instead of self harming I do a hard gym session or a peaceful yoga class to relieve the pressure. Instead of restricting my food I write down my feelings and explore the real reason behind the desire to do this. Instead of excessively drinking I avoid stressful social situations whenever possible, as I know that I will only be drained and exhausted by the end of it. And sometimes I know that absolutely nothing will help, so I just have to let the feeling pass. It’s painful, but it always fades eventually.

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So that’s my story. But then I realised what good is it to just share my own experience? How can I paint a more holistic picture? So I asked others to share with me their own stories. The responses I received were raw, honest and inspiring and I was amazed at how these women (mostly strangers) opened up to me. What was even more amazing was that every single one of their stories resonated with me. Therefore (with their permission) I would like to share them here with you in order to capture how anxiety differs for every individual (yet at the same time is so similar), so that hopefully at least one person will feel less alone in their journey (names have been changed to ensure anonymity of the individuals).

 

Beth:

What is your experience of anxiety?

Exhausting. Mentally exhausting. It’s stress and worry and uncertainty. I absolutely love pattern and routine. Any changes to that and it has my mind racing with worry. Meeting new people – will they like me? Will they think I’m strange? Going on holiday – will I like the hotel room? Will it be sunny? Will I make it on time? Will I get the train seat I have booked? I’m uncomfortable around big crowds too. I hate talking on the phone, anything from cancelling plans to ordering food. Anxiety is just a part of my personality – but it is something I am trying to take control of.

What has helped you?

Mindfulness + yoga are things I am in the process of trying but it is a constant battle. I have thought about counselling, but I think talking to someone face to face isn’t for me yet. Instagram has given me an outlet for my thoughts and helped me to see I am not alone or strange in how I think or feel. That’s comforting.

 

Kate:

What is your experience of anxiety?

  • Anxiety is the reason that sometimes getting out of bed and facing the world can be the hardest of tasks.
  • Anxiety is the reason that something as small as using self checkout at the supermarket is a must, because otherwise the control isn’t in your hands.
  • Anxiety is the reason that when someone doesn’t smile at you, you instantly assume that they hate you.
  • In my experience, if you try to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it, they cannot comprehend why you can’t go out that night because you’ve already spent the day around people (this is the response that 100% resonated with how I feel).
  • Anxiety can mean that the smallest tasks cause you to need mental space on your own for a while, and others can’t always appreciate that without that, the world becomes really overpowering and claustrophobic.

What has helped you?

The thing that has helped me most is learning what my triggers are and  learning to give in to needing to be alone before the anxiety becomes sadness. Learning to open up to the people closest to me has also helped, because by helping them to understand they don’t feel isolated when you’re not quite okay and need to be alone.

 

Olivia:

What is your experience of anxiety?

For me, anxiety can range anywhere from an uneasy squeamish feeling to having trouble breathing and attacks of uncontrollable tears and self harming. Sometimes there’s a reason (probably unjustified for most) for, but there’s often not. When my eating was disordered, changes in food plans, going out for meals and seeing friends triggered my anxiety. My husband often gets frustrated with me when I’m anxious, just because he can’t relate. He thinks  I’m being difficult and wishes I could be more spontaneous. I wish I could too.

What has helped you?

I’m medicated for my anxiety and see a psychologist. Self care, mindful practice and distraction are my go to techniques for helping with my anxiety. Gym is my number one self care practice but I also love pampering myself and walking my dog.

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To anyone struggling, I hope these words have brought comfort and have shown that despite your anxious brain you are not a crazy person with crazy thoughts. You’re human and you struggle and that’s okay – it’s just how our brains are wired. Shame and stigma and silence are only removed from opening ourselves up and expressing our vulnerabilities.

Side note – these stories are all from women. But men are prone to anxiety too. But do you know the difference? Men are much less likely to talk about it, which leads to higher rates of suicide. In fact, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 25. Talking saves lives – so open up the conversation.

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As always please feel free to comment/email/message me on any of the platforms below.

Lots of love,

Kirsty

xxx

Instagram: @thekirstyway

Facebook: Kirsty Baines

Email: baines.kirsty@hotmail.co.uk

Twitter: @KirstyBaines2

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