As a long-term sufferer of anxiety I’m observing the current world situation with a strange sense of calm. This is possibly because my brain has been playing out these catastrophic scenarios for so long that I’m now better equipped to deal with a real-life crisis than someone who’s never experienced feelings of anxiety.
My own anxieties have been with me for so long that I can’t recall the last time I felt truly happy, relaxed or content. I’m forever worried that I’m about to lose everything, or wake up to find someone else [who’s been masquerading as a friend for five years] has blocked me on Facebook.
If you haven’t seen the film Melancholia then I’d say it’s well worth a watch. Okay, it doesn’t have quite the same level of joyful optimism as The Little Mermaid or Mary Poppins but it’s a well-crafted film nonetheless. Not only is it a perfect portrayal of anxiety and depression, but it’s also a great depiction of what it feels like to be cornered – and forced into ‘pretending’ to be happy. The idea for the film actually came about during one of [director] Lars von Trier’s therapy sessions, when the therapist told him that depressive people tend to act more calmly than others under heavy pressure – because they already expect bad things to happen.
So, although this current pandemic was certainly not expected, I think my mind was fully prepared – and maybe this has given me some level of immunity.
Yes, of course I’m anxious about my work drying up and being unable to pay the rent or buy food – but that’s been at the forefront of my mind for several years. Now I’m seeing blogs about how to ration food or ‘How to survive on a small budget’ and it’s all become second nature to me. That’s not a brag – it’s just part of normal, everyday life.
Having said that… I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the days when everyone just talked about Brexit.
Personally, I’m not worried about catching coronavirus, but I am worried about passing it on to someone who is far more vulnerable. I’ve not seen my parents since before Christmas because I don’t have a car – and now [even if I did have a car] I’d worry about going to visit them. That’s the worst part of all this for me, but my brain can’t dream up a worst-case scenario when it’s already being played out in real life.
Well, okay, my brain can certainly try.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s my [then undiagnosed] anxiety was running rampant. If a family member was late home then, in my mind, they’d been involved in some kind of terrible accident. In fact I distinctly recall crying in the toilet during an episode of Grange Hill [circa 1986] when one of my parents were late home from work. And it can’t have been *that* late as I’m pretty sure Grange Hill aired well before tea-time. My brain could have offered me countless reasons for their lateness, but it directed me to the most devastating, catastrophic outcome of them all with a huge neon sign – “They’re dead!”
The only reason I didn’t tell anyone about this hideous omnipresent anxiety was because I knew it was all totally irrational – and I’d be carted off to the funny farm. I had no idea what that involved, but I’d seen enough clips of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to be worried about how things might play out. Also, remember how Matthew Gore was treated when he told people about Chocky?
Okay, everyone under 40 might need to Google that one.
Anxiety is still a bit of a taboo subject, and I’ve often been told that I’m worrying about nothing – but my worries haven’t always been irrational. I worried about losing my job. It happened. I worried about losing my home. It happened. I worried about losing my car. It happened. So this week I’m mostly worrying about winning the lottery. Although that’s a bit of a stretch as I don’t actually play the lottery.
I think it’s important to understand how our own anxieties affect other people – and why it’s important to talk about things before they spiral out of control. So I’ve listed five signs that your anxiety has reached dangerous levels and it’s probably best if you seek some kind of professional help…
Five Signs Your Anxiety Has You Beat
- You’re ‘numbing’ your anxiety with alcohol. Yes I’m sure it ‘helps’ while you’re in the moment… but you need to know it’s a sticky plaster solution that will only make things worse at a later date. It certainly won’t solve your problems, but it will create a bunch of new ones to focus on. Every cloud…
- You’re shutting out friends who are kind to you. I appreciate that anxiety leads us to ‘overthink’ everything and lures us down that dark alley of judging people by the standards of others. I also understand how anxiety makes you feel inadequate and compels us to destroy some of the ‘good’ relationships we have – or could have.
If you’re blocking people on Facebook who’ve done no more than be kind or suggest a meet-up then you know you have a serious problem. It’s also just not a very nice or rational thing to do.
- Anxiety isn’t a free pass to be unkind – not to yourself or anyone else.
- You’re catastrophising events so much that even a routine dog walk becomes a ‘major event’ that will undoubtedly end in disaster. So you just let the dog out in the garden and lock yourself away for the rest of the day. Well that’s not fair on the dog, or anyone else you’d planned to meet that day.
- You’re locking yourself in the toilet and crying about worst-case scenarios. Yep, I’ve been there, done that. In fact when I first moved into my own place I upgraded to just crying in the lounge. Bottle of gin, box of Matchmakers, let it all gush out. “Better out than in!” they say… but please, talk to someone – even the dog.
- You simply don’t care about any of the above.If your anxiety has reached a point where you simply don’t care about your health or the people you’ve hurt then I sincerely hope you get the help you need. The problem is, by this stage of the game, you’ve surrounded yourself with lemmings who will just blindly agree with you … So if you told them you’d blocked someone on Facebook for occasionally sending you kind messages they’d probably say “Oh you did the right thing, hun xx” rather than “Isn’t that really unnecessary, cowardly and a tad extreme?”
I’ve always tried to see the good in everyone, but I’m also aware that some people [who claim to suffer with anxiety] are unashamed sociopaths who simply aren’t very nice people. They are masters of manipulation who hide in plain sight and tend to keep a handful of ‘friends’ in proximity in case they’re ‘needed’. While others may have an antisocial personality disorder, which means they’re likely to engage in behaviours that harm others for the benefit of themselves.
We all share this world for a very brief window of time. And although we can’t befriend everyone I believe that everyone is brought into our lives for a reason. They shouldn’t be tossed away the second our anxiety demands we cut them loose.
So before you click a button that ends a friendship just ask yourself how YOU would feel if someone you cared about did the same thing to you. If you know you’d be upset then don’t click the button. If you wouldn’t care if someone did the same to you then that should set off some alarm bells regarding your state of mind.
The world can be a dark, dangerous, scary, bewildering place, and everyone has their demons – so please try and be a bit kinder to the people around you. In the grand scheme of things none of us are here for very long…