What My Anxiety Actually Feels Like
Today is Time To Talk Day. Instigated by the folk at Time to Change, the idea is to encourage people to be open and discuss their mental illnesses without being hampered by fear of discrimination or by shame. The truth is, SOOOOOOOOOOO many people I know struggle with their mental health, and whenever I write one of these posts about my own tussles with my brain (most recently when I was super low over christmas) or wrestling with my Anxiety Goblin I usually get a few messages from people going through something similar. And that’s just it, by taking the time to talk and share and open up about our experiences, we break down taboos and the whole thing seems just that bit less scary.
So today I thought I’d share with you what my anxiety triggers are, and what happens when my Goblin starts kicking off.
- Talking on the phone.
Yeah I know. Seems so stupid doesn’t it? But I really really hate it, especially talking to strangers. I hate phoning the bank, insurance people, doctors surgeries- you name it. I get all tongue-tied and stuttery and my heart starts going too fast and gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh make it stop. In fact, when my phone rings, even if it’s someone I know (sorry friends) I tend to let it ring out, gather my thoughts together and concentrate, and then call that person back when I’m ready. STRESSES ME OUT MAN.
- Decision making.
When my anxiety has let it’s hair down and is running wild and free I find making decisions really, really hard. I’m not talking about big life decisions that will actually affect me, I mean like deciding which route to take to where I need to be, what to watch on Netflix, whether to use my card or cash to pay for something, what to have for dinner- like, it’s insane. I get SO het up about it and it becomes all encompassing, and it’s made worse because I KNOW that it doesn’t really matter, but in those moments, that knowledge doesn’t help. I actually remember very vividly bursting into tears in a noodle bar in Edinburgh because I was so overwhelmed by the choice available. If you’re ever with me when I’m like this, I beg of you, please make the decision for me, or I might end up weeping into your ramen.
- Beating myself up.
Like, a lot. So when I am anxious and/or panicky, I am very very mean to myself. I convince myself that the following things are true:
1. I am the worst human being in the world.
2. Everyone hates me.
3. I am a complete failure.
4. I am the ugliest human to have ever walked the planet.
5. All my friends think I’m a terrible person and a bad friend to them.
6. I will never amount to anything and I am wasting my life.
7. I am not as good/kind/loyal/ambitious/driven/passionate/caring as the people around me.
8. I am a burden for all who know me.
9. I am a disappointment to my parents.
10. I don’t deserve anything good to happen to me.Etc, etc. I could go on. That Goblin man, he knows how to shatter my self-esteem sometimes. And the GUILT that comes along with it! MY GOD! I get worried that all of those things are true, so I feel guilty about them, and then I have to try and make up for it, so I instantly text friends/my boyfriend/family apologising for myself and who I am and the things I do, and THEN I worry that my worrying and need to apologise and ‘make things okay’ makes me super annoying and irritating, and then I’m even MORE of a burden. YEESH. Have a break Brennan, literally go get a kit-kat now.
- Panic attacks.
When I feel like I’m totally losing my grip on it all and it all becomes too much for me to juggle and keep on top of, I break down and I have panic attacks. And they are just horrible. This is what happens. Before it all actually starts, I can feel it coming. It’s like I know something is running up very quickly to ‘get me’ and I’ve been running away and hiding pretty well from it but then I suddenly can’t run away anymore and I just have to give in and let it happen. Straight away, I feel as though I’ve been winded, in my stomach. I can’t breathe properly, all the breath stays too high up in my chest and I can’t get it any deeper. I start to shake, my heart goes so fast and hard that I feel like it’s going to break free from my chest (side worry- I have a congenital heart condition and at this point I start to think I am putting my heart under so much stress that I will have a heart attack whilst panicking) and my hands automatically fly up to my face- I assume this is my body’s reaction to try and hide what’s happening from anyone nearby. I can’t move, I’m rooted to the spot but I get so dizzy, and tears just start pouring out of my eyes. And in those moments I feel like it will never stop, that I’m totally out of control and will pass out at any moment. I try and take deep breaths to help it pass, but usually I’m too focused on what people around me must be thinking, I’m terrified of making a scene and I don’t want anyone to fuss or cause anyone to worry about me, or think that anything ‘serious’ is happening to me, because I know it’s a panic attack but I often can’t speak while it’s happening. It is honestly, really really scary. Afterwards, because I’ve released so much adrenaline, I am exhausted. Physically knackered. My body trembles and I am tearful and above all, embarassed and ashamed.
- Not being happy in my own skin.
When I’m anxious, I can’t get comfortable. I jiggle, and I fiddle and my eyes dart about and I chew the inside of my mouth and I pace. It’s like I need my body to match all the thoughts that are happening in my head. I don’t feel ‘right’, I can’t settle to anything, even my favourite clothes aren’t comfortable and I get this feeling like I’m outside my own body, like I’ve borrowed someone elses body that day. WEIRD HUH? Anyone else get that?
- Plans changing.
I like to have a plan. I need one, in fact, to feel relaxed and at ease. If I don’t have one, I get so stressed out, and I’ve tried to work out why. I *think* it’s because if I have a plan that’s all worked out and I know exactly what’s happening in what order, I’ve sort of done a ‘risk assessment’ in my head to eliminate anything going wrong. I feel prepared and in control. So when plans change at the last moment, I find it very very difficult to cope. I get irritable, and snappy, and then feel guilty about why I let it affect me so much. I know I’m inflexible and I can be very annoying, and I hate that, but by having plans laid out, it is a way of managing my own anxiety.
- Being late.
OMFG BEING LATE STRESSES ME OUT SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCHHHHHHHHHHHH IT MAKES ME WANNA BARF.
So yeah, there you go. There are other things that make me anxious too, and actually, on some days when it’s really bad, there isn’t a reason. I just have this unnerving sense that something is going to go very wrong, and I’m not in control, and that I’m a terrible person. I imagine it like walking around in my own personal cloud of fog with a little black cloud just over me, that no-one else can see. I’m like, GUYS IT’S SO FOGGY AND UH-OH THIS BLACK CLOUD IS GONNA HAIL ALL OVER ME FAM and everyone else is like, “Babe!what you on about, it’s so beautiful and gorgeous and sunny!” Sometimes I can fight through the fog to join everyone in the sunshine, and the little black cloud evaporates (or whatever clouds do, soz I gave geography up in Y9), but sometimes it thunders over me and I have to be patient and wait for a sunnier day.
If you experience similar stuff, do take the time to talk, you can find me on twitter at @katie_brennan or pop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would never want anyone to feel alone or ashamed of struggling with their mental health, so that’s why I try and be very open and honest about my own, even if it’s difficult to put out there sometimes.
Now, I’m going to go and be verrrrrrrrrrrrry cute to myself and curl up with a cup of tea (omg I’m gonna make it in the TEAPOT and not just the MUG!!!) and an old episode of ‘Come Dine With Me’- fingers crossed it’s one where they argue, I LOVE IT WHEN IT ALL KICKS OFF!