We all get a bit of anxiety. We all feel a bit anxious at times. Thanks to this generation's efforts to reduce the stigma of mental health, it is a conversation we hear often. But do we talk too lightly about anxiety? It is great that so many of us feel comfortable enough to share with our confidants that we’re feeling a bit anxious or overwhelmed, but should we be going deeper? Can we share further support to our anxious friends?
How does your anxiety manifest? Does it affect how you function on a day-to-day basis? Do you have intrusive thoughts? Social media often engages in surface-level mental health discussions, avoiding the uncomfortable truths. Let's level-up our conversations, and show those around us that they are not alone. Millions of people across the globe surfer from the debilitating mental and physical effects of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is different for everyone. For me, it involves late nights checking my heart beat, just in case it stops in the middle of my sleep. It is buying home-use ECG machines to monitor for potential heart failure, even though I’ve never had any heart-related medical issues. It is thinking that every time my husband leaves the house to walk the dog, it could be the last time I see either or both of them alive. It is picturing freak accidents and horrific violent attacks on our doorstep, even in our rural village where we are surrounded by farm animals. It is panic attacks from taking new medication, thinking that the slight tightness in my chest will worsen until I can no longer breathe. It is the hesitation while eating peanuts in case I have suddenly become allergic, even though I have eaten them my entire life without any issue. It is sitting in the dark, writing in the middle of the night, because it is the only way to let the intrusions pour from my mind.
And it is the noises. There are so many noises. I hear them all, all at once, all the time. Like tiny pin pricks all over my body. I hear the wind, the rain, the traffic outside, the humming of the extractor fan, water dripping, pipes clanging. Constant. Bang, bang, bang, like a drum on the side of my temple.
Anxiety is fearing that you won’t be able to find a toilet in time, if you suddenly need to go, anytime you leave the house. It is clothes that are too tight, too loose, too bright, too plain. It is not wanting to be touched because you are already feeling too much. It is feeling everything at once but not being able to communicate anything. It is agonizing over every word you have ever said and panicking over one statement that you made a month ago, that although everyone laughed at the time, on second thought, maybe you offended someone?
It is being proud of yourself for accomplishing the un-accomplishable and then instantly wishing you could take it all back, because all of the people who told you to be proud, don’t actually understand at all.
And what about all those things you were meant to do today but didn’t? Did you feel that kick square in the stomach? It's 3am, but you better get up and write a to-do list or surely the whole world will fall apart.
We all talk about having anxiety, but never about what it really means to us.
I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life. Too afraid of what others would think of me, I kept silent, and all my life I have felt alone. It has never been a secret that I live with anxiety, but it has only been recently that I have felt strong enough to really open up about my mental health, how I am really feeling, and how it really affects me. And when I did, I realized that I was not alone. I had never been alone, because so many others around me were also fighting the same silent war that I was, and feeling just as isolated.
But when I spoke up, people spoke back, and a new support system was forged. Opening up about how I was really feeling gave others around me the encouragement to do the same. And not only do I now feel closer to my friends and family by sharing the real me, I also now know for sure that I am not alone. And neither are you.
Speak first, and end the silent pandemic.
Written by: Gill SmithInstagram: @recovery_in_writing