I have a problem with anxiety. My first husband had a severe anxiety disorder. Not just, "a bit of a worrier" sort of anxiety, but jealousy, paranoia, hyperchondria... he had the works.
If I was visiting a city, he worried so much that I'd have my handbag stolen (it happened once) that he'd remove my debit card from my purse before I went. At one stage he used to check my purse every day and demand that I accounted for every penny spent. I'd have minded less if he'd always put it back in my handbag afterwards.
I could go on at great length, but you get the picture. His anxiety translated into very controlling behaviour. When we split up, I promised myself two* things; one was that I'd never again let someone else's anxiety control my life.
Since then, I've had a problem with other people's anxiety. I try not to let it show (probably unsuccessfully), but I have very little patience with it. For too long I was required to take concerns seriously that were quite irrational products of anxiety. I won't do it any more.
With this background, it's very difficult to accept that I might suffer from anxiety myself. I'm prone to depression, I know, both seasonally and in response to stress, but not anxiety, surely? I don't have the classic symptoms, particularly rumination, that is, I don't tend to dwell on negative thoughts, turning them over and over in my mind. I'm also fairly optimistic; I tend to work on the basis that positive outcomes are reasonably likely (whilst making contingency plans for things going less well).
On the other hand, I do procrastinate badly, sometimes to the point of paralysis. I've come to recognise that this is an anxiety response. Yes, I know that's stating the bleeding obvious. Anxiety doesn't make its way into my conscious thoughts, but it does stop me doing things. When I'm really stressed, I can just seize up, unable to motivate myself to do any task.
OK, this level of self-knowledge is valuable. I can accept that anxiety is a thing for me, albeit not the typical worrying kind. This is something I can come to terms with. But recently, things have changed. Worries, particularly about money, have been very real and very conscious. I've been interpreting things people say in the most negative way possible, to the point of reading things in that really weren't there in the first place. This puts a heavy strain on relationships.
Quite apart from the problems these reactions cause directly, they're triggering a whole lot of other stuff for me. What the **** is happening to me? This isn't me! Or is it? Was I always like this, but didn't see it - couldn't face it? Have I been in denial for for years? Am I not the person I thought I was?
OK, stop that, Rachel. There's a spiral of meta-ansiety kicking off here, which goes nowhere good. Back up. Let's assume that I haven't always been like this and something's changed. So what, then? Well anxiety is a known symptom of menopause, and I'm 46, so that's a fairly plausible explanation. I also have quite specific things to be anxious about - money and job, the latter of which I'll tell you more about another time. Then there's the situation in the world at large - climate change, Brexit, Covid 19. All of these are likely causes of a generalised anxiety.
There's no need to pin down exactly what's causing my anxiety, it's enough for me to see that there are several potential causes that could explain it. I feel that it ought to be enough to say, "Yeah, anxiety's a thing. Lots of people have it - apparently I have it, too," but I find it helps to add, "and here are some likely reasons why I've got it." Having got that far, I can stop beating myself up about losing my marbles, or being a person I don't want to be, and face the anxiety itself. I don't like it, but if I've got it, I'd better deal with it head on.
What does that look like, dealing with it head on? For me, the main thing is to acknowledge that it's there. Ideally, I want to be able to do this in the moment, at the point when everything seems awful. This isn't easy, because it's in the nature of anxiety to get you worked up and not thinking clearly. If I can recognise an anxiety-driven response as it's happening, I have a chance of stepping back a bit and not acting on it.
If I can think, "He probably didn't really mean that, that's just a projection of my anxiety," then I might be able to stop myself resonding negatively. If I can think, "This probably isn't complete rubbish, that's just my anxiety," I might be able to carry on and finish making the thing. That's the goal, anyway.
Second best is to be able to reflect on what happened after I've calmed down, and review my interpretation of the situtation. Apologise if necessary. That kind of correction-after-the-event can stop anxiety pushing me around too much.
I've been very reluctant to accept the fact that I have anxiety, and I hope I'm not stuck with it on a permanent basis, but apparently, right now, this is what I've got. All I can do is deal with it as best I can, so that's what I plan to do.
*The other was that I've never again let anyone stop me dancing. I have to make an exception for a pandemic. Return to text