Anxiety is something that affects all of us at some stage in our life. A small amount of anxiety is good – as it’s our brains way of keeping us out of obvious danger, but more often than not, it is not a small amount of anxiety that leads to blog posts, mental health epidemics or another person hanging from the end of a rope. It is the crippling, debilitating kind that leaves us with a lump in our throat, headaches, upset stomachs, shaking, inability to breathe, sleepless nights… and that’s just for starters.
My anxiety is operating at a high level right now and for the past few weeks, I’ve tried everything to block it out. I’ve tried making sure I’m sticking to my goals, I have cleaned, I have gone to the gym and worked harder than ever, I have listened to heavy metal on full blast, I have had a bath, given myself a little pampering session, played with the cats… all of the techniques that usually calm me down but none of it has worked this time around, and that is because they are not pick-me-ups, they are avoidance techniques, and it’s gotten to the point where the head on approach is the only route to take. It’s time for me to crack open the toolbox in my mind that hasn’t seen the light of day for a while and it’s time to get to the real issues behind why this condition has reared its ugly head once again. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s ever fully gone away, but for the past few weeks I have been worrying about everything, felt paranoid, been on edge and I’ve seen a huge change in my personality and outlook, but here’s the thing – that’s not my true personality and outlook, it’s a result of not being able to understand what’s happening in my head – or rather, knowing exactly what is going on in my head but shutting it down and pretending all is fine. Bad move, as when you don’t address things and you let them build – they affect your behaviour and you can become someone entirely unrecognisable.
Here’s the thing about anxiety – it comes from unchecked thoughts that grow and build within us until we convince ourselves that they are facts. Just like I spoke about in my last post with overthinking, anxiety can manifest itself within us in physical ways that then make us feel terrible both in mind and body, and it can ruin our lives.
I could list dozens of things that give me anxiety; money, feeling like I’m not achieving what I would like to be, being stuck in a rut, people, situations… but the fact is I give myself anxiety through the pressure I put on myself each and every single day to be better, to do better, to achieve more. My anxiety has flared up again because I’ve forgotten how to be happy with who I am now, where I am now, and what I am achieving right now, and I’ve been struggling to snap out of it.
Last week, things came to a head when out of nowhere, and for the first time in 8 years, I had an anxiety attack that I could not ignore. Panic rose within me out of nowhere, my throat slammed shut, my head buzzed with a million different terrible scenarios until it sent me dizzy and I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in a furnace, my body was covered in a layer of cold sweat and I thought I was going to pass out. The last time this happened to me, I was hospitalised – they thought I was having an asthma attack, but I knew different. That was on the Friday night, and for the whole weekend, and days throughout the week that followed, I had what can only be described as tremor attacks. You know like the ones after an earthquake that come to remind you it could all erupt again without warning? The lack of air and the panic meant that I bruised my ribs and couldn’t take a deep breath or touch my ribcage for a good 5 days afterwards but the real lasting effect that it had on me was the realisation that I had to do something about it. This was a warning sign from my own mind and body:
“Enough Shelly. This is breaking point and you’ve been here before. You need to make a choice – it’s time to sink or swim. DO SOMETHING!”
Well, as you know, I’ve sunk before, and there is no way I am going to do it again. It might take everything I am all over again, but that’s a chance I am willing to take.
I know what I need to do, and how I am going to get myself out of this situation. I have done it before, I have the knowledge, the motivation and the power to achieve it, and I am going to share it with you because the whole point of this blog is to find a way to help others feel better too. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, or will work for everyone, but here are the most important steps for me…
The first, and most important thing about anxiety is to recognise it for what it is – anxiety. It is the way your brain reacts to perceived danger, and when it can’t find any immediate real-life, physical danger – it keeps you in a state of worry because you are telling your brain that something isn’t right, and the more you think about it, the worse you feel. I’ve got this one nailed – that’s not a brag, that’s experience. Even when I was on the verge of collapse just last week, I knew what was happening, and the very second I said to myself “you know what this is, this is an anxiety attack, you know what this feels like – why is it happening?!” I began to calm down. I didn’t FEEL any better, but it stopped it going any further.
Secondly, be honest with yourself. I am a master a convincing myself that I have a full handle on things, then suddenly the tiniest little catalyst can send me spinning and it forces me to admit to myself that I’m not Wonder Woman, no matter how much I would like to be. I can only take so much, and I need to get back to the point where I can see it coming and be timely about its prevention, rather than plodding on and projecting my fears into other avenues until I am on the wrong side of it again. I am the one that landed myself there – that’s all me and only I can do something about it.
Third, accept responsibility. No, I am not saying that anxiety is your fault or that you caused it, that’s not the case, it is caused by a multitude of different things. However, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR RECOVERY, for finding a way out, for wanting to get better and for getting a handle on things. Sometimes it takes therapy, sometimes it takes medication, sometimes it takes YEARS and I have done all 3, but you know what the real solution for all those years of issues was? Me. I got better. I got myself to a happier place. I created the toolkit in my mind that meant that every day wasn’t a constant battle, and yet here I am, back in that cycle – and that too, is because of me.
Lastly, and I cannot stress this one strongly enough – take the time to understand your triggers. We all have them even if we do not know it. Your triggers are the things, situations, environments or people that fire up that section of your brain that makes you feel uneasy, threatened or scared. Sometimes our triggers cannot be avoided, but when we know what they are, we can be a step ahead of them, we can recognise them and we can take actions that allow us to take charge of them.
Some of my triggers are money, toxic people, and feeling like I am failing.
Money I am getting a handle on, it is something that I can logically evaluate and do something about. I can budget, I can save, I can sell stuff – but mentally? That’s a whole new ball game. When you do not feel good about money, good things cannot happen with money. When you begrudge paying your bills or spending or the cost of something – you are negatively thinking about money, and so negative situations will continue to occur. This is something I find really difficult, and I had it licked, but then I found myself in an environment and surrounded by people whose sole driver in life is making money. Being millionaires, having big cars and houses and the best, most luxurious things. I have never been that person, and suddenly it was who I was becoming too and if I am truly getting to the crux of this right here and now – I hate myself for becoming that person. That is not me. That way of thinking is not who I am deep down. That way of thinking needs to stop.
I’m not saying it is wrong to want to have money, I mean who doesn’t, but it has never been the be-all and end-all for me, and suddenly it was all I was thinking about. So, I sat down and instead of making yet another list of things I need to do, I made one that I have never sat down and written before. I made a list of my financial achievements. The big one being that I own my own home. I worked my ass off for 3 years, I prioritised, I sacrificed, I was disciplined and I did it. Not only do I own my own home, and am on the property ladder, something that is becoming increasingly impossible for my generation, I also RUN my home. I run it every single month, I never miss a bill payment, and I keep myself and Willow and Wednesday fed, warm, safe and content. I do that and I’m good at it. Yes, I rarely go out, or buy myself new clothes and I probably won’t achieve some of the things I would have liked to this year – but I have got the basics down, and I can only build on that.
This is a tough one because I’m a firm believer that everyone that comes into your life is for a reason, but sometimes that reason is to disrupt your entire life and make you take a good hard look at who you are and who you want to be. I have written on this site before about the importance of having an Inner Circle – those people that are your people, and I maintain that it is crucial, even if your circle is more of a line because there is only one person in it. I know that when I am struggling, I revert deep into myself and more often than not, you won’t hear a peep from me for weeks. I stay at home, I put my phone on DND and I shut myself off from the world. The people in my Inner Circle know this and they accept that my distance is not about them, and more importantly, they understand, they don’t try to penetrate my space and they are right there when I emerge again.
Then there are the ‘toxics’. My mother was a toxic, and many, many other people I have encountered in my life are toxics. These are the people who do not make you feel good. They are not necessarily bad people, they have not set out to hurt you, they do not have a game plan to ruin your life, but they’re morals and methods do not align with your own, and when you are feeling vulnerable, you are prone to let them have more importance in your life than they deserve or warrant. Take a good hard look at your relationships with these people, and the reasons why they don’t make you feel good, as often you are projecting blame on them when really, they are just exposing a side of you that you don’t like and need to confront.
The other type of person is the narcissist, the manipulator, the person that does not have good intentions and can sniff out weakness and insecurity like a bloodhound, and then they pounce. These people must be obliterated from your life immediately. They may already be in your life, they might be up, close and personal, hell – you might not even be able to get away from them right away, but you must get away from them as soon as the smoke clears and you see who they are. This is for your own good. 90% of the time these people do not know who they are, they don’t understand the misery they inflict, the pain they cause or the fact that they multiply a person’s insecurities a hundred-fold.
Let me make something abundantly clear, because I do not want to blame others, pass the buck or make you paranoid – these people are in your life, having the effect on you that they do because you attracted them into your life, you allowed them to latch on, you allowed them space in your brain and you are responsible for the power they have over you. Once you understand that, you have the power to recognise your trigger, accept that there are people in your life that shouldn’t be there for the sake of your mental well-being, and you can begin to take the steps you need to take to distinguish the effect they have on you, and walk away keeping any destructive consequences to an absolute minimum. Once you realise that no other person can have a hold over you unless you let them, you stop blaming them, and you can take back the control you need to get back to listening to your own mind, your own gut instinct and your own, inbuilt code of living.
I feel like I am failing because I put ridiculous pressure on myself to achieve. I set unrealistic goals, deadlines and rules upon myself that basically mean I am setting myself up for a fall from the offset. Once again, this is my doing. Are you seeing a pattern here? I tell myself that I am only going to be happy once I have done that, when I get this I can… when that happens it will mean that I will be able to… As a result, I am constantly chasing the next thing, and not addressing the fact that I am unhappy and unsatisfied and that the reason I am both of those things, is because I am not living for today. I am so engrossed in creating the person that I want to become that I have lost who I am here and now. I have forgotten that I am a good person, I cannot recognise my achievements and I get back to the single biggest issue that has caused my years of heartache – I do not think I am good enough.
That’s it. That’s my trigger. It always has been and unless I can follow my own advice and change my mindset, it always will be, and I will continue to have destructive limiting beliefs such as:
- I will stay single because I don’t think I’m worthy of being loved.
- I will never ask for a pay rise because I don’t think I deserve to have more money
- I will never wear that daring dress because I don’t think my body is good enough
- I will never relax because I feel like I should be doing something to make myself better
- I do not know how to say ‘no’ because then people will think I’m useless and can’t do something
You know what’s starting to break through that for me? The fact that there are people out there that are just like me, and who haven’t got the level of understanding about it that I have. I am good enough for them, because I know that I can listen, I can share, I can be brutally honest and I can help them – even if it’s just by being a person who doesn’t hide who I am, by laying it all bare and showing them that yes, I still have hard days and I still struggle, but I’m not going anywhere and I know that I can beat it – and so can you.
My solution right now is to hit reset in a major way. I am going to strip my life down to the bare bones, and anything that is not essential, or appropriate for my mental health and wellbeing is gone. I am not going to ‘get back to myself’, oh no my friends, I recognise this for exactly what it is – an opportunity for change and growth, and before you can level up, you have to fight off the huge, hulking great big monster that’s stopping you from ascending into the person you are supposed to be for the next stage of your life. The gloves are off, and I am ready. It won’t happen overnight, and it’s going to be hard, but what is the alternative? Sink back into depression? Start throwing up again? Tell myself that I’m weak and that past issues can come back whenever they feel like it? Not a chance. If I have learned one thing from everything I have been through, it is that it is all up to me, and I am choosing to be happy.