In June 2015, I started seeing a counsellor. He didn’t label me with a ‘disorder’ or ‘disease’, which I’m grateful for, but if anyone had tried to diagnose me they’d have called it Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
GAD is like an iceberg – if you’re at the tip of the iceberg, it doesn’t look or feel that bad… But if you hit the iceberg too hard you realise there’s a huge mountain of stuff underneath, including chest pains, nausea, panic attacks, insomnia and depression.
Apparently you’re at increased risk of developing GAD if you’ve experienced trauma. If a situation in the past which should have been safe ended up being dangerous, I think it can make your fight or flight responses go a bit wonky…
I think when some people hear the word ‘anxiety’ they don’t see it as something serious. But it affects every aspect of your life. It makes you see danger everywhere:
- Public transport: “what if the plane’s about to crash?”, “What if they’re going to attack me?”, “what if the tube gets stuck underground?”
– Walking home: “does he have a knife?”, “is he going to hurt me?”
– Decisions: “Should I walk, or taxi? What if the taxi driver turns out to be a rapist?”
– Talking to people: “What if I say something stupid?”
– Crowds: “They’re all looking at me!”
– Work: “I’m not good at this”, “I’m going to fail”, “My boss hates me”, “What if I’ve done it wrong?”, “What if I get fired?”
– Friendships: “They don’t like me anyway”, “What if they’ve just invited me out of pity?”
– Relationships: “I need to get out, what if he hurts me?” and then the next minute: “What if he dumps me? I can’t live without him!”
– Driving: “What if I swerve and crash into the barrier?”
It feels like running away from a monster as fast as possible, sweaty palms, heart racing. Like there’s a gun to your head and you’re waiting to see if they pull the trigger, or you forgot the lines to a speech in front of thousands of people. But the feeling of unease, of feeling sick to your stomach with fear, doesn’t pass.
It made me irritable, irrational and lacking empathy and energy for other people. You may recognise how self-absorbed you’re being and feel guilty, yet be unable to stop it.
GAD can also come alongside depression, because it can ruin everything you used to enjoy. For me, it started gradually and last for months, so it felt hopeless, like there was no way out.
At my worst, I remember:
- Silently having panic attacks in meetings
- A panic attack where my lips, hands and both my legs went numb
- Pacing up and down the street at 5am
- Not sleeping for four days
- Never sleeping for more than 2 hours
- Being unable to relax for long enough to read a page of my book
- Imagining everyone hated me
- Thinking I was a terrible person
- Forgetting to eat, drink, shower
- Walking into a room, and then forgetting why I went in there, over and over
- Being unable to understand or explain simple concepts
- Texting people about irrational worries multiple times a day
- Being unable to concentrate, make decisions or complete simple tasks
- Being too nauseous to eat
- Imagining that I was dying or my loved ones were dead
- Crying uncontrollably in a variety of public places
- Imagining harming myself, like a video on repeat in my brain. Not because I wanted to hurt myself, but, because I didn’t trust myself not to.
After accepting that this was a serious problem and seeking help, from professionals and from friends and family, things got better really quickly. Now I'm back to my happy, confident, independent self!
I occasionally get mildly anxious now and again, but I've learnt strategies for dealing with it and I'm not afraid to ask for help if I'm struggling.
- Offer reassurance – tell the anxious person they’re safe and there’s nothing to worry about.
- If reassuring them once or twice doesn’t work, don’t continue. Sometimes there’s nothing you can say to make it better. Just remind them that you care.
- Suggest getting professional help.
- Remind them to breathe if they’re having a panic attack.
- Distract them from their thoughts, with healthy things, like cooking, exercise, a film, or even chores.
- Try and persuade them to get some fresh air.
- Feed them or make them a cup of tea
- Hug them.